By Bert Eljera
LAS VEGAS – The goal has been boldly set: Go for a knockout.
Anything less will be a big disappointment.
So says Hall-of-Fame coach Freddie Roach as Manny Pacquiao defends his World Boxing Organization welterweight championship against unbeaten Timothy Bradley on Saturday.
The fight over 12 rounds at the MGM Grand here is hoped to bring the luster back to Pacquiao’s career after less than impressive victories in his last fights, including the disputed win over Juan Manuel Marquez.
It’s been more than seven months since that Marquez bout that Pacquiao won by a controversial majority decision, and the noise has been growing that the Filipino boxer has passed his peak.
“Manny’s motivation is his last fight. We had the first bad fight in 11 years.” Roach said. “He wants show to the world that he’s not washed up.
“I do feel he has a knockout on his mind,” he said.
Although he has compiled an impressive, 54-3-2 record with 38 knockouts on the way to eight world titles, Pacquiao, 33, seemed to have lost his edge.
He claimed that in his fight with Marquez, he was not focused, that problems, including some domestic issues, have distracted him.
He says now, he’s a man reborn.
“I’m more focused now,” Pacquiao said on the CNN’s 24/7, a television primer on the bout. “I have joy and happiness in my life.”
In another television appearance, Pacquiao said that he has given up gambling, basketball and girls, and instead has taken up Bible studies, in a religious rebirth that has given him peace.
As if to accentuate that, he has brought along his wife, Jinkee, and his children to training camp in Los Angeles and to Las Vegas.
And this has brought new urgency in training. In addition, the feud between Roach and strength coach Alex Ariza has been resolved, and Ariza will work on Pacquiao’s corner during the fight.
“There’s no problem. Everything is okay,” Pacquiao said, although he declined to provide details of the “feud.”
In 28-year-old Bradley, who has won all his previous 28 fights, including 12 by knockouts, Pacquiao will find a hungry, confident and skilled fighter who likes to mix it up.
The WBO junior welterweight champion, Bradley has not fought with boxers of Pacquiao’s class, but he was impressive in beating Junior Witter in England in 2008.
A professional boxer for the past 12 years, Bradley shruged off talk that he’s over-matched with Pacquiao (Las Vegas sports books have Pacquiao a 4-1 favorite) and stands no chance of beating the champion.
He insisted that he’s ready to go and has shown confidence by saying he’ll win, and there will be a rematch.
“Let’s bring it on,” he said at the pre-fight press conference, in which he mugged Pacquiao and tried to stare down the champion.
“I’m ready to shock the world,” said Bradley, who weighed in at 146 pounds to Pacquiao’s 147. “I’ve never trained so hard in my life.”
But Roach, who is gunning for his 11th straight win with Pacquiao, dismissed Bradley’s bravado.
“Even at his best, I don’t worry about him,” Roach said of Bradley. ” I have total confidence in my fighter.”
However, there’s that big fight looming out there, regardless of the result of this bout with Bradley.
The only boxing match that really matters is against Floyd Mayweather Jr., who is serving time at a Las Vegas jail for conviction of charges of domestic violence.
Boxing experts say a knockout win over Bradley will bring the clamor for that fight even louder.