Saturday, June 9, 2012

Manny Pacquiao: A changed man but still hungry to win


LAS VEGAS—Manny Pacquiao barely escaped to fight another day, and would need 28 stitches to close the cut over his right eye. Juan Manuel Marquez had nearly ended his remarkable run, but that didn’t stop Pacquiao from singing at his postfight concert and partying the night away with his huge entourage.
He returns to the ring on Saturday, determined to show his last outing was nothing more than a fluke. Little-known Timothy Bradley will be his opponent in a fight that could either end Pacquiao’s lucrative career or revitalize it.
No partying
This time, though, there will be no concert, and no party. Win or lose, the only thing on Pacquiao’s postfight agenda is a Bible study session and some time with his wife.
He claims to be a changed man, and the people around him say he really is. What no one really knows, though, is how it will affect him in the ring, something that makes this fight a bit more intriguing than most.
“It’s 100-percent good,” insists Pacquiao’s trainer Freddie Roach. “He’s much more focused now. From all the distractions he had, the trade-off is unbelievable.”
Oddsmakers aren’t so sure, making Pacquiao a relatively short 4-1 favorite against the unbeaten Bradley. He was a 7-1 pick against Marquez, but was lucky to come away with a majority decision in a fight that could have gone either way.
Pacquiao said afterward that he just had problems with the style of Marquez. Those close to him, though, said personal problems and marital discord troubled him through training camp all the way into the dressing room before the fight, when he was still so consumed by them that he failed to warm up properly.
There will be no excuses this time. Pacquiao knows he not only needs to win but to win impressively if he is to retain his spot alongside currently jailed Floyd Mayweather Jr. as one of the two best fighters in the world.
“I want to prove that I’m still young and I can still fight,” Pacquiao said. “I feel I’m still hungry, I’m still OK.
Unbeaten in 7 years
Pacquiao risks a 15-fight winning streak when he defends his piece of the welterweight title against Bradley. He hasn’t lost in seven years and his recent fights have all been big pay-per-view events that made him millions. But the pressures of being at the top of his sport and of being both a national hero and a congressman in the Philippines fueled a bloated lifestyle that couldn’t be sustained.  Pacquiao gave up drinking, and he gave up gambling. He gave away his cockfighting ranch in the Philippines and sold his interest in a casino there.
He found a spiritual adviser, and now spends his spare moments reading and discussing the Bible.
“The things I did over and over in the past, I stopped those,” Pacquiao said. “I know now if I die today I know where I’m going. It’s helped a lot in my personal life and my boxing life.
More focused
Training in Los Angeles last week, Pacquiao seemed focused as he sparred six rounds with two sparring partners. He dismissed concerns that his new dedication to religion would somehow make him less aggressive in the ring, and said he doesn’t feel like he’s lost any of his speed or his power at the age of 33.
“This is my job,” he said. “I have a job to do in the ring. I’m not underestimating him at all.”
Pacquiao weighed in Friday at the class limit of 147 pounds (66.7 kilograms), while Bradley—who is noticeably more musclebound—weighed 146. It is the heaviest that Pacquiao has ever weighed for a fight.
Bradley, a 140-pound (63.5-kilogram) champion moving up in weight for his biggest fight yet, is the kind of fighter who could give Pacquiao trouble. He fights going forward, isn’t afraid to mix it up inside, and has yet to be beaten in 28 fights.
Mediocre opponent
Yet Roach sees him as a mediocre fighter with limited skills. He said if Pacquiao loses or doesn’t look good against Bradley he will tell him it is time to retire.
“Timothy Bradley is made for Manny,” Roach said. “He’s slow and he doesn’t punch hard, but he tries hard. Manny should eat him up as he comes forward.”
Bradley hardly seems overwhelmed by the hype that surrounds his biggest fight ever. He freely talks about his game plan for beating Pacquiao, and the motivation that has helped him win fights when he was in trouble.
He even brought an oversized replica of a ticket to the final prefight press conference announcing a rematch with Pacquiao on Nov. 10 after his win Saturday night.
“It’s been a long journey but I knew someday I’d get here,” Bradley said. “I just didn’t know when or how.”
Bradley’s fight plan
Bradley said he must resist getting in a brawl with Pacquiao, but says he doesn’t believe Pacquiao has one-punch knockout power. He plans to counterpunch Pacquiao as he comes at him, a style that worked well for Marquez, and will go to the body early and often.
Bradley, who grew up boxing in Palm Springs, California, has only 12 knockouts, but said he sees himself putting Pacquiao on the canvas at some point in the fight. People who criticize him as not being good enough to be in a big fight, he said, simply underestimate his heart.
“I’ve already been bashed in the media enough that it doesn’t mean anything,” he said. “I can accept criticism, but I just use it as fuel. I like it when people talk good about me, and I like it even better when they talk bad.”


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