By Bert Eljera
LAS VEGAS – Despite the verdict, there was no question he won the fight. The question was: Why didn’t Manny Pacquiao put Timothy Bradley away?
He can’t or he won’t?
Has his fists lose their sting? Or has he gone soft – for a variety of reasons?
The questions have to be asked. For five straight fights now, Pacquiao, who rose to prominence by crushing opponents by the power of his fists, have not scored a knock-out.
All this controversy about his loss by split decision would not be talked about if Pacquiao knocked out Bradley – as his coach, Freddie Roach, has stressed as the goal of the bout.
Now, they’re talking again of a knockout, if a rematch happens, to settle once and for all that Pacquiao, at 33 is not a has-been.
But while there was almost general unanimity in the media and among boxing fans who watched the fight that Pacquiao won – and decisively in the eyes of many – the Filipino ring icon is not the same boxer he was.
He was “beaten” by a fighter with two broken feet!
Norm Frauenheim of the New York Times said that over the past couple of years, Pacquiao has looked distracted and does not show the same commitment to the sport as during his climb to the top of the boxing world.
He cited Pacquiao’s lifestyle, his involvement in politics, the movies, business, and religion on top of some marital problems – too much to handle for any individual.
Pacquiao came into the Bradley fight weighing 150 pounds, his heaviest ever, and there was turmoil in his camp, with Roach and strength coach Alex Ariza involved in a “feud.”
Even on fight night, he came to his dressing room late, reportedly because he was watching an NBA basketball game between the Miami Heat and his favorite team, the Boston Celtics.
“The weight was just another sign of possible slippage,” said Frauenheim. “In his two fights before Bradley, he averaged only 26 power punches a round, according to a CompuBox count. That’s half of the power punches, 52 a round, that he threw in five fights before beating (Juan Manuel) Marquez and (Sean) Mosley.”
A blogger, Chris Williams of Boxing News 24, called Pacquiao an “aging fighter that is starting to lose his ability to get around the ring.
“The problem with Pacquiao is that he doesn’t have the legs to catch up to Bradley nor does he have the boxing skills to compete with him,” Williams said.
“Pacquiao absolutely needs for Bradley to be standing stationary in one place for as long as the fight lasts so that Pacquiao can land his left hand power shots,” he said.
Against Bradley, Pacquiao connected on 98 more punches and 82 power shots, but did not come close to knocking out his opponent, even though Bradley claimed he broke both his legs during the fight and came to the post-fight press conference on a wheelchair.
Considered the best Filipino boxer ever and pound-for-pound one of the best in the world, Pacquiao has earned national adulation and every Filipino has been on his corner.
In 2010, he won a seat on the Philippine House of Representative, representing his province, Saranggani, and now is reportedly setting his sights on the governorship.
His renewed faith and lifestyle changes, particularly his new commitment to his marriage and wife, Jinkee, have earned respect, but his slippage and diminished skills are also there in full display.
Pacquiao has remained humble and in the face of the disgraceful decision against him Saturday, he has remained serene, even forgiving, saying “bad decisions” are part of the game.
But close followers of the fight game see the beginning of the end for a ring legend, although he’s expected to stick around, perhaps for another couple more years.
“I’m a better fighter because I have peace and joy in my life,” Pacquiao said.
His ring record – and performance – does not seem to back up that claim.