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Publication Date : 15-04-2014
The timing of the second Pacquiao-Bradley fight was fraught with symbolism. As far as I know, this was the first time Manny Pacquiao fought on Palm Sunday (Manila time), and I thought we’d either get an early Easter or an early Good Friday. We’d either be sent to heights of jubilation or depths of despair.
Before the fight, Pacquiao had an ad that kept appearing on Solar Sports. In it, he spoke of his identification with the people and/or the people’s identification with him. Each punch he delivered, he said, didn’t just carry with it the strength of his fists, it carried with it the force of the nation. A little silly, but conveyed a meaning you grasped intuitively. Pacquiao’s fights have taken on an aspect that goes beyond boxing. A lot was riding on this fight, as it did when Pacquiao fought Brandon Rios in November shortly after Supertyphoon “Yolanda.” The very survival of the nation was at stake. The very ability of the nation to resurrect was at stake.
It was unthinkable that Pacquiao should lose. It was unacceptable that Pacquiao should lose.
He made sure he would not.
But not without some scary moments there. Of course Pacquiao was the llamado, or odds-on favourite. He had beaten Timothy Bradley once before, whatever the official result of the fight said, and could be expected to do so again. The fact that he had been robbed of victory the first time around could only add fire in his belly and hunger in his heart. But you never knew, you still harboured the image of him lying on the canvas after Juan Manuel Marquez caught him with a vicious right as he was lunging forward on the last second of the sixth round. And wondering if he would get up - immediately or ever.
The sublime irony there being that Marquez was behind in all the judges’ scorecards, and his handlers were even contemplating throwing in the towel if the fight went on the way it had. There’s always the lucky punch, as
Pacquiao has learned the hard way. Lucky always trumps plucky.
Never happened with Bradley. Though like I said, there were scary moments there. The first half of the fight was pretty even as reflected in the judges’ scorecards, with Pacquiao taking the first three rounds and Bradley the next three. Round 4 was definitely Bradley’s as Pacquiao tapered off and Bradley caught him with crisp blows, one of which wobbled him. I thought Bradley had swung things around, Pacquiao suddenly looked tired and vulnerable. That he continued to battle Pacquiao toe-to-toe in the next couple of rounds and had him on the retreat for the better part of those rounds brought my - and that of the others around me - trepidation to a higher level.
But lo and behold, the next half saw Pacquiao recovering his old glory. Maybe it was the chants of “Manny! Manny!” from the partisan crowd of Filipinos. Maybe it was the memory of how utterly lost his countrymen became when he lost the fight against Marquez, and in quite a shockingly incomprehensible way. But suddenly Pacquiao came roaring back. He rocked Bradley with combinations in the seventh round, and Bradley, who had started to gather confidence and a bit of swagger, got reminded of the sting of his fists.
Pacquiao refused to let up and rained combinations on Bradley’s face and body over the next couple of rounds. I myself couldn’t hear anything from the fight anymore, the yells and shouts of jubilation around me were probably as loud as the yells and shouts of jubilation from the Filipino crowd at MGM.
The last three rounds were anticlimactic. Bradley was a spent force, as who wouldn’t be after receiving that punishment, dancing the dance of the defeated, backing off from his tormentor around and around the ring. The wonder was that he wouldn’t fall. And it is a testament to his physical strength or mental resolve or sheer pride that he did not. Barring a lucky punch too - and there was always the distant possibility of it landing as he kept throwing wild roundhouses out of desperation - the fight was over.
It was redemption for Pacquiao, it was Easter for the nation. I saw the first fight in Toronto a couple of years ago and that one came as an absolute shock. The sense of injustice and oppression was monumental. Bradley himself took the decision - that he had won - with disbelief. The non-Filipinos themselves in the pub-cum-pizza place I and some friends watched the fight in howled in derision. As did the world subsequently.
Someone joked last Sunday in the middle rounds that Pacquiao would lose the fight - but be declared winner by the judges. Thankfully, it remained a joke.
But it wasn’t just Pacquiao who found redemption last Sunday.
Bradley did too.
He would reveal some weeks before he fought Pacquiao how his life had changed after he won the first fight - not for the better but for the worse. He became the most reviled fighter afterward, the butt of jokes and ridicule. Nobody took him seriously, though he reclaimed some ground after he conquered Pacquiao’s undisputed conqueror, Marquez. So miserable had his life become after he became champion, indeed so thorny had the crown on his head become after he tore it away from Pacquiao, that he was even tempted to end his life.
That didn’t happen of course. What happened was a wondrous thing: He lost to Pacquiao again, this time officially, and by losing, won what he lost the first time around by winning. He won his dignity, he won his self-respect, he won the respect of the world. Not least by showing graciousness in defeat, showering his opponent with praise afterward.
Ah, but life is truly stranger than fiction. You often find redemption where you least expect it.
I myself found an even better ending to the fight in a text message I got immediately after it. It said:
“Congratulations Manny Pacquiao! - Kim Henares (tax chief).”