By Bill Dwyre
Las Vegas -- Manny Pacquiao and Tim Bradley performed a symphony Saturday night. In a sport that can be so out of tune, in a world of pro athletics that is so often off-key, these two boxers hit all the right notes.
Even Bradley, who lost the decision, might agree. This ending, this result, this conclusion, felt right.
Pacquiao has said this will be his last fight. Pressed from all angles afterward about how likely it is that he will stick to that -- especially in the aftermath of such an impressive performance -- he remained steadfast.
“I want to go home, spend time with my family and serve the people,” the Filipino superstar said.
That decision is chocked full of logic.
He is 37 years old. This was his 66th professional fight (he is now 58-6-2). He appears to be leaving with his faculties intact.
He is in his second term as a Congressman from the Sarangani province of the Philippines. In those two terms, he has done his best to serve the poor, which is what he was as a child. He has become the Robin Hood of his country, without robbing from the rich. He doesn’t need to. He is among the country’s richest.
Now, on May 9, he will see if he becomes one of the 12 elected into the Philippine Senate. He has said, over and over, that being a senator is likely to be more time consuming, that he needs to focus on that. But he has also said that he loves boxing, that he won’t know how it feels to “hang my gloves up.” The mitigating circumstance of that seemed to be how Saturday night’s fight turned out. He has said, repeatedly, that he “wanted to win convincingly.”
And so he did, knocking Bradley down twice and getting the same score from each of the three judges, 116-110.
But a key element in that “wanting to win convincingly” was the opponent. Had Pacquiao finished up by beating a tomato can, it would have been seen only as one last payday, as one more boxer hanging on too long. It would not have brought any sort of the grand finale he deserved, just an ending. To top Bradley’s presence, skills and competitiveness made it a perfect ending.
Bradley’s nickname is the Desert Storm, and the Palm Springs-area fighter kept throwing gusts at Pacquiao all night. He was quick, he was nicely prepared by trainer Teddy Atlas, and he was probably the best welterweight on the planet, had there not also been a guy named Pacquiao here, too.
Bradley is lightning fast. Pacquiao is warp speed. Atlas puts it best in his description of Pacquiao.
“He is a freakish combination of speed and power,” he has said.
This was their third fight, the rubber match, and watching this one from ringside brought newfound empathy for the three judges who, by all accounts, screwed up the decision in the first fight and gave it to Bradley. With these two boxers, everything happens so fast that you would need three days of replays to be sure what you saw.
My card may have been the strangest kept for the fight. I had it 113-111 for Pacquiao, despite his two 10-8 knockdown rounds, because I saw no winner in three rounds -- the first, second and the eleventh -- and scored them all 9-9. But I have no quarrel with the 116-110 of the judges, nor did anybody else ringside, or for that matter, in the crowd of 14,665 in the MGM Grand Garden.
The crowd in itself was a fascination. As things would heat up in a given round, a huge chant would begin that seemed to be “Manny, Manny.” But soon, it sort of morphed into “Bradley, Bradley.”
Winning wasn’t everything in this one. The level of performance was.
Ideally, Pacquiao will stay retired and become a different sort of icon in his country. He can depart 66 pro fights with his sense and great pride of accomplishment. That’s no small thing in this sport.
Bradley is 32, has lost only twice now in 36 fights, and is likely to carry on a bit more. He appeared to emerge relatively unscathed, despite the two knockdowns. The first was in the seventh round, and was questionable in even being ruled a knockdown. Both Atlas and Bradley said afterward they thought it had been more a push than a knockdown.
There was no question about the one in the ninth round. Pacquiao caught Bradley with a quick left hook, Bradley was jolted on his back, but was so uninjured that he merely completed the fall with a somersault that put him back on his feet immediately.
“He caught me good there,” Bradley said.
Pacquiao’s trainer, Freddie Roach, was a bit more poetic, with some subtle politics tossed in.
“Manny’s left trumps all,” Roach said.
Bradley seemed to realize quickly after the fight that losing is only bitter when you haven’t done your best, when you’ve had a chance and not risen to the occasion. On this night, against a Pacquiao at his best, Bradley had little chance.
“I was in there with a pretty good man,” Bradley said.
Pacquiao said he was trying for the knockout, but that Bradley was too tough.
“He deserved to go the distance,” Pacquiao said.
There might be no better summary than that of what this evening was about. When was the last time you heard one boxer talk about what the other boxer deserved?
Also, when was the last time you heard two boxers, minutes after trying to punch each other into oblivion, make plans to meet the next morning for breakfast? These two did.
This was a night that wrapped up three months of talking, speculating, promoting and wondering what would happen. It was a night that much of the media felt would be overrated, would draw little buzz and would lay an egg.
In fact, while it may not have been the biggest deal or the most memorable moment ever in boxing, it ended up being a high-quality, competitive fight that showcased the sweet science of the sport. Seldom does any event get it quite as right, from all angles, as this one did.
Which, of course, is music to the ears of boxing.
Bill Dwyre will be writing a series of weekly columns on the Pacquiao vs. Bradley world championship event. Bill was sports editor of The Los Angeles Times for 25 years, ending in 2006. He was a sports columnist for 9 1/2 years at The Times, ending Nov. 25 with his retirement. Boxing was among his most frequent column topics. Bill can be contacted at BillPatDwyre@gmail.com or via Twitter at @BillDwyre.