Wednesday, April 9, 2014 | 2 a.m.
Six fights and four years ago was when Hall of Fame boxing trainer Freddie Roach first identified a problem that would unknowingly tarnish the career of his most prolific pupil.
Manny Pacquiao was in the process of plastering Antonio Margarito’s face with punches late in their November 2010 bout in Dallas when he paused to say something. Roach remembers clearly reading Pacquiao’s lips.
“Are you OK?” Pacquiao asked Margarito.
Margarito answered affirmatively, but Pacquiao changed his approach the rest of the way.
“Manny was looking at the referee like, ‘save this guy,’” Roach said. “The referee wouldn’t do anything about it or the corner, so he was just content and wanted to let the rounds end.”
Pacquiao described it as his compassion coming out in the ring. After knocking out four straight vaunted opponents in 2008 and 2009, he found a way to win just as dominantly but also while staying “nice” with four consecutive decision victories over the next two years.
Then came Timothy Bradley, where generosity backfired. Pacquiao believed he was so far ahead of Bradley late in their fight at the MGM Grand Garden Arena that he could coast and not inflict too much unnecessary damage.
That belief preceded Bradley’s infamous split-decision victory, one of the most controversial rulings in boxing history.
“We had moments in the fight where we hurt him and let him off the hook a little,” Roach said. “Manny felt there was no need to hurt him because he was winning so easily.”
Much to Roach’s delight, Pacquiao promises he’s dropping his empathetic side in the rematch. It’s back to viciousness and violence, Pacquiao vowed as he arrived at the MGM Grand on Tuesday afternoon ahead of Saturday’s second bout with Bradley.
Pacquiao has a point to make, and not just because of the way he slowed down the first time but because how Bradley interpreted it. Bradley believes Pacquiao’s pleas about what went wrong in the first fight are a sign that retirement is looming for one of the most popular boxers in the world.
The WBO welterweight champion went as far as to share those thoughts with Pacquiao at a press stop for their fight. Pacquiao hasn’t forgotten a word.
“I’m always thinking about his challenge to me that I don’t have a killer instinct or hunger,” Pacquiao said. “I’m thinking that while I’m training to know I have to push myself.”
Bradley’s words may have served as the extra spark Pacquiao required. There’s a reason Top Rank waited nearly two years to book the rematch.
Several people, Pacquiao included, never saw a necessity. It wasn’t until Bradley defeated a game Ruslan Provodnikov and a surging Juan Manuel Marquez — in the fight after Marquez knocked out Pacquiao — that Pacquiao considered him as an opponent.
“After the first one, I thought we had nothing to prove to fight again because it was very clear in the eyes of the fans who won,” Pacquiao said.
It still remains debatable if the fans demand resolution. Pacquiao’s grand arrival felt less lively than normal, with a noticeably sparser crowd and quieter commotion.
Then again, the relatively lacking environment could have something to do with a conspicuous absence. Bradley didn’t take part in the fight-week tradition.
He had media obligations in Los Angeles, appearing on the NBA on TNT, where he’ll probably share more opinions Pacquiao disagrees with.
“There’s something wrong,” Pacquiao said. “I’ve been in boxing for more than 20 years, so I know who’s winning and losing. He’s claiming he won the fight, so I think we need to fight again.”
When Pacquiao first felt insulted by Bradley, he sought out Roach to discuss his emotions. Roach was surprised but also relieved because he knew a minor issue that grew to plague Pacquiao was about to get corrected.
“Manny’s never come to me with that before and said what (an opponent) said in the face-off and stuff,” Roach said. “I think it was a little bit of disrespect to Manny. Manny feels that, and I think Manny will pay him back for that.”