Last night, Manny Pacquiao fought lesser-known Timothy Bradley to defend his WBO Welterweight title. Pacquiao gained fame and notoriety for accumulating championship belts in eight separate weight classes and being named boxing’s pound-for-pound best fighter, and (amongst Asian Americans) for doing so as a proud Filipino. Pacquiao, or Pac-Man as he’s called by fans, is also a prominent elected official in the Phillipines, and has become a household name around the world, even amongst people who don’t follow the sport of boxing, particularly after the repeated hyping (and fizzling) of a Pacquiao/Mayweather bout.
Let’s be clear: Pacquiao’s good, but he’s not phenomenal. I think Pacquiao is a superstar in a sea of mediocrity, but that he would have lost a head-to-head against Pretty Boy Floyd Mayweather, who is a boxing prodigy gifted with the ability to deliver lightning-fast punches with force and accuracy. Mayweather may be a racist asshole, but he’s also a danged good boxer.
That being said, Pacquiao is better than Timothy Bradley, last night’s Welterweight challenger; and, he demonstrated that in his fight against Bradley last night. Since paying $50 for PPV is just obscene, I went out to a sports bar last night to watch the fight. I waded through some really bizarre undercard fights:
- Jones vs. Bailey: Bailey was an old dog losing on the scorecard against the precocious Jones, but who refused to back down and somehow delivered a devastating knock-out uppercut to Jones for a crazy, Rocky-style win
- Arce vs. Rojas: Arce knocked down Rojas in the middle of round 1 with a solid punch to the jaw, but the fight ended in the first ten seconds of round 2 when Rojas delivered an illegal headbutt to Arce and then followed with a powershot to Arce’s temple while Arce was reeling and defenseless from the skull-to-skull contact. Arce was unable to stand up after that, and the ring doctor was forced to stop the fight. Arce was robbed of what should have been a clear win, which should have been foreshadowing for the main event.
All this while I tried to comprehend the bizarre sport that is basketball (the East Coast finals were on, and Boston was playing the Miami Heat).
After the Heat defeated the Celtics, Pacquiao and Bradley took to the ring. Bradley started off strong in round 1 with some flurries that seemed to announce that he was no slouch, and clearly ready for the challenge of taking on the Pac-Man. Bradley was armed with a clear strategy: throw his jab every couple of seconds to keep Pacquiao distant (smart, since Pacquiao is a close-in fighter who likes to deliver wild, looping flurries on the inside) and then to lunge in on the offensive when he felt like he had an opening. Pacquiao was largely inactive in this round, seeming to take his time to assess his opponent. I scored round 1 10-9 for Bradley, rewarding him for his activity and ring dominance.
But, then enter in rounds 2-10. Bradley experimented with combination after combination on Pacquiao, and all of them seemed to bounce harmlessly off Pacquiao’s defenses. Like a puppy trying to fight a seasoned hound, Bradley spent most of these rounds getting cuffed behind the ear after delivering wild, and largely ineffective, flurries. While I applaud Bradley’s execution of his strategy in keeping Pacquiao distant (his jab was out every few seconds like clockwork, even though there was no power behind it), he was simply ill-equipped to actually be offensive at that distance either. Meanwhile, every time Bradley lunged in, he left his big shiny head open like a blinking target, and Pacquiao kept clocking him in the temple. At least a couple of times, these hooks rocked Bradley on his feet, and he stumbled as he struggled to maintain his footing.
Pacquiao’s strategy seemed to be to win on the scorecards. As has been observed by other reporters, Pacquiao largely took the first minute of each round off, and then seemed to find his wind within the last 30 seconds of each round to try and steal the round. I have to admit that his punches seemed to lack power; a larger and stronger fighter should’ve had Bradley on the floor with a couple of those temple shots. Last night’s fight made me wonder if Pac-Man has reached the limit of his weight increases; he may simply not have the power to compete in some of the heavier weight classes, where power-punching is critical. That being said, in comparison to Bradley, Pacquiao was landing more punches, and they were clearly more effective; on every score card of every fan, including that of HBO’s Harold Lederman, Pacquiao won almost every round between rounds 2-10.
By round 10, Bradley appeared exhausted, and his arms hung limply by his side. His distancing jab was looking weak and his feet were dragging. To be fair, the same could’ve been said of Pacquiao. But both fighters dug deep in round 11 and found some more juice; to Bradley’s credit, Bradley had more left than Pacquiao. Bradley came out cleaner, sharper and more active in the last two rounds of the fight, and had he performed throughout the fight as he did in rounds 11 and 12, than his victory would have been without question. On my scorecard, Bradley easily took the last two rounds, while Pacquiao — perhaps assuming (and I should think rightly so) that he had the fight in the bag on the scorecard — seemed focused merely on staying upright.
The fight ended with a relatively lacklustre final 30 seconds, and I started packing up my things. I had scored the bout 117-111 for Pacquiao, in an obvious technical win.
Except, apparently, the judges were asleep at the ringside. In a stunning, shocking, and infuriating outcome, two out of the three judges (C.J. Ross and Duane Ford) scored the fight 115-113 in favour of Bradley. The final judge, Jerry Roth, scored the fight 115-113 for Pacquiao.
Here’s what happened: for completely inexplicable reasons, both Ross and Ford gave most of the middle rounds to Bradley. They apparently rewarded Bradley for his out-of-the-corner flurries, seeming to be blind to the fact that none of these flurries got through Pacquiao’s defenses. They apparently wrote their decision out in the middle of each round, and then took a nap for the last few minutes of each round. Or, maybe they were too distracted by what was going on on their laptops:
Either way, the judge’s behaviour reeked to even the most unseasoned of boxing fans. Their decision couldn’t be supported by the CompuBox numbers (Pacquiao was more active, and landed more overall punches and power punches), or even by the naked eye (Pacquiao was the clear dominator, pushing Bradley around the ring). Their decision made no sense from the perspective of punch effectiveness (Bradley was clearly shaken at multiple points throughout the fight by Pacquiao’s shots connecting to the temple). Their decision was, in short, based almost entirely on money.
That’s right, money. See, Pacquiao has run out of opponents to fight, and he recently made headlines when he (erroneously or otherwise) condemned homosexuality based on his traditional Catholic upbringing. A win for Pacquiao was a redemption that he remains the greatest active fighter in boxing, but with no one left to fight, and thus no money left to be made. A lose for Pacquiao is a slap on the wrist for the recent poor publicity, and also a great set-up for Pacquiao/Bradley II, because it (artificially) elevates Bradley to Pacquiao’s level. Pacquiao’s hands are tied: he has almost been forced by last night’s piss-poor decision to fight Bradley again (in which Bradley will get utterly destroyed because he’s just not that good). And with a Pacquiao/Bradley sequel comes a veritable landslide of revenue for WBO.
And this — exactly this — is why boxing is dying as a sport.
Last night’s fight was watched by casual and hardcore boxing fans alike. This was boxing’s moment to define itself as a sport, to prove to the naysayers that its reputation for being violent, arbitrary, and unfair is unfounded. This was a chance to win new boxing fans and to reinvigorate the loyal followers with a great match.
Instead, the sport of boxing caved to the demands of capitalism and, in effect, threw a fight to help enhance its bottom line. Doing this in such a brazen, shameless, and obvious way may have secured a Pacquiao/Bradley re-match, but it has turned off thousands of potential and actual fans, who have been left with the bitter realization that the sport may have been indelibly corrupted. No longer can boxing claim to be a fair, just, or objective sport of skill and athleticism: clearly, boxing has become nothing more than a large-scale money-making device, rife with fixed fights and corrupt judges.
Even without the bad scorecard decision, last night’s fight was not Pacquiao’s shining moment. Pacquiao was slow, a little weak, and had sputtered out in his last rounds. But even so, he still outclassed Bradley, who was little more than a flailing brawler. Pacquaio deserved a close, but clear, technical win last night; the fact that he was denied it signifies, to me, the end of boxing as a sport.
Pacquiao was robbed and boxing is dead. Hey, is that basketball game still on?