LAS VEGAS – It was early in his first fight with Manny Pacquiao when Timothy Bradley came to a realization: This is easy.
Athletes often insist they're not impacted by the pregame media hype, but it is clear that Bradley was, at least until a couple of minutes into his June 9, 2012, bout with the Filipino superstar for the WBO welterweight title at the MGM Grand Garden.
As Bradley prepared for that first fight, he heard endless questions about Pacquiao's pulverizing punching power and saw countless videos of Pacquiao knocking elite fighters senseless. Bradley was asked repeatedly about Pacquiao's speed and quickness and his ability to box.
"I believed I was going to win," Bradley told Yahoo Sports, "because that's how I am. I just knew I would. But to be honest with you, I thought it would be harder. All I was hearing was, 'Manny does this, Manny does that.' It was like I was fighting someone who wasn't human. I was prepared to fight this guy who, I don't know, was just on a whole other level."
But then the bell sounded and he found himself face to face with the supposed monster.
Early on, it dawned on him that while Pacquiao was plenty good, he wasn't anything close to what he'd been made out to be.
"It wasn't one exact moment, but it was the way things were going and I realized, 'Man, he's not really what they say he is,' " Bradley said. "I was able to do things with him. And I went out there and I won the fight. I know I won the fight."
And he did win the fight, in a way. But the winner turned out to be the loser.
After taking a highly controversial split decision, life fell apart for Bradley. He had death threats and thoughts of suicide. For a while, life as he knew it seemed to be over. He was depressed, angry and hurt.
But on Saturday, when he gets his second crack at Pacquiao, he'll carry a different attitude into the ring in the bout on HBO Pay-Per-View for that WBO welterweight title.
He's no longer worried about what others say or think of him. He doesn't pay attention to the media. He knows what he's in for, both inside and outside of the ring.
Pacquiao, he says, is a great fighter. In the two years since he fought Pacquiao the first time, though, he has come to understand that he, too, is a great fighter.
And though he's in the unusual position of being the champion who has something to prove, he's accepted that role.
"Manny is great, man, no doubt about it," he said. "I don't have a bad thing to say about him as a fighter. Maybe he was blown up too much, but that was by other people, not by him. He's excellent, but I know I am a great fighter, too. And I proved that last year with what I did.
"I went out and fought a certain way against Ruslan [Provodnikov] because I had something to prove. And then I went after Marquez right after he had knocked out Pacquiao because I wanted to prove something else."
He beat Provodnikov in the 2013 Yahoo Sports Fight of the Year, surviving an early knockdown and many brutally hard punches to pull out a decision.
And then in October, he clearly outboxed the legendary Marquez.
"When I told [Top Rank president] Todd [duBoef] that I wanted to fight Marquez, he looked at me like I was crazy," Bradley said, chuckling. "He goes, 'Really?' I'm like, 'Yeah, man. I want Marquez.' And he goes, 'OK, I'll get you Marquez if you're sure.' And I was sure."
That statement victory is what led to Saturday's rematch.
Pacquiao trainer Freddie Roach remains as stunned by the decision in their first fight as he was on the night it happened.
When someone asked Roach the other day whom he felt was the better pure boxer of the two, Roach almost scoffed.
"They boxed before and I thought Manny won 10 rounds to two," Roach said. "We know who the better boxer is."
They are at much different stages of their lives and careers now. It's been seven fights and almost four-and-a-half years since Pacquiao has had a knockout.
Roach has frequently blamed Pacquiao's compassionate side for that, and Pacquiao is a devout Catholic whose faith is a large part of his life.
Even during his hot streak in 2008 and '09 when he was knocking out just about everyone, Roach had to urge Pacquiao to finish. As he was battering Oscar De La Hoya in a 2008 match, Roach kept urging him to go for it, telling him in the corner between rounds, "This is your job." Pacquiao was reluctant to try to hurt De La Hoya with one big blow to end it.
"Manny just doesn't see the need to hurt someone," Roach said.
Bradley trainer Joel Diaz said if that's the case, it's time for Pacquiao to leave the sport.
"If you're compassionate toward your opponent, you don't belong in this sport any more, because boxing is about fighting and you have to execute against the guy in front of you.
"If you feel sorry about the guy you're facing, you don't belong in there. Go find another sport; maybe golf or tennis."
Pacquiao has had plenty of big moments recently. The vast majority of the public believes he defeated Bradley in their first encounter. And he was handling Marquez and on the verge of a knockout when he ran into a counter shot that knocked him out in one of the sport's most dramatic finishes in years.
After 11 months off, he returned to waltz past Brandon Rios in a fight in which he won easily but never took many risks.
Bradley has repeatedly said Pacquiao has lost the killer instinct. Hearing that has routinely made Pacquiao beam.
"We'll see what he has to say about the killer instinct after the fight," Pacquiao said.
Bradley's confidence soared after the wins over Provodnikov and particularly Marquez.
He needs an impressive performance on Saturday to forever end the doubts and the speculation.
And it says here he'll get it.
Bradley will win by decision after putting on a boxing clinic Saturday.
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