LAS VEGAS -- The old Manny Pacquiao returned for thrilling bursts, hounding Timothy Bradley onto the ropes and battering the welterweight champion with whip-quick combinations that recalled the Pacman’s magical prime.
The older Pacquiao couldn’t finish the trick, however.
Although he tried mightily, Pacquiao didn’t stop or even really hurt Bradley during 12 mostly exciting rounds Saturday night, settling for the lucrative revenge of a unanimous-decision victory.
"I didn’t want to get careless," Pacquiao said.
Pacquiao (56-5-2) proved he is still one of the world’s most exciting boxers with his second straight win, even if he might never recapture his most destructive form. His hands and footwork are still inimitable, but the eight-division world champion’s power and timing weren’t good enough to stop Bradley -- or any of his opponents since late 2009, the date of his last knockout.
Pacquiao apologetically showed up to his post-fight news conference well after midnight at the MGM Grand Garden, a large bandage concealing 32 stitches in a deep gash on his left eyebrow from a head-butt. Trainer Freddie Roach had filled the time by praising his fighter while simultaneously acknowledging Pacquiao’s days of highlight-reel knockouts have faded.
"I think he was doing his best to stop him," Roach said. "He was throwing combinations. I told him, ‘All you have to do is outbox this guy.
Bradley, still classy after his first career defeat, gave a mixed review of Pacquiao’s physical skills in comparison to their first fight.
"He still has the real sharp snap on his punches," Bradley said. "(But) I believe in the first fight, his punching power was way harder. I was able to take it. He went for the knockout, he definitely did."
Pacquiao still beat up one of the world’s best boxers with relative ease, and his next bout in the fall will be among the biggest happenings in sports. His mostly likely opponent is a fifth meeting with Juan Manuel Marquez, who fights Mike Alvarado on May 17.
But Pacquiao and promoter Bob Arum still hold out hope of a fight with Floyd Mayweather Jr., even while the distance between the two fighters appears to grow, both inside the ring and out.
"It’s really hard to talk about that," Pacquiao said. "It’s been how many years we’re talking about that? How many years, days, months we’re talking about that? The line is open 24 hours. If he’s awake and he wants to fight, the fight will be."
Arum became nearly apoplectic when asked about the possibility of a Pacquiao-Mayweather bout, claiming Pacquiao has already agreed to all of the unbeaten Mayweather’s previously stated conditions.
"The only people that can make Floyd Mayweather fight Manny is the public," Arum said before urging fans to boycott Mayweather’s bout against Marcos Maidana on May 3.
While Pacquiao reaffirmed his pound-for-pound stardom, Bradley raised his profile again despite his first career defeat.
It’s tough to remember Bradley was considered a boring fighter just four fights ago. Although he’s not an HBO pay-per-view star, he’ll likely have his choice of intriguing opponents for his next bout -- maybe Brandon Rios, or a rematch with Provodnikov.
Bradley’s decision to load up and wait for a knockout blow against Pacquiao was roundly debated by fans, but Bradley’s ring charisma and heart should raise his stature.
"That was the only way I was going to win the fight," Bradley said. "I knew the rounds were going to be close. Pacquiao knows how to land punches. I was shooting for the knockout, too."
Across the Philippines, large numbers of Filipinos, including army soldiers, jumped in joy, threw punches in the air and applauded after watching Pacquiao beat Bradley on giant screens in public gymnasiums and town plazas, emptying usually traffic-choked streets.
"Everybody is celebrating here," said Ricardo Salazar, a jobless polio victim on a wheelchair who watched the bout at a gymnasium in Manila’s Tondo slum district. "I had no doubt he will win and even if he lost, it wouldn’t matter because he’ll always be my idol."
Presidential spokesman Herminio Coloma Jr. said Pacquiao’s victory reflected the Philippines’ struggle to bounce back after a series of natural disasters last year, including a monster typhoon that killed more than 6,000 people.
"When he comes home, he will feel the tight embrace of nearly 100 million Filipinos who idolize and love him," Coloma said.
Associated Press writer Jim Gomez in Manila contributed to this report.