LAS VEGAS – Manny Pacquiao came back to the MGM Grand to get what he and most of the world thought had been his all along.
A piece of the welterweight title lost in a controversial split decision in 2012 is back in Pacquiao’s possession with a victory on the scorecards Saturday night over Tim Bradley.
This time, there was no argument among the judges. They were unanimous. Glenn Trowbridge scored it, 118-110. Michael Pernick and Craig Metcalf had it 116-112 each, all for Pacquiao. It was unanimous on both sides of the ropes.
After the decision was announced, Bradley congratulated Pacquiao.
“You fought well and you deserved to win," Bradley said to Pacquiao in a quote relayed to the media by a Top Rank spokesperson who witnessed the moment.
It wasn’t everything Pacquiao had promised or perhaps expected. He wanted a knockout. His trainer, Freddie Roach, demanded one. Predicted one. The compassionate Pacquaio would not answer the opening bell, Roach said. Compassion be damned. But the KO prophesy was never fulfilled.
“I tried," Pacquiao (56-6-2, 38 KOs) said. “I really wanted that knockout."
Perhaps, that was too much for which to hope against the tough Bradley, who lost for the first time, yet has never been stopped.
For Pacquiao, the victory best represents a transition toward being a more mature fighter. Some quickness in his reflexes might be gone. But time has given him the wisdom to be more of a thinking fighter than an instinctive one. Against Bradley, he had to adjust.
“He began to throw a lot of wild shots," said Pacquiao, who will collect a $20-million guarantee for his 12 rounds of work in regaining the World Boxing Organization’s version of the 147-pound title. “That’s when I knew I had to go down the middle."
He did exactly that after opening the fight with a lot of side-to-side movement. In the fourth, the seemed to lead him straight into a head rocking punch from Bradley (31-1, 12 KOs), who was guaranteed $6 million.
Bradley’s chances at scoring a victory that would have validated his split decision nearly two years ago might have gone from slim to none in the first round. The fight opened with both Pacquiao and Bradley moving at a fast pace. Pacquiao, looking 10 years younger than a 35-year-old man, slipped from side-to-side, two steps to his left and then one to his right. Bradley followed, seemingly a half-step behind and inch or two from landing any kind of punch. The initial round was hard to score.
After it was over, however, Bradley went to his corner and told trainer Joel Diaz that he thought he sustained an injury to his right hamstring. For Bradley, it must have felt like déjà vu all over again. In his June 9, 2012 decision over Pacquiao he suffered injuries to both of his feet.
“This sort of thing happens in big fights," Diaz said. “But our plan was to dominate Manny. With something like that happening so early in the fight, we just couldn’t do that."
In the fourth and fifth rounds, Bradley appeared to seize the momentum with shots that slowed down Pacquiao. At the same time, Bradley was throwing wild bombs that sailed in every direction but the intended target. As it turned out, Pacquiao was already making an adjustment that would ensure him a scorecard victory. It might be the first of several adjustment, if not a few more victories by decision.
“He told me that he thought he could fight at least two more years," said former HBO commentator Larry Merchant, who spoke to Pacquiao in the middle of the ring after the fight.
But against who? Pacquio mentioned a fifth fight with Juan Manuel Marquez.
“Yeah, I’d be happy to fight Marquez," Pacquiao said.
He didn’t mention Floyd Mayweather Jr.
He didn’t have to.