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Pacquiao-Bradley: Travesty … or Business?

After what seemed to be a clear victory for Manny Pacquiao (right), a split decision inexplicably went the way of Timothy Bradley.

I heard the decision on SportsCenter the other night, after the vast majority of analysts, experts and spectators had already declared it to be a foregone conclusion: Pacquiao was about to defend his Welterweight title, in convincing fashion.

I’m still flabbergasted.

Undefeated Timothy “Desert Storm” Bradley had succeeded in doing what no one thought he could do: take a Judge’s decision and win the WBO Welterweight Championship over the heavily-favored Manny Pacquiao, undefeated in 15 straight championship bouts. The Filipino icon had last lost in March 2005 – a span of more than seven years – to Erik Morales via 10th-round TKO.

While media buzz surrounding the fight gave Bradley a puncher’s chance (no pun intended) of completing the monumental feat of beating Pacquiao, not many believed it was possible – not even with all of the recent controversy surrounding Pacquiao, and how events leading up to the fight may have proved a distraction. Some could say that Bradley, in his victory over Pacman last night, proved many of the doubters wrong.

Then again, if they truly believe that, then they are either lying to themselves, or they know nothing about the sport of boxing. In the anticipated bout between the undefeated rising star and the incomparable Filipino warrior, the vast majority in the media, in attendance, and watching on Pay-Per-View, saw a clear winner – and it wasn’t Bradley.

One need only look at the CompuBox statistics for the fight: Pacquiao had the clear edge over Bradley in percentage of punches landed (34% vs. 19%), jabs landed (24% vs. 11%) and, most importantly, power punches landed (39% vs. 28%). Judging from the stats alone, there should have been no doubt that Pacquiao won.

Then, there was the testimony of almost every media outlet who covered the fight: Dan Rafael of ESPN.com and HBO unofficial scorer Harold Lederman both scored the fight handily in Pacquiao’s favor, at 119-109. Similarly, the Associated Press gave the fight to Pacquiao, with a score of 117-111. There didn’t seem to be a single outlet that gave more than five rounds to Bradley, let alone have Bradley come out victorious.

Furthermore, realtime accounts via Twitter gave the indication that it was, hands down, another Pacquiao victory. The vast majority – if not all – were continuing to call for a worthy opponent, like the currently-incarcerated Floyd Mayweather, even before the bout was over. Even now, polls show that Pacquiao had clearly won the fight.

And then, the shocking conclusion: Judges CJ Ross and Duane Ford seemingly went against everything they saw in the ring and against everyone’s view of the fight – and gave the decision to Bradley. When announcer Michael Buffer announced the controversial decision, all Hell seemed to break loose, as boos rained down on the ring floor, and an entire island nation reacted in shock. Renowned analyst Teddy Atlas said of the judges that awarded Bradley the victory as “incompetent” and “corrupt”, while Rafael called the decision “a flat out robbery, and one of the worst decisions … ever.

You KNOW there’s a problem when even Khloe Kardashian thinks something’s wrong with the decision.

Judging from the bare naked statistics, the simple eye test that fell in overwhelming favor of the former welterweight champion, and the fact that the victor showed up post-fight in a wheelchair with an apparent fractured foot, how could this have happened? Some have their tongue-in-cheek theories – Rafael, himself, threw out the idea that this was, in some way, to make up for the controversial decision just a bout before, when Pacquiao won a majority decision against Juan Manuel Marquez – a fight that some believe Marquez should have won.

Others believe that it was karma – universal justice for the anti-Gay Marriage stance he voiced (but was grossly misquoted) in recent interviews. There were even rumors that the judges were not too fond of the fact that Pacquiao delayed the fight’s start time to watch Game 7 of Heat-Celtics – Pacquiao is a Celtics fan.

Man. This SOO wasn’t Pacquiao’s night.

Ultimately, however, I reiterate that, for many, it comes down to one of two things.

To quote The Orlando Sentinel’s George Diaz:

Corrupt or simply incompetent? Because it’s one or the other, folks.

But what about “cunning”?

That makes as much sense as the Bradley decision.

While this is difficult for even me to believe, allow me to explain.

The fact remains that, while boxers like Tim Bradley and new WBC welterweight champion Randall Bailey may represent the future of big-time boxing, only two names are capable of keeping the sport relevant in popular culture: Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather. A superfight between the two pugilists has yet to be settled, and with “Pretty Boy” Floyd in prison for the foreseeable future, there doesn’t seem to be many more major draws for the sport of boxing.

With the continued growing popularity of sports like MMA, boxing seems to be going the way of the Dodo – a fading, even dying, practice that no longer has the clout that the days of Holyfield and Tyson, Hagler and Leonard, Ali and Foreman once had. Promoters like Bob Arum, as well as the various boxing commissions across the country, must take into account this decline, and ways to keep the sport in Americana. For them, they must do what it takes for boxing to survive.

Perhaps, with an outrageous decision like the one concluded in Pacquiao-Bradley, this seemed like their only choice.

Think about it: Bradley is one of the only notable undefeated fighters in the country, after Mayweather. Despite that no one – not even, reportedly, Bradley himself – believed he had won, the fact is that he has the belt – like it or not. Without Mayweather as a huge draw, what would be the next best thing? Another undefeated fighter, who had beaten Mayweather’s supposed nemesis in Pacquiao, to win the WBC Championship.

And now, with all of the controversy surrounding his win, as well as the conspiracy theories flying around the internet, Pacquiao-Bradley II has practically written itself, in terms of prevailing storylines. It almost plays out like Rocky II in reverse: the underdog, a new champion, that no one believes is the true champion, would have to prove himself in a rematch against the embattled former title holder that everyone would want to see. With that in mind, it may be just the thing to help save a fledgling sport.

But why sacrifice Manny’s perfect seven-year run? Perhaps, the powers that be are actually banking on the controversy to be the big draw – especially in a rematch. When all was said and done, Bradley became an undefeated champion. Officially, he had a big, fat zero next to his loss column.

With a potential rematch looming, coupled with Mayweather’s current incarceration, what would have been the better story: a one-loss fighter who obviously couldn’t cut it seeking a rematch against who many consider the best fighter in the world? Or, an undefeated champ who desperately would have to prove himself in a rematch against a self-described “warrior in the ring”, who now has the visceral motivation to knock him down and knock him out?

Despite all the negative feelings, the bitter taste left in the mouths of boxing analysts and fans, the perceived corruption and incompetence in boxing today – the obvious choice would have to be the latter.

Perhaps, that is what the powers that be had in mind. Perhaps, it was just business.

You may hate what this man stands for (or not even know who he is), but he may have had a hand in inadvertently saving the sport of boxing.

Now, in the event of a rematch, the question is: Will people watch? Will their big gamble to hand Pacquiao an undeserved fourth loss work out for them in the long run? As of right now, that is in doubt. However, should the public show interest – and maybe even expect a different kind of show come November – then maybe the sacrifice boxing showed will be beneficial, after all.

In the end, it was obvious to all that the decision was grossly unfair. But, in the absence of the real draw in Mayweather – like it or not – it may be the only big thing boxing has to stay alive.

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