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Pacquiao can’t afford distractions vs. Bradley

Have faith, Manny Pacquiao fans: The pastor is on it.

Bob Arum has been told as much, which helps the Top Rank CEO sleep better at night, which means there shouldn’t be any anxious moments in the dressing room this time, which means the old lion is going to be tough to beat tonight.

“I believe Manny can turn on the switch,” Arum said. “I talked at length with his pastor, because how do I really know? The pastor told me not to worry, that he reminded Manny this is his sport, his job, his responsibility to perform as best he can. He told Manny that every time he throws a punch, 10,000 angels will be behind it.

“Well, (expletive), if I can go into the ring with 10,000 angels, I can beat the Klitschko brothers.”

I suppose, then, if it’s true all angels come to us disguised, Pacquiao hopes his arrive in the form of timely jabs.

He again might be at peace in his personal and spiritual life, but whether that means he can muster the ferocity needed to beat Timothy Bradley in a WBO welterweight title fight at the MGM Grand Garden is debatable.

Pacquiao hasn’t knocked out an opponent since 2009, and his last two efforts – a lackluster win against Shane Mosley and a victory many believed he didn’t deserve against Juan Manuel Marquez – give Bradley more confidence than he already owns.

Which is enough to fill 100 arenas.

“I have to take this guy out,” Bradley said. “I don’t think there is any slippage in Manny. He’s going to be very determined. I’m sure he has prepared 110 percent. His mental focus and clarity is a lot better now that he’s into the whole religion thing. I’m going to be facing an animal.

“I’ve been training since I came out of the womb. God did everything for a reason. I’m so built. I’m so strong.”

The whole religion thing. It has been a prevalent theme among Pacquiao storylines before this fight, tales of his marriage nearly ending in divorce and the fighter returning to his Catholic faith while abandoning such vices as extramarital affairs, gambling and cockfighting.

He reportedly arrived to his dressing room just minutes before the Marquez fight in November, distracted and distraught over problems with his wife.

He then won a majority decision that was booed loudly by those who actually watched, which obviously didn’t include a few judges.

We have heard the story before: A boxing champion protected inside the ring by his enormous talent and yet susceptible to controversy outside it. Pacquiao has owned his share of the latter, from fighting personal demons to understanding how a politician’s opinion – he is a member of the House of Representatives in the Philippines – on a topic such as same-sex marriage can spread globally within minutes.

He disagreed with President Obama’s endorsement of gay marriage in an interview last month, a stance that first had Pacquiao misquoted about wanting homosexuals “put to death” and then having to deal with negative reaction that follows such a political firestorm.

“I say what is the truth,” Pacquiao offered when asked about the comments this week. “I’m not going to lie or anything. Whatever the truth is, I will say it. I know what I told the (reporter).

“I agree that I am more focused for this fight. I’m happy in my training, and I have peace of mind and focus. No distractions.”

He can’t afford any this time.

You can’t discount that Bradley is five years younger and has yet to lose a professional fight, that he is one of those rising stars good enough to take advantage of this massive opportunity. He is better than those aging fighters Pacquiao has had trouble shaking lately.

Bradley could win tonight and it wouldn’t cause a tremor of shock up and down press row. Many believe this is his upset to grab, that he is far more than just good value at plus-360.

Which means this for Pacquiao: The pastor’s words better have sunk in, and those 10,000 angels better not get lost on their way to the MGM.

“To me, this is the old lion defending his turf against the young lion,” Arum said. “The only chance the young lion has is if he’s confident and truly believes he can win. It doesn’t mean he will, but if he doesn’t believe, there ain’t no way he beats the old lion.”

Lions. Angels.

Find someone named Daniel and this could really be a night to remember.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on “Gridlock,” ESPN 1100 and 98.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.

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