It was his time. It was his fight, too.
Bradley (29-0) scored a stunning and controversial upset Saturday night over Manny Pacquiao (54-4-2), winning a split decision in the welterweight bout at the MGM Grand.
Bradley overcame Pacquiao’s advantage in speed over the first six rounds with head-rocking power that eventually left Pacquiao, a Filipino congressman, looking tired and slow.
Pacquiao moved side to side in an almost tireless dance for the first six rounds. But it wasn’t enough for the judges in a close fight. The judges Duane Ford and C. J. Ross scored it for Bradley, 115-113. On Jerry Roth’s scorecard, it was 115-113 for Pacquiao, who lost the World Boxing Organization’s version of the 147-pound title.
Pacquiao told fans, many of whom booed the decision, that he thought he had done enough to win. But he couldn’t knock out Bradley in the early rounds when he appeared to be dominating the bout.
In the opening round, Bradley threw a mild surprise — a jab he wasn’t supposed to have. He fired it repeatedly, head-to-body and body-to-head. But it was Pacquiao who seemed to gain an edge, if not win the round, with a couple of solid lefts, his most feared punch.
Pacquiao’s left would continue to land in the second, especially when Bradley would duck to his right and drop his right hand. In the third, Bradley, increasingly wary of the left, would either back away or resort to roughhouse tactics in tying up Pacquiao.
Late in the third, Bradley appeared to stumble, almost as if he had been dazed by a quick succession of punches from Pacquiao, whose lateral movement created punches from countless angles. In the fourth, Bradley stumbled again, all in an awkward attempt to duck the lethal accuracy that Pacquiao possesses in his left hand. Bradley promised to counter with combinations. Through the first six rounds, however, he only managed to land an occasional right hand.
In the seventh, the well-conditioned and heavily muscled Bradley took on the rugged style for which he is known. He ducked down and almost went into a crablike squat. Bradley’s shaved head, which glistened under the ring’s bright lights, moved menacingly at Pacquiao, almost as if it were a weapon, which is what has often been in his career.
But a head butt from Bradley was never a factor. Bradley promised it wouldn’t be. But his conditioning and powerful right hand were there — repeatedly throughout the last six rounds.
The fight was expected to start immediately after the Miami Heat’s victory over the Boston Celtics. But Pacquiao could not be found. The ring announcer Michael Buffer introduced celebrities, current champions, former champions and the U.S. Olympic boxing team. Still, no Pacquiao. Finally, there he was, in a room other than his dressing room, on a treadmill stretching his calves in an attempt to avoid the cramping that has troubled him in his past two fights.
Throughout the week and before the opening bell Saturday night, there were questions about whether the old Pacquiao would show up. There were more questions about whether he was a fading star than there were about whether Bradley was an emerging one.
Pacquiao has always embraced distractions, which seemed to multiply around him as fast as victories, celebrity and money. He earned a reported $32 million for just two fights in 2010 alone. He played basketball, gambled, sang, starred as an action hero in Filipino films, ran for political office, won a seat in the 15th Congress of the Philippines and even interrupted training for Antonio Margarito in November 2010 to campaign for Nevada Senator Harry Reid. No matter what he did, he won. Since a loss to Erik Morales in March 2005, he went on a remarkable run of 15 successive victories.
But a sign that distractions might finally be taking a toll were suddenly evident last November in a majority decision over Juan Manuel Marquez. Pacquiao won on two of the three scorecards, but lost points in the court of public opinion. The dominance he had displayed against Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton and Cotto was not there. He appeared vulnerable. He looked distracted. He was.
His trainer, Freddie Roach, said there were marital problems. He and his wife, Jinkee, nearly split before the Marquez bout on Nov. 12, also at the MGM Grand, according to Roach, who will be inducted to the International Boxing Hall of Fame on Sunday in Canastota, N.Y. Pacquiao arrived late after Jinkee refused to accompany him, according to Roach, who said he had only 10 minutes to warm up for a bout during which he fought leg cramps for a second straight bout.
“Manny’s life was going off the rails,” said his promoter, Bob Arum, who also promotes Bradley. “It isn’t now.”
Pacquiao, who admitted he had been unfaithful to Jinkee, said he has recommitted himself to his Catholic faith and his marriage. Jinkee was at his side throughout public appearances after arriving in Las Vegas from a training camp at Roach’s Wild Card Gym in Hollywood. They arrived, hand-in-hand, at the Grand Garden Arena on Saturday a couple of hours before he would step into the ring against Bradley. He also said he stopped gambling, including wagering on cockfighting, which is legal in the Philippines. He said he no longer owns the more than 1,000 roosters he raised, fought and bet on. He said he sold his interest in a Filipino casino. Pacquiao, a Celtics fan, even gave up basketball.
On this trip to Las Vegas, there were bible studies instead of late nights at the tables. Pacquiao went to mass with Jinkee and much of his entourage Saturday morning. On Friday, he knelt, put his hands together, looked up and uttered a prayer after weighing in at 147 pounds, the welterweight limit.
“There are no more distractions,” Pacquiao said. “For me, this lifestyle is better for my personality.”
But not everybody was a believer. At the weigh-in, there were questions about Pacquiao’s weight, his heaviest ever. He was at 145 pounds twice, first for Joshua Clottey in 2010 and again for Shane Mosley last May. The two-pound increase generated speculation about his readiness for the tough and chiseled Bradley. The weight was just another sign of possible slippage. 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 Marquez and Mosley.
Then, there was controversy in his corner. Roach said a week ago on HBO’s 24/7 series that strength and conditioning coach Alex Ariza would not be at the fight. Roach was unhappy that Ariza left camp to work with Mexican middleweight champion Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. By last Tuesday, however, Pacquiao decided that Ariza would work the corner.
“Manny’s call,” Roach said.