For more than three years Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr. have engaged in a tension-filled match-beyond-the-match in which each had to hold serve to preserve this decade's "The Fight of the Century." The stakes couldn't have been higher, for one slip-up by either and the projected $150 million purse split goes up in smoke.
Mayweather struggled at times against Miguel Cotto last month, but a stirring stretch drive helped preserve his much-cited perfect record and placed the onus squarely on Pacquiao. On Saturday "The Pac Man" will face the undefeated Timothy Bradley in a bout whose significance goes far beyond his fourth defense of the WBO welterweight title he won from Cotto two-and-a-half years ago. It's his chance to regain the edge in his head-to-head race with the man called "Money" in terms of pay-per-view numbers, bargaining position and conventional wisdom -- all of which Mayweather has led as of late.
Will "Typhoon Manny" blow past "Desert Storm" or will General Bradley engineer an upset that will change the course of history? Pacquiao is nearly a 4-1 favorite. Their respective CompuBox histories offer the following food for thought:
Passing His Peak?: Between June 2008 (KO 9 David Diaz) and November 2010 (W 12 Antonio Margarito), Pacquiao experienced a "zone" few fighters ever experienced. During that six-fight span Pacquiao merged extreme volume with breathtaking precision. His combined 84.2 punches per round against Diaz, De La Hoya, Hatton, Cotto, Clottey and Margarito were far above the divisional norms at 135 (63.4), 140 (60.3), 147 (58.4) and 154 (59.0) yet he avoided the volume-puncher's Achilles' heel of low accuracy as he landed a combined 34.6 percent (overall) and 47.1 percent (power).
He zoomed past the 50 percent mark in power connects three times -- 57.6 percent against Margarito, 58.6 percent vs. De La Hoya and 61.9 percent against Hatton -- and only his notoriously inaccurate jab prevented him from doing the same in terms of overall connect percentage.
But in his last two fights against Shane Mosley and Juan Manuel Marquez, Pacquiao has slipped technically and numerically. Part of that can be blamed on styles -- both Marquez and Mosley are gifted boxers with fast hands. But Pacquiao's recent slide can also be attributed to his taking fewer risks in punch selection, for his combined 26.1 power punches per round against Mosley and Marquez is less than half the 52.4 he averaged in his six "peak" fights. The good news for Pacquiao is that he's still landing at a high rate (46.9 percent) but the bad news is that he's throwing far fewer as well -- 83.3 then, 54.4 now. A less active Pacquiao is a more vulnerable one, but will Bradley be able to take advantage?
Bradley vs. Southpaws: Bradley has faced three left-handers in his last eight fights, including his two most recent assignments against Joel Casamayor (KO 8) and Devon Alexander (W 12). Bradley fans can take comfort that their man has improved his performance each time out:
Vs. Witter -- 26.7 percent (overall), 31.5 percent (power)
Vs. Alexander -- 30.5 percent (overall), 34.6 percent (power)
Vs. Casamayor -- 40.0 percent (overall), 51.2 percent (power)
Vs. Witter -- 19.2 percent overall (plus-7.5), 29.8 percent power (plus-1.7)
Vs. Alexander -- 27.2 percent overall (plus-3.3), 32.2 percent power (plus-2.4)
Vs. Casamayor -- 14.1 percent overall (plus-25.9), 24.3 percent power (plus-25.9)
One potential concern for Bradley fans is that their man fights much more carefully against left-handers than against orthodox fighters -- a bad sign if he encounters a rejuvenated Pacquiao. Against Casamayor, Alexander and Witter Bradley averaged 47.1 punches per round while against five right-handers that number jumped to 66.7.
However, while Bradley's volume is affected by left-handed stances his effectiveness is largely the same. He landed a combined 32.4 percent of his total punches against the southpaws and 33.0 percent against the righties while connecting on 40.2 percent of his power shots against southpaws and 46.9 percent against right-handers. Also, his jabs are slightly more accurate against southpaws (19.7 percent to 18.9 percent) and his plus-minus ratings are better (plus-11.4 overall and plus-10.4 power against lefties; plus-5.4 overall and plus 12.6 power against righties). Therefore, Bradley theoretically has the tools to deal properly with Pacquiao's southpaw stance.
Prediction: Like Mayweather against Cotto, Pacquiao will have his problems with the younger, highly motivated Bradley. This may also be bloody given Bradley's penchant for butting and Pacquiao's scar tissue. But like Mayweather, Pacquiao will rise to the occasion down the stretch and win a competitive decision.