The first sign of weirdness in the Manny Pacquiao-Tim Bradley fiasco actually started during game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. As LeBron, DWade, and a three-point shooting Chris Bosh with bad abs were bringing the Heat back against a very tired Boston Celtics, Manny Pacquiao was so engaged with the game that he started his warm-up late. It was expected that the fighters would start their ring entrances around 15-30 minutes after the end of the basketball game. Fifteen minutes later and there were no ring entrances.

Freddie Roach was being interviewed on the PPV telecast and gave us the scoop; Manny was stretching his calves and was off to a late start because he was watching the basketball game. At that point, you sort of knew something odd was going down Saturday night.

Manny Pacquiao is such a tremendous athlete that his B+ effort beats just about every guy not named Floyd Mayweather or Miguel Cotto in his division. But as has been the case recently, rather than show off the A+ version of the Manny Pacquiao that we all fell in love with, we’ve seen a less-than-great version for the fifth time in a row. When Pacquiao beat bumps on Miguel Cotto, that was greatness. There were few better performances in the last twenty years in boxing than Manny’s destruction of an excellent Miguel Cotto. Following that performance, Pacquiao beat a plodding Joshua Clottey, couldn’t put away a much larger Antonio Margarito (though, to be fair, he was legit giving up 20 pounds), seemed to tire late in his fight against a Shane Mosley who didn’t want to be in the ring, and nearly lost against a smaller and slower Juan Manuel Marquez. Add in this performance against an overmatched and less talented Timothy Bradley and Pacquiao is going on two and a half years since he was at his best in the ring.

It is hard to blame him for not being able to stay at that level after turning thirty, becoming a congressman in the Philippines, and based on what he’s said of late, all the philandering, drinking, and gambling he’s been doing of late. His focus may not be all there. And for an athlete after thirty, it must be hard to be even as good as he is today. Okay, it’s not hard to blame him. But the reasons are there.

The fight had an interesting rhythm to it. To get it out of the way, I scored it 117-111 for Pacquiao. Bradley would box fairly well for about 2/3 of the early rounds and Pacquiao would hit him with a left hand that would shake him and Bradley would go into complete defense mode, trying just to stay on his feet. I actually thought Bradley had the antidote to Manny’s lunging punches. Early, when Pacquiao would lung with a vicious punch and miss, Bradley would hit him with a short hook. It was a great strategy except none of Bradley’s punches hurt Pacquiao. He was walking right through them. Bradley had to alter his strategy. After being hit with one-too-many solid straight lefts, rather than try to counter Pacquiao’s big shots, he would race to get out of the way and reset.

Because he was concerned so much about being hit, he wasn’t sitting down on his punches. They were pillow-soft. He was seemingly throwing punches just to score points, which is a fine strategy, but it didn’t seem to be working because Pacquiao was landing more punches and they seemed to be twice as hard. I had Manny winning the first nine rounds. I thought the second round was close and if someone gave that round to Bradley, I wouldn’t have blinked. But by the fourth round, there looked to be a discernible difference in talent and skill. Bradley was so off-balanced trying to stay away from Pacquiao’s power that he nearly tripped and twisted his ankle. I thought Pacquiao was going to put him away in round five. Round six was also close, but again, it was the difference in power. If you don’t care about power shots, maybe you gave that round to Bradley. But doesn’t power have to count? Doesn’t how hard each punch lands and affects the opposing fighter count?

By round eight, it was clear that Manny didn’t have much left, but he was still absolutely walking through everything Bradley was throwing. I could’ve given round nine to Bradley if not for Pacquiao smiling at all of his best shots and not being bothered with any of them and landing those of his own that had Bradley skating away. I gave Bradley all of rounds ten, eleven, and twelve and was actually proud of him for hanging in there with Manny.

Here’s what I wrote after the fight was over:

I have Bradley closely winning the last three rounds. But it was a clear victory for Manny. Actually, kind of a no sweat victory for Manny. Bradley fought with guts, but he just didn’t have the punching power.

When Michael Buffer started to read the decision, he read the first 115-113 score and gave the name of a fighter. That’s when I first sensed something was wrong. If it was a unanimous decision like it should’ve been, Buffer would’ve just read the scores and announced the winning fighter. Instead, he announced that Pacquiao and Bradley had each won one round apiece. And when he announced that Bradley was the winner, my stomach turned upside down. In the post-fight press conference, Bradley was in a wheel chair because of his ankle and Manny looked like he hadn’t been touched.

Historically, boxing has had bad decisions on big stages. When you watch a fight closely, you have thoughts in your head about who won and how convincingly it was. In close fights, if either man wins, you’re okay with the decision, such as last year’s Pacquiao/Marquez fight. It was close enough to where either man could’ve won. But in this case, it was so clear in my mind that Pacquiao won the fight, I felt ill.

If you take punching power completely out of your evaluation of the fight, maybe Bradley is within one or two points. Bradley’s pillow-soft punches that Manny was smiling through shouldn’t count as much as the left hands Manny was throwing that actually caused Bradley to completely change his gameplan. That’s the story of the fight to me. If Bradley had even frustrated Pacquiao at any point in the fight, I would’ve been more okay with the decision. But to my well-trained eye (I’ve been watching boxing since 1984), it never happened. I’m sure Pacquiao has had much more punishing sparring sessions and I’m sure he’d privately admit that. Pacquiao landed more punches, landed more power punches, and had Bradley in clear trouble in at least two rounds. Bradley didn’t have Pacquiao in trouble once. Not once did Pacquiao stumble, grimace, or stop moving forward.

I don’t want to hear anything about the fix being in because none of it makes any sense. The best thing for boxing is for Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather to keep winning because they are the only two box office draws in the sport today. And a rematch of this fight doesn’t make as much money as a fourth fight with Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez. So that’s all hogwash.

Most importantly of all, it probably hurts the Mayweather/Pacquiao fight that I don’t see happening even more. The main disagreement was that Floyd was not going to accept that he and Manny were equals and thus, wasn’t going to split all the money from the show 50/50. Let’s say that Floyd wanted it 60/40 originally (and I really don’t know what he wanted). Now? Floyd’s going to want 70/30 and that will never happen.

There are credible people who scored the fight close in Pacquiao’s favor. There are even a couple people whose opinions I respect who had it as a draw. But no one in their right mind should’ve scored this at all for Bradley. Manny Pacquiao won this fight, and he won it quite easily. The judges got it way, way wrong.

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