Las Vegas, Nevada – Manny Pacquiao has more at stake than his World Boxing Organisation welterweight title when he takes on unbeaten American Timothy Bradley on Saturday – he has his reputation on the line.
Pacquiao trainer Freddie Roach didn't mince words when he said the Filipino ring icon would be fighting to regain some luster after his controversial majority decision over Juan Manuel Marquez last November.
“Manny's motivation is his last fight. We had the first bad fight we had in 11 years,” Roach said. “He wants to prove to the world he's not washed up.”
Pacquiao has won world titles in eight weight divisions, building a record of 54-3 with two drawn and 38 knockouts.
Along the way he has become a hero in his home country, where he is also a congressman, and a star around the world.
But the 33-year-old southpaw was unconvincing against Marquez, leading many to wonder if he has passed the peak of his powers.
Pacquiao is so determined to prove himself, Roach said, that he believes the fighter is thinking knockout.
“I do feel he has a knockout on his mind,” Roach said.
Both Pacquiao and Roach know that the 28-year-old Bradley, who brings a record of 28-0 to the bout with 12 knockouts, will be eager to make an impression in the biggest fight of his career.
“He's a tough young guy coming up, but I think he'll get eaten up as he comes,” said Roach, who believes Bradley is too slow and lacking in power to beat Pacquiao.
Bradley has said he will try to avoid a toe-to-toe battle with Pacquiao, whose quickness, power and ability to punch from many angles have seen him win 15 fights in a row since 2005.
Roach said he believes that Bradley will bring the fight to Pacquiao, which will suit the champion perfectly.
“I think they are trying to mix us up a little,” Roach said. “I think we can count on him coming to us.”
Even if he doesn't, Roach said, Pacquiao will be ready, having sparred with partners who were aggressive and with those who weren't.
“If he does try not to engage, we'll take the fight to him,” Roach said.
Bradley, who won the WBO light welterweight title by beating Britain's Junior Witter in England in 2008, will be fighting for just the second time at 147 pounds.
The pre-fight hype Ä including a reality television series following both fighters and numerous publicity stops to promote the pay-per-view programme Ä is more than Bradley has encountered before, but he has shown himself adept.
He is relaxed and engaging in his interviews, explaining his vegan diet and the financially lean years of his early pro career.
He got a laugh out of Pacquiao at the pre-fight press conference by unveiling a giant “ticket” for a re-match to follow his victory on Saturday.
Bradley's trainer, Joel Diaz, also said his fighter was ready for the pro-Pacquiao crowd that is sure to greet him Saturday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, noting that he dealt admirably with the hostile crowd in Nottingham when he upset Witter.
Both fighters have said they have made adjustments in training to try to minimize the risk of head-butts determining the bout – Bradley because he has been accused of leading with his head in the past and Pacquiao mainly because the southpaw-righty matchup can often lead to such butts.
“He's tired of all these people saying he uses his head intentionally,” Diaz said of Bradley.
Roach didn't go so far as to call Bradley a dirty fighter, but said: “He does use his head quite a bit. It's something we have to be concerned about.
“If he comes in head first, you use lateral movement. Over 12 rounds, a southpaw and righty, their heads are on the same side. Head butts do happen.” – Sapa-AFP