Without the incomparable American, interest in the April 9 fight would be minimal. On paper, the fighters are 1-1, with Bradley controversially outpointing Pacquiao in 2012 before Manny levelled the score two years later.
However, to most observers Pacquiao had the better of Bradley in both fights, meaning a third meeting has little value. Indeed, when Pacquiao confirmed this would be his last fight, many hoped he would cover new ground against an opponent like Amir Khan or Terence Crawford.
That is not to say Bradley is unworthy – he has won numerous world titles and is undoubtedly one of the best fighters in the sport. But he’s had his chance against Pacquiao, and he missed. Twice.
Bradley was under the tutelage of long-term trainer Joel Diaz during his fights with Pacquiao but, out of the blue, Bradley cut ties with Diaz last September. The split was clean cut but raised a lot of questions. Tim simply said he ‘needed a change.’
Eyebrows were raised higher when it was revealed Bradley was teaming up with Teddy Atlas, who hadn’t trained a fighter since 2011, when he parted ways with Alexander Povetkin. Atlas, who served a notorious apprenticeship under Cus D’Amato, had carved out a respected career in broadcasting.
His first fight with Bradley didn’t tell us much. ‘Desert Storm’ bludgeoned an out-of-shape and under-motivated Brandon Rios inside nine rounds in November. In fact, the most memorable moment of the fight came courtesy of Atlas himself when he barked a rousing, and slightly bizarre, speech about fireman at his charge.
Bradley insists leg injuries hindered his performance during his second fight with Pacquiao. He also claims he did not have much of a strategy when fighting the future Hall of Famer. The addition of Atlas, he feels, will change that.
“I am what you call a perfectionist. I take my training and my boxing seriously. Teddy is a very serious guy too. He puts his heart into it and I feel the same way,” he said.
“I think the difference this time around is I have a game plan – I really do have a game plan. My game plan before was to avoid the left hand. Avoid the left hand and hit him with the right hand. Now, the game plan is a little more in detail.
“There are things that Manny Pacquiao does that I can take advantage of that I didn’t see before in watching film and breaking film down that Teddy has brought to my attention. I feel like it’s going to be a completely different fight than the first two.”
For Bradley, Atlas’ impact is a tactical one. For everyone else, it’s promotional. A walking encyclopedia of metaphors, whenever Atlas holds court he snatches attention and doesn’t let it slip. He’s a fascinating character and he has added a much needed extra dimension to this fight.
It helps that Pacquiao is trained by Freddie Roach, no stranger to the limelight.
The two taskmasters have traded barbs throughout the build-up and it’s made for some great copy. Of course, the focus should be on the two protagonists but the side-show is more than welcome, particularly when the main event is on its second re-run.
“I don’t think any of that stuff [trading insults with Roach] helps,” Atlas said.
“It comes down to the professionalism of the fighters. They are the ones that the focus should be on. I didn’t ask for this to come about or to grow into the ways that it has. I made myself a promise and that was to be as restrained as I could be and with it when it was appropriate. When it was appropriate to respond, I responded but I did not fire the first shot across the bow and I waited awhile before I responded.
“If it helps the promotion, I’m not going out of my way – I’m never going to do things that I feel I am not comfortable with or embarrass my family or my fighter or put any of them in a poor light or position – I wouldn’t do that to promote a fight or help a fight but at the end of the day if some of those responses help the promotion that’s a good thing because without the promoters, I understood that since I started with Cus D’Amato always reminding me to help the promoters in any way you can because without that there is no place for your fighter to ply his trade.
“Again, it wasn’t in any thought that was I’m going to do this for this effect or to sell more pay-per-view buys – it was just a matter at some point my responding appropriately if I could under the circumstances. I could tell you now that I would have preferred that if it wasn’t initiated we wouldn’t have to talk about this at all and I try not to because the focus is the fighters. It’s the two fighters that get in the ring to take the risk. It’s the two fighters that have the most on the line and at the end of the day that should be understood.”
Beyond the pre-fight verbiage – which could go into overdrive during fight week – Atlas’ effect on Bradley is still unknown, and that is certainly a point of interest.
His prickly demeanor may rub some people the wrong way, but there’s no getting around the fact Atlas is a boxing genius. A devout student, Atlas analysed every round Bradley had ever boxed on film before he had even been offered the job. He’s also an accomplished teacher who knows how to get the best out of his fighters.
“We have the game plan. I just have to go out there and execute the game plan,” Bradley said.
“If I execute the game plan I will have no problem beating Manny Pacquiao just like I was able to beat Brandon Rios with the game plan. I trust everything that Teddy is telling me and teaching me.
“Teddy can instill everything that I need and I just go out and instill the game plan to win this fight. He has told me everything I need to know to win this fight and if I don’t go out there and do it I’m not going to win this fight.”
At 32, Bradley has learned his fair share over the years, but that’s not to say Atlas won’t have anything to teach him. Both have spoken about the excruciating detail Teddy has gone into regarding Bradley’s faults, meticulously picking apart his performances against the likes of Ruslan Provodnikov and Jessie Vargas.
His body is also incapable of the feats it achieved say five or six years ago, something Atlas is acutely aware of.
“First I understood that he had a 32nd birthday [back in August]. I looked at the calendar and saw that he was 32 and it made sense to train a 32 year old – a five-time world champion – a little different than a 25-year old or 26 or 27,” he said.
“It is common sense just understanding with that kind of experience with those kinds of miles over the course of his career sometimes less is more. You do the same thing if you have a car – when it gets a little older you don’t take it on the highway 100 miles per hour – you don’t do that. You might bring it out fast on certain days but on other days you let it go at a more proper pace.
“It makes sense and I think sometimes in these fights there is tremendous pressure on everybody to be the most prepared. Sometimes you think the answer is to do more physical work and that’s where certain times you get comfortable – if I do more I’ll be OK.
“It’s like anything – there is a proper degree of everything. It’s a delicate balance – you have to pay attention to it and you have to understand it, be cognizant of it. You have to respect that. The human body is a very special machine and like any special machine it has to be worked properly. It has to be maintained properly. It has to be pushed properly and it has to be regulated properly. Too much of anything can be a negative.
“Like I said, you have to very aware of the right amount and what can be the wrong amount. I always say to him ‘we have an eight-week training camp, keep logs on the fire,’ we have to make sure that we will still have enough logs to burn at the end of training camp. That’s my philosophy.”
Of course, we can’t really measure the effect of Teddy Atlas until fight night. Pacquiao may not be the phenomenon he was a few years ago, but it would still take an elite performance to beat him at this stage. If Bradley boxes how he did in their first two fights, he’s unlikely to win. However if Atlas has had the desired effect, Bradley could pull off a career-boosting win that would propel his pound-for-pound standing (which, by the way, is already pretty high).
It’s easy to knock the fight, given the fairly drab 24 rounds the two fighters already shared together, yet it is still the world’s top two welterweights squaring off. While Pacquiao remains the favourite, Atlas adds an element of the unknown to a seemingly predictable storyline.