Boxing breathed a huge sigh of relief when one of its biggest attractions resisted the trappings of time in Las Vegas.
Manny Pacquiao, a veteran of 19 years in the professional ring, turned in a vintage performance to regain the WBO welterweight title from Timothy Bradley.
After 12 rounds of intense warfare, the eight-weight world champion was ruled the winner unanimously, two scores of 116-112 and one of 118-110 confirming his supremacy.
“I just lost to the best fighter in the world,” said Bradley while nursing his first defeat. “Manny fought his heart out and the better man won tonight.”
One of the most controversial decisions in boxing history spawned this sequel. In June 2012, at the same MGM Grand, two of the three judges disagreed with an overwhelming majority of observers, and branded Bradley the winner. The American’s joy at hearing his victory call did not last. Savage derision greeted his exit from the ring. The distain spread, death threats were issued to his family, and his reputation was in tatters.
Both men had a lot to prove tonight.
The atmosphere beforehand crackled with that sense of anticipation. Watching Pacquiao these days is not like it used to be when he was the undisputed king of his trade. Not so long ago we thought he was superhuman, and his slayings were guilty pleasures. For this bout, a loss was just as likely as a win, and as the idol made his way to the battleground, hearts rattled like alarm clocks.
But, after this showing, we can still enjoy Pacquiao’s time.
After a quiet opener, the duo exchanged fire in the second. Bradley started the round quickly, trying to force the enemy back. The Filipinio exploded, landing a left through the middle. As Pacquiao tried to enliven the old killer within, Bradley took advantage of the pause, and responded with a volley of his own. It was absorbing action.
The action intensified in the third. The crowd favourite blazed, hacking with straight lefts as he went. But Bradley’s shield was sturdy, he peeked from behind it, plotting his own attack. By the end of the round the underdog had his hands by his side, inviting the ageing warrior to take a swipe.
Already far braver than he had been in the first fight, Bradley dipped beneath a Pacquiao lead and arced a right that landed with a thud. The American’s machismo increased. At the close of the sixth he refused to defend himself, instead choosing to dive beneath Pacquiao’s rabid mitts.
But Bradley’s desire to sit in the eye of the storm soon appeared ill-judged. Through the middle rounds he enjoyed the punishment less and less, his legs not as willing to bounce, his arms not as busy. There were rumours at ringside that he was injured.
He looked hurt in the ninth as his tormentor swarmed all over him. Bradley, summoned the reserve and rallied down the stretch but could not match Pacquiao’s output.
At the end, there was no doubt about who had won. And this time, thankfully, the judges agreed.
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk