This Saturday may be the last time the world will see Manny Pacquiao step into the ring. As most already know, Pacquiao will be taking on Timothy Bradley in a rubber-match on HBO PPV at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. Both fighters approach their third encounter with a victory a piece – the first being a highly contested split decision win to Bradley, the second a more definitive unanimous decision win for Pacquiao. This weekend’s match will mark almost a two-year anniversary for the second match, four for the first.
Buildup to the fight has been odd to say the least. Pacquiao has recently been all over media headlines for his controversial rant against homosexuals, condemning same-sex relations as being “worse than animals”, and sparking backlash from all corners. Long-time Pacquiao sponsor Nike called the comments “abhorrent”, ending their 8-year relationship with the fighter, and just last weekend a disgruntled civilian attempted to assault Pacquiao outside a sushi restaurant in Los Angeles. While no official connection has been made between the attack and the anti-gay comments, many fans and media outlets believe the two to be related, and when one thinks about it objectively, there isn’t really much else about Pacquiao (at least nothing public) that would inspire a random person to come at a professional boxer.
While Bradley has made clear that he does not share similar views, he also hasn’t really condemned his opponent’s comments either. Instead, the California native simply thought that some beliefs are meant to be kept private.
“It sounded terrible. You want to be a politician? Really? You really need to work on your speech skills. You really need to get some people around you to say, ‘Dude, learn to stay on the fence on certain things,’” Bradley said in an interview with the LA Times. “At the end of the day, what he said was very inappropriate. Religion is one thing; real life is another. This is real life. Believe in what you believe in, pray who you want to pray to, say what you want to do, practice your teachings. But everyone else doesn’t have to do what you do. What makes doing what they do wrong, and you doing what you do right? Explain that to me.”
What appears to be more of a concern is how the controversy would affect PPV sales and attendance records for their upcoming match, a statistic that would ultimately affect both fighters’ purses.
“I think they’ll definitely hurt sales. There’s a community of gays and homosexuals who rooted for Manny Pacquiao before he said that,” Bradley said in the same interview. “A big advocate who used to support Manny Pacquiao before he said that was Magic Johnson. He went on to record to say, ‘I’ll never ever watch another Manny Pacquiao fight as long as he fights. Ever again.’ Ever again. This is Magic Johnson. This guy’s huge, has a lot of followers [2.9 million], and he’s tweeting this out.
“I’m like, ‘Ew-ee.’ Definitely this will hurt sales, but what can I do?”
And hurt sales is certainly the last thing the matchup needs. Despite both fighters having proven records and recognized names, there is an overwhelming lack of interest in the fight. Part of that is because many fans see Pacquiao as having already twice beaten Bradley and view a third encounter between the two as pointless. Others just find Bradley bland, an unfortunate consequence of his mellow personality because there are few fighters who work harder inside the ring than Timothy Bradley. In terms of actual significance in the boxing landscape, well, there it gets a bit complicated.
Officially, there is no major championship belt on the line for Saturday night, though traces of the WBO linger over the match. Pacquiao was the 147-lb WBO champ before losing the title to Floyd Mayweather Jr. in May of last year, and since Mayweather’s retirement, Bradley won the vacant strap in a bout against Jesse Vargas, then successfully defended it once against Brandon Rios. For whatever reason, the WBO chose not to sanction his upcoming match against Pacquiao, and the belt has now gone back to Vargas when he beat Sadam Ali in March of this year. The belt that Pacquiao and Bradley are officially contending for is the WBO International title, which oddly enough is currently held by Brandon Rios, despite the fact that Rios’s last outing was his loss against Timothy Bradley last year.
This is all to say: The belts really don’t matter.
As to the actual fight itself, it’s hard to predict a winner. Pacquiao is the more accomplished, but has taken the associated damage from going in hard over the course of a career. This Saturday night will also be his first fight since tearing his rotator cuff against Mayweather. So while Pacquiao is probably the more skilled, Bradley is the fresher of the two. Bradley has also been undergoing the training of the famed Teddy Atlas, who appeared to make a significant difference in his last outing, and could make a similar one this time around. It might just be worth tuning in for all the unpredictables involved.
Included in that list of the unforeseen is whether or not this is actually Pacquio’s last fight. The fighter first made a public statement back in October that he would take only one more fight, even before Bradley was announced as the chosen opponent. That comment was then refuted by promoter Bob Arum, in which Pacquiao then later counter-refuted that Bradley would indeed be his last opponent. Now it seems the retirement conversation is back in limbo, however. Pacquiao was quoted during a post-workout interview as unsure in regards to his future plans.
“It’s hard to say right now. I cannot say, ‘yes’ or ‘no’. My decision is to go back to the Philippines and help the people, like I did before,” Pacquiao said. “We don’t know yet. I’m not there yet. I don’t know the feeling of when you’re retired.”
The response is apparently something that boxers will commonly say when asked about hanging up the gloves. In an interview with FightHub, Bradley empathizes with his opponent’s feelings, saying that when it comes to retirement, no fighter ever really knows.
"It's all up to him. I mean, I'm on a fight to fight basis, too. You could say that about me, too. I'm fight to fight. I don't know if I'm gonna continue after this. I don't know. Right now I'm fighting this fight, it's the only fight I'm thinking about. After that, then I'll see what's at stake and see if I'm sticking around or not. I don't know. It just depends on the outcome, how I look. I'll assess my performance and say you know what, I need to hang 'em up, or I've still got it, I've still got some time in this business."
So based on words alone, this Saturday may not be the last fight for Manny Pacquiao, but it might be for Timothy Bradley, and they’re fighting for a belt currently held by a retired fighter that they’ve both beaten. The only certainty is that Magic Johnson will not be watching the fight, but then again, who knows? Maybe he will. This is the world of boxing after all, a world that Larry Merchant once called “the theatre of the unexpected”, and there really isn’t a better way to describe it.
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