I was ringside shooting a video when it all happened. With the fighters still in the ring and the announcement of the scorecards seconds away, it was the perfect backdrop for my recap.
The MGM Grand Arena crowd was vibing — a predominantly pro-Manny Pacquiao crowd plausibly content with another remarkable performance by the Filipino boxing icon, merely waiting for ring announcer Michael Buffer to announce the fight’s winner and cue in their “Manny! Manny! Manny!” chants before they head home and call it another great night of boxing.
Buffer proceeded to reading the judges’ scorecards, and then the boxing world would turn upside down thereafter.
“Judge Jerry Roth scored the bout 115-113 for Pacquiao,” Buffer initially announced.
Crowd cheers, deadline-writers stood pat, itching to get the last few numbers to complete their recap at press row, Pacquiao’s camera-hungry entourage were jockeying for position for their chance to videobomb his post-fight interview as they all waited for the next scores. Things seemed like they were going to go down as expected and all that remained were the formalities.
But something else happened.
“Judge C.J. Ross scores the bout 115-113 for Bradley,” Buffer then continued. Pacquiao bowed his head, perplexed and seemingly unsure if he heard the numbers right. The arena reacted with a mixture of cheers from the Bradley supporters, and dumbfounded looks from the rest.
“And judge Duane Ford scored it 115-113 for the winner by split decision...” Buffer paused, the suspense hanging with his breath.
“And the new!!!” he proceeded and then announced Bradley as the winner. The crowd absorbed and protested the decision with a chorus of boos, while Pacquiao could only helplessly look around him for answers. Bradley on the other hand looked like a kid who just opened his gifts on Christmas morning and found a Playstation 4 with his name on it as he ran to the corner to celebrate what appeared to have been a gift from the boxing gods.
Everyone knows about the controversy behind Pacquiao and Bradley’s first fight, but only a few can recall how each round really unfolded. A plethora of theories surrounded the decision — from conspiracies involving the promoter, Bob Arum, to the mafia and gambling odds, down to judges getting back at Pacquiao for causing a delay to the start of the fight, because he was allegedly watching Game 7 of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals between the Miami Heat and his favorite team, the Boston Celtics.
Some called it “the worst decision in boxing history,” and Arum, for his part, blasted the judges at the post-fight press conference. I wasn’t able to find a single soul at the fight, at press row, nor around the MGM bars and lobby that night who thought Bradley won.
"Can you believe that? Unbelievable!" Arum chided as he labeled the decision makers anywhere from being “blind” and “senile”. "I went over to Bradley before the decision and he said, ‘I tried hard but I couldn't beat the guy,’” Arum spieled.
Ringside punching statistics supported the masses with Pacquiao landing 253 punches to 159 for Bradley. Compubox had Pacquiao landing more punches in 10 of the 12 rounds.
So what happened?
With the rematch approaching on Saturday, April 12, I reviewed the HBO telecast of the fight on mute (to avoid being influenced by commentary) from start to finish for this piece to try and find an angle on how Bradley could possibly come out with a split decision win.
Round one: The first round started with both fighters sizing each other up; a typical “feel out” round. Bradley kept busy with his jab, measuring and timing Pacquiao who was lunging and reaching sporadically while throwing one-two combinations to the body. Not much really connected until the final seconds, although one could argue that Bradley was dictating the pace more with his jabs and ring generalship. Bradley backed Pacquiao up with a combo toward the end of the round, then Pacquiao came back and landed a couple of good left straights answered by a counter right by Bradley in the final five seconds.
Close round. I’ll give it to Bradley. 10-9 Bradley.
Round two: Bradley keeps it tight while sticking his left jab and keeping Pacquiao at bay. Thirty seconds in, Pacquiao lands his patented left behind a jab, a solid one at that, and backs Bradley momentarily. He shoots another left then counters with a one-two while Bradley tried to throw a combo. They get tied up and Bradley starts hitting Pacquiao with right hands while clinched. Both Pacquiao and referee Robert Byrd didn’t seem to mind Bradley’s tactics. Pacquiao took the rights to the body like he was getting massaged and allowed Bradley to continue. With a minute and 15 left, Bradley tried to rally after grazing Pacquiao with he left hook that backed him against the ropes, but stopped after a right hook similar to the one the Filipino landed on Erik Morales in their third fight caught him in the jaw. Pacquiao landed a couple more lefts toward the end of the round, while Bradley landed a jab as the round closed.
With Pacquiao landing the more telling punches, this is a clear Pacquiao round. 19-19 after two.
(RELATED: Pressure is on Pacquiao to prove he's still lethal)
Round three: Bradley opens the third by landing a nice right. Bradley continues using his jab to maintain his distance. Pacquiao landed a couple of lefts off his one-two, catching Bradley with a solid one midway through the round. Bradley shows he’s unhurt by Pacquiao’s punches by dancing and throwing combinations of his own, but Pacquiao closed the round as the aggressor.
This is another clear round for Pacquiao in my opinion. After three, Pacquiao 29 - Bradley 28.
Round four: Bradley goes inside and starts shooting toward Pacquiao’s midsection while leading with his head. Pacquiao catches him with the right hook then goes to town. Pacquiao showed flashes of the old killer in him going for the jugular in this round, and rocked Bradley with a couple of good punches. This is the round when Bradley twisted his left ankle, which from ringside made him appear to wobble like Jackie Chan in the Drunken Master.
This is an easy round to score. Pacquiao was landing power punches while Bradley looked like he was just trying to stave off the Filipino’s onslaught. Pacquiao 39-37 after four.
Round five: The action stalls with Pacquiao looking content to wait for Bradley to press the action. Bradley gestures with his movement as if to signify he is ready for more. Pacquiao gets impatient and starts pounding his gloves with Bradley doing nothing more than throwing phantom combos and moving out of the way whenever Pacquiao countered. Pacquiao lands a big left around the 30-second mark that knocks Bradley’s head back. Pacquiao followed it up with a flurry and closed the round strong, while Bradley looked like a desperate fighter flailing away with wild hooks when he wasn’t holding and grabbing Pacquiao.
Another clear Pacquiao round. Incidentally, Ford and Ross, the judges that scored the fight for Bradley, gave this round to the challenger. 49-46 Pacquiao through five rounds in my card.
Round six: In a nutshell this is a round where Pacquiao decided to chill. I don’t know if this is what Pacquiao was describing as the round when he started to be “nice” to Bradley or if he simply got lazy, but he really didn’t do much here until the final seconds when he landed a couple of good shots. Bradley didn’t land a lot of clean punches either, but wins this round by virtue of activity and ring generalship.
58-56 Pacquiao after six.
Round seven: Bradley initiated with his jab and combos, and started going inside after the first minute. Pacquiao picks up the pace and lands a few short hooks that backed up Bradley. Bradley labors on with his combos, but gets countered and assaulted by a flurry from Pacquiao, which he tried to avoid by bobbing and weaving. Bradley gamely fires back and slows down the Pacquiao offensive for a moment, but gets bested in the ensuing exchanged as both fighters traded. After eating a few lefts, Bradley relents as if to concede the exchange to Pacquiao. Pacquiao, oddly, decides to relax his foot off the gas pedal as the round closed with Bradley showing his frustrations in his face.
Another Pacquiao round for me. 68-65 Pacquiao, five rounds to two.
Round eight: Both fighters trade to start the round, with Bradley showing more urgency, possibly assuming that he is falling behind in the scorecards. This is the round Bradley started his comeback, while Pacquiao chose to take the round off. Better movement and more activity for Bradley who also started to connect on counter lefts.
I’ll give this round to Bradley. 77-75 Pacquiao after 8.
Round nine: Bradley opened up the ninth jabbing like he did in several of the previous rounds. Pacquiao catches Bradley again with a right as both men start trading on the inside. Clash of head come into play, as Byrd warns both fighters. Bradley decided to trade with Pacquiao here, which falls into the Filipino’s favor. Pacquiao wobbles Bradley with his power left toward the end of the round and simply landed the harder and cleaner shots in the round.
Again, Pacquiao wins this round pretty clearly. 87-84 Pacquiao after 9.
Round ten: Bradley opens round 10 with a determined stance and lands a few good punches and combinations immediately. Desperation time, and Bradley has decided not to lie down. Pacquiao is just cruising at this point – hardly trying to mount an assault like in the previous rounds, and often dropped his fists as either a sign of frustration or baiting Bradley to initiate. Bradley maintains his strategy though by circling and countering and mixing it up with one-twos and potshots in between. This is a solid round for Bradley, while Pacquiao started to look disinterested. Unlike in previous rounds as well, Pacquiao fails to close the round strong to try and steal it.
Clear Bradley round. 96-94 Pacquiao after 10.
Round eleven: The momentum and body language has changed with Bradley now looking more confident and Pacquiao showing frustration and indifference. Bradley fires his jab liberally to start, throwing it at different levels and angles. Bradley connecting with a few shots, then does a great job avoiding Pacquiao’s counter one-twos by backing up and moving his head away from the Filipino’s daunted left, then closes the gap while still throwing shots inside. None of Bradley’s punches appear to hurt Pacquiao, but they are scoring points, while Pacquiao grows more and more frustrated with Bradley’s style. Pacquiao is missing badly at this point as Bradley circles out of danger and counters beautifully. Pacquiao tries to turn it up again in the last minute, but Bradley continues to box brilliantly and doesn’t allow him to steal the round. Instead, Bradley connects with a few counters as the round closes with little fanfare.
Bradley won this round clearly in my eyes. 105 – 104 Pacquiao after 11.
Round twelve: Pacquiao opens the final round trying to stalk Bradley, who continues to circle away. Pacquiao lands a couple of jabs and a one-two, and Bradley returns fire but doesn’t land anything significant. Pacquiao spent most of this round marching toward Bradley instead of cutting him off, and though he landed a few punches, Bradley was able to counter and box comfortably. Bradley looks loose and confident entering the final minute, and Pacquiao seemed to have given up on the idea of finishing the fight – not because he was being “nice”, it mainly because Bradley was boxing effectively and did not allow him to get into his rhythm. Pacquiao’s feint then one-two assault has become too predictable at this point for Bradley, who has decided to finish the fight boxing instead of trying to do anything crazy in an effort to win the round. Pacquiao lands a couple of punches, but Bradley was able to counter him as well. The fight ends unceremoniously as both men return to their corners. Bradley’s body language doesn’t suggest anything about him believing he won the fight, while Pacquiao looked as if he was just happy it was over and that there was no threat at all for him to lose the contest.
This is a close round. All three judges gave this round to Bradley and I’m inclined to do so as well. 114 – 114 tie after 12 rounds.
After 12 muted rounds, I have come up with a draw. Keep in mind that my attempt was to try and find a way Bradley could’ve won the fight, so I gave him all the close rounds such as the first, sixth and twelfth. What did this review prove? Well, it was a much closer fight than what I saw ringside. Despite still believing that Pacquiao won the fight and that the best Bradley could’ve hoped for was a draw, the rounds Pacquiao won were dramatic and thrilling, but he did give enough ho-hum rounds away that allowed Bradley to keep the fight close.
What Bradley came away with his efforts in the final rounds was figuring out a few flaws in Pacquiao’s assault and getting his timing down, which can play a big role in the rematch. I definitely see why Bradley feels like a left hook can win it for him when he said in an interview that he will land a left hook to knock Pacquiao out.
Pacquiao left himself open many times for counters when he fired away lazy, lunging jabs, which Bradley eventually honed in on at the latter part of the fight. If Bradley can sit down on his punches and if he worked on adding power in camp this time around like Marquez did, it's not too far-fetched he could make good of his KO promise.
Listening to his quipping and reproach hurled toward Pacquiao ahead of their rematch, it does appear to me that Bradley may be laying out a trap for Pacquiao by egging him to try and knock him out so he could take advantage of his recklessness and land a counter he won’t see, similar to what happened in his loss to Marquez.
That said, Bradley still isn’t a big puncher and I will save my predictions for the rematch for my next column. As far as Pacquiao is concerned, one can argue that he got complacent and assumed that the win was in the bag after the ninth round. Was Pacquiao being nice or was he simply being lazy? Either way, he had a hand in his split decision loss by not finishing strong and opening the door for Bradley – and the judges – to make what seemed to be a lopsided fight, controversial.