Larceny in Vegas
Manny Pacquiao lives in a world different from the uncomplicated one to which he’s accustomed. In fact, he shuttles from one world to another. In politics, he flits from one party to the next; he has abandoned the constituency that refused to send him to Congress and has moved his address to that of his wife. Far removed from the poverty of his youth, he has joined the glitzy world of show biz and, like the billionaire philanthropist that he has become, gives away millions of pesos without blinking.
Pacquiao swears he’s a changed man, having left the world of vice. He no longer gambles and indeed he has not been seen in the pool halls, cockpit arenas and casinos where he used to stake a good part of his fight winnings. Talk of domestic conflict and marital infidelity has died down. He quotes and reportedly lives by the Bible.
Yes, prizefighting has launched the Pacman to various worlds. But alas, boxing is a world he only visits these days. He doesn’t live there anymore, to borrow a line that the great sports columnist Red Smith wrote about Willie Mays in another time and context. The sweet science is no longer his day job.
It was on his last visit to the boxing world that the package of hubris and humility that is Manny Pacquiao discovered he was no longer the center of the universe.
For 12 rounds against the undefeated Timothy Bradley on Saturday night, it was obvious that Pacquiao, 33, was no longer the ring craftsman of old. The confidence was there, as was the speed. But his A-game was in another world. His timing was off, and his punches lacked the wallop that knocked the likes of Barrera, Morales, Marquez, Hatton, Cotto and De la Hoya into oblivion.
Against an opponent with neither the skills nor the power worthy of the 13 of the best fighters he had beaten in five weight divisions in the past seven years, Pacquiao was not the marksman he once was. Whatever power punches he landed—and there were many, according to the stats churned out by Compubox—they were not enough to take out his opponent. Either Pacquiao has lost the sting of his punches, or Bradley has a jaw of granite.
His fourth loss in 60 fights was Pacquiao’s undoing. He did not have what it takes to take down Bradley, and left it to the judges to call it a split decision. Many called it larceny.
To be sure, the undefeated Bradley was no patsy. He showed he earned the right to be in the same arena as Pacquiao. More important, Bradley earned the respect of those who regarded him as a mere sparring mate to keep the champion warmed up while Floyd Mayweather Jr. was rotting in jail.
In the early rounds, Bradley took a page from the playbook of Juan Manuel Marquez, the wily Mexican who, for 36 rounds, created the template for the counter-punching style that tormented the Filipino southpaw. (Marquez claims that he won all three fights with Pacquiao, and many agree with him.) When Bradley became impatient in the middle rounds, he decided to mix it up, and walked right into Pacquiao’s trap—a barroom brawl.
While Pacquiao appeared to be in control of the fight, his vaunted combinations often ended at 1-2. The rest of the flurries were often feeble paws and wild swings and misses coming from odd angles. Time and again, Bradley escaped further punishment, not by sticking and moving as he had claimed, but by bobbing and weaving under Pacquiao’s punches. Bradley would later acknowledge that he was hurt, describing the champ as a beast. At some point he was on the verge of giving up, or so the sound bytes from his corner seemed to show, but Pacquiao just could not land the big punch that everyone was expecting.
Bradley himself did not have what it takes to strip the champ of his title. In the end, he needed help from ringside. The only two persons who mattered out of the millions who watched the fight came to the rescue and gave the match to him in what can only be described as the biggest robbery in the sport since the Pacquiao-Marquez trilogy.
And where does the Pacman go from here? It’s not yet the end of the boxing road for him. There’s a score to settle with Bradley and Mayweather. There are millions of dollars to be earned still. And politics, his day job, waits in the wings. But the sting of defeat, no matter how controversial, lingers. Unfortunately for Manny Pacquiao, what happened in Vegas won’t stay in Vegas. It will be etched on his fight record forever, wherever in the world his journey will take him.