Steve Bunce on Boxing: Manny Pacquiao may remain the main attraction but after a shock defeat in 2012 can afford no mercy this time in his rematch with Tim Bradley


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On Friday night at the MGM in Las Vegas the tiny fighting darling of the Philippines, Manny Pacquiao, will enter the ring to fight Tim Bradley in a rematch of their strange first encounter. Both men have talked about a desperate need for redemption.

In the summer of 2012, Pacquiao claims he took pity on Bradley and let him survive several rounds longer than expected and actually allowed the unbeaten American to last until the final bell, in a fight that divided opinion on the night and still does.

The verdict was split in Bradley’s favour and the American, who had damaged both feet because he fought without socks, was still hobbling but somehow managed to stay upright to face the booing crowd at the end. Pacquiao was received like a fallen hero, but had himself been jeered a few months earlier when he was fortunate to receive a gift from the judges.

The loss for Pacquiao was his first in 16 fights, the first in seven years and it was also his 14th fight in Las Vegas; the disputed defeat also seemed to have put an end for ever to talk of a $100m showdown between Pacquiao and his great rival Floyd Mayweather, a fight that came close to fruition for the first time in 2008.

“He said he showed me compassion,” Bradley said. “He claimed he carried me through the fight and he could have won easily. He has also claimed he never trained. It all sounds like he is making excuses; he’s angry because I got the verdict.”

Bradley, who has never denied being hurt in the fight, is quick to use Pacquiao’s recent record as a sign that the once vicious fighter has lost his ability to finish men.

“There was a time when Pacquiao got you hurt and then knocked you out,” said Bradley. “He has not done that for a long time and I don’t think he can do it any more and that’s not good for boxing.” Pacquiao has not stopped a man in seven fights, the longest sequence in his 62-fight career, and last year against Brandon Rios in Macau he once again seemed to show compassion.

Freddie Roach, who has guided Pacquiao’s career through winning world titles at seven different weights, is dismissive of claims that Pacquiao has lost his desire to hurt people and get knockouts. “In the Bradley fight it was just too easy for Manny,” said Roach. “Manny was just going through the motions, there was no fear and no threat. This is different because now Manny is pissed off – he hates losing.”

After the Bradley defeat Pacquiao considered walking away from the business to concentrate on his political career but was persuaded to fight Mexico’s Juan Manuel Marquez in December 2012. Pacquiao’s career looked over when he was dropped for the full count in round six.

Bradley was watching from the sidelines, thinking that his rematch and chance of getting a proper win over Pacquiao had vanished behind the six-inch punch Marquez landed. Boxing, however, is an odd business and Bradley stayed unbeaten when he saw off Marquez on points last October and Pacquiao arrived reinvented and refreshed in Macau late last year to bamboozle Rios.

So on Friday night Pacquiao is once again the main attraction and Bradley, the nice guy with the perfect record without a single loss in 32 fights, is happy to be in the shadows. “It’s just the business we are in. I’m the champion, but he’s the attraction – I don’t feel disrespected. It’s just the way it is,” said Bradley, whose WBO welterweight title is also available to the winner. It is a fight where the belt is not the real prize.