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Pacquiao says old foe Bradley presents new challenge

LOS ANGELES — Manny Pacquiao could have chosen just about anyone in his return to the ring April 9 at the MGM Grand Garden.

Amir Khan wanted him. Terence Crawford would have loved to have fought him. Shawn Porter. Keith Thurman. Jessie Vargas. Even Adrien Broner. All would have been happy to step in the ring with him.

Instead, Pacquiao, 37, decided to face World Boxing Organization welterweight super champion Timothy Bradley Jr. for a third time before his real fight begins, that being his attempt to win a seat in the Philippines Senate in May.

The fight will be televised on HBO Pay Per View. Tickets, priced from $1,204 to $154, go on sale at 10 a.m. Friday through Ticketmaster, ticketmaster.com and mgmgrand.com.

“I chose Bradley because I believe he’s different than the fighter I fought before,” Pacquiao said Tuesday at the Beverly Hills Hotel as the kickoff began for the promotion. “He showed it against (Brandon) Rios, and I believe we can make a great fight.”

Officially, Pacquiao (57-6-2, 38 knockouts) and Bradley (33-1-1, 13 KOs) have split their two fights. But most boxing fans and many who covered their first fight in June 2012 are of the opinion that Pacquiao won and Bradley benefited from questionable judging in gaining a 12-round split decision and the WBO welterweight title.

Their rematch in April 2014 saw Pacquiao dominate and get revenge with a 12-round unanimous decision to regain his title.

So why bother with Bradley again? It’s not as though this was Juan Manuel Marquez, who knocked out Pacquiao in their fourth meeting in December 2012 and who had epic battles with Pacquiao over the years in their other three meetings.

“I think people still have some doubts,” said Pacquiao, a two-term congressman from Sarangani province in the Philippines. “I thought I won that fight, but the record shows that (Bradley) won. Now, we can settle it once and for all who the better fighter is.”

Bradley, who was impressive in knocking out Rios on Nov. 7 at the Thomas & Mack Center, said he needs to put the doubts to rest that he did indeed beat Pacquiao the first time. He also has a different trainer, with Teddy Atlas working his corner after Joel Diaz was his trainer for his first two meetings with Pacquiao.

“I know people still doubt I won the first fight,” said Bradley, 32. “But I’m not the same fighter Pacquiao saw in our first two fights. I think he’s going to be surprised by what he sees.”

Freddie Roach, Pacquiao’s longtime trainer, doesn’t think so.

“It’s the same Bradley,” Roach said. “Look who they put in front of him — an out-of-shape guy who was ready to retire. He hasn’t beaten Manny yet, and he’s not going to beat Manny on April 9.”

The oddsmakers agree with Roach. The MGM Resorts sports books has Pacquiao as a minus-260 favorite, with Bradley at plus-220.

The big question for Pacquiao will be his right shoulder. Has he fully recovered from the injury he suffered in training for his May 2 fight with Floyd Mayweather Jr.? Pacquiao was injured six weeks before the fight, and even on the night of the fight he was looking to get a pain-killing shot, which was denied by the Nevada Athletic Commission because Pacquiao had written on his prefight medical questionnaire that his shoulder was not hurt.

Will he have to train differently? Will he be able to spar without fear of reinjuring the shoulder? Does Roach take things slow at first and build up to April 9? Or is it business as usual in which Pacquiao spars from Day One and they don’t worry about the shoulder, which was surgically repaired after the Mayweather fight.

Pacquiao was recently seen playing basketball in the Philippines, which normally Roach would not be too pleased with. But the fact he was playing may be an indication his shoulder is just fine, and once Pacquiao begins training at Roach’s Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood, it will be the normal routine everyone is used to.

“I’m convinced Manny’s shoulder is 100 percent, so we’re going full steam ahead,” Roach said. “I’m not going to baby Manny. I don’t have to. Manny’s not going to lie to me. If he says his shoulder’s fine, I believe him.”

Pacquiao said he will train as he usually does.

“My shoulder is fine,” he said. “I’m ready to train and ready to fight.”

Top Rank chairman and Hall of Fame promoter Bob Arum, who promotes both fighters, has said he’s not promoting this as Pacquiao’s final fight. He’s right. What if Pacquiao loses his Senate bid in May? He probably would remain active as a boxer.

He’s going to make a minimum of $20 million for the trilogy with Bradley. Arum, who confirmed the purse for Pacquiao, said he and Bradley have a confidentiality agreement and would not say what Bradley’s guarantee will be.

“He’s such a likable guy,” Arum said of Pacquiao. “He’s done things no one thought was possible, coming from halfway across the world with nothing to gaining millions of fans worldwide and being a superstar. But is this truly his last fight? I can’t say with certainty that it is. So I’m leery of promoting it as the last chance to see Manny fight, because in boxing, you never know.”

And while his promoter was speaking in cautious tones, Pacquiao sounded like someone who is indeed walking away from boxing. He talked about life after the ring and his desire to win that Senate seat and help his countrymen even more.

“Helping my people and my country, that is the most important thing,” he said. “There are so many things that need to be done, and I feel it is more important to serve my people and do it honestly, not in a corrupt way, than to continue boxing.”

Pacquiao said he’s come to terms with the fact that he might never get another shot at Mayweather, who retired after defeating Andre Berto in September.

“I’m ready to hang up the gloves,” he said. “I’m sure I’ll feel sad after that. But that’s life.”

Contact reporter Steve Carp at scarp@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj

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