PacMan will get the decision
A few days before then-welterweight titleholder Manny Pacquiao and Timothy Bradley Jr. met in June 2012 in the very same ring at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas in which they will fight again in Saturday's rematch, I picked the upset special.
That meant I was one of the very few who picked Bradley, and I picked him by "close upset decision."
Who knew how prophetic I would be? But more on that in a minute.
I wrote about how and why I thought Bradley would upset the Filipino legend. Pacquiao was heavily favored to retain his title but I wrote, in part, "I look at Bradley and see the livest 'dog in a Pacquiao fight that I've seen in years. Bradley has a lot going for him. First and foremost, he's an excellent fighter."
I wrote about how Bradley was mentally strong, having gone overseas to win his first world title at junior welterweight. How he had shown heart and gotten off the mat to win fights. I wrote about how Bradley was five years younger than Pacquiao and how even though Pacquiao had a speed advantage, I did not think it was that overwhelming.
I also made the point that even though Pacquiao had beaten many big names, including Oscar De La Hoya, Miguel Cotto, Shane Mosley, Antonio Margarito and Ricky Hatton, not a single one of them was truly in his prime when Pacquiao faced them, but that Bradley was.
I wrote a lot of other stuff too, and when fight night came around, I nailed my pick. But I also was wrong.
Yes, Bradley won by "close upset decision," exactly as I had predicted. But come on.
I remember going on SportsCenter after the fight and making the point that I had indeed been right with my pick, but wish I had been wrong.
That's because the split decision in Bradley's favor was an outrageous miscarriage of justice. Not only did I think that Pacquiao won the fight -- as did most of the world, except for two judges who had a horrible night -- I thought he had won easily. Watching at ringside, I scored it 119-109. That's 11-1 in rounds. A wipeout.
Now, a lot has happened since that fight as we get set for Saturday's rematch. Pacquiao got knocked cold in his next fight by Juan Manuel Marquez in their fourth showdown, took a year off and then returned for a lopsided, yet tentative decision win against Brandon Rios.
Bradley went through hell and back in a physically damaging points win against Ruslan Provodnikov and then outboxed Marquez.
So what do we have in store Saturday? Bradley is still an excellent fighter. He's probably even mentally stronger now than before the first fight. Still has that enormous heart. He's still seven years younger than Pacquiao and still at least close to him in the speed department.
So I'm picking him to win again, right? Nope.
For all of the reasons there are to pick Bradley, and I wouldn't be surprised if he indeed won the rematch, I know what I saw on that night in 2012. I saw Pacquiao beat Bradley very easily, no matter what two judges said.
I believe that Pacquiao is capable of fighting that way again and while maybe he won't win in the dominant fashion I believe he did two years ago, he'll be good enough and this time he'll get the decision.
Oops, Tim does it again
It would be disingenuous for me to make a case that Timothy Bradley Jr. actually deserved his June 2012 victory over Manny Pacquiao as a backdrop to predict he'll be victorious again in Saturday's rematch.
Not only did I -- and 95 percent of the free world -- score the fight comfortably for Pacquiao, my stance hasn't softened much in the ensuing two years. There is, however, one school of thought surrounding the first fight that has often been underreported: Each round was much more competitive than most are willing to remember.
In fact, I tweeted after Round 8, with Pacquiao leading 7-1 on my scorecard, what a shame it was for Bradley that the fight was so one-sided because it overshadowed such a game, gutsy effort -- a point later confirmed by reports that Bradley had fought through significant injuries to his left foot and right ankle.
While Bradley's courage alone didn't land him enough bonus points to offset the fact he was still losing big, something happened during the championship rounds that can't be overlooked. Pacquiao, who was unable to fight for the full three minutes of each round, clearly appeared to fade just as Bradley came on strong.
Lost in the controversy of the scoring from their first fight are the following points, which could have a lot to say about who wins the rematch: (1) Bradley made the necessary adjustments to outbox Pacquiao in the late rounds; (2) although Pacquiao clearly landed the harder shots, they never floored Bradley, nor dissuaded him to keep coming; and (3) over the past two years, Bradley clearly has improved, becoming a versatile boxer-puncher who is at the peak of his absolute prime.
The last point is the real kicker. While Pacquiao can still find his name on the short list of boxing's true elite, his stock is no longer pointing upward. Whether he has truly lost his killer instinct, as Bradley has proposed, or 19 years as a professional simply have caught up to him ever so slightly at age 35, the gap that separated the fighters two years ago has narrowed.
Bradley, meanwhile, proved himself to a doubting public in 2013 with two performances -- an all-out war against Ruslan Provodnikov and a high-level chess match with Juan Manuel Marquez -- that showcased polar opposite sides of his ability as a fighter.
Not only does Bradley know he can take Pacquiao's best shots, he's grown savvy enough to know how to avoid them, too. And the timing in which Bradley executes the switch from one of his boxing personalities (boxer, brawler, counterpuncher) to another will be the difference.
Another close -- and potentially contentious -- finish on the scorecards is inevitable for this pairing between top-five pound-for-pound fighters. Only this time, Bradley will come away with a decision he deserves.