(Reuters) - Manny Pacquiao returns to the ring nearly a year after his mega-fight loss to Floyd Mayweather for a rubber-match clash with Tim Bradley in Las Vegas on Saturday against a swirling backdrop of politics and legacy.
The 37-year-old Pacquiao, who has said this will be his final fight, lost a controversial split-decision to Bradley in 2012 and two years later won a decisive unanimous decision against the American to level the score.
This will be Pacquiao’s first fight since having surgery on his right shoulder to repair a long-term rotator cuff problem, an injury he said robbed him of his power in a lackluster showing against Mayweather in boxing’s richest ever contest.
“I have been working on my right hand and my right hook which is very good,” said Pacquiao, who has not had a knockout since 2009. “My right shoulder is healed and that is good, because I can use it with real power.”
While his legion of fans would love to see the Filipino deliver a vintage performance, there may be even more on the line than the boxing records of Pacquiao (57-6-2) and Bradley (33-1-1).
Pacquiao, one of the most charismatic and accomplished boxers of his generation, is looking ahead to focusing full attention on his family and Filipino politics.
Already serving as a congressman in the Philippines, Pacquiao is in the midst of a campaign for the senate, a bid that would benefit greatly from a crowning victory in the welterweight showdown.
“It is very important to get the win for my country and the people in the Philippines, but the most important thing is a win for my country and a win for my legacy in boxing,” he said, acknowledging that a victory would help him in the election.
Pacquiao, meanwhile, has been catching fire during his training in Los Angeles for the Bradley bout over a remark he made in an interview on Philippine TV when the devout Christian was asked his view on same-sex marriage.
The former eight-division champion became a villain to the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community for saying their behavior was “worse than animals”.
The Filipino southpaw later apologized on Twitter. “I‘m sorry for hurting people by comparing homosexuals to animals. Please forgive me for those I’ve hurt. God Bless!” Pacquiao wrote.
The popular pugilist lost a Nike sponsorship over the controversy and his retinue fended off a potential assault attempt outside a Los Angeles restaurant from someone enraged by his remark.
The promotion, spearheaded by Bob Arum and Top Rank, stirred some U.S. political passions by heralding the other bouts on Saturday at the MGM Grand as the ‘NoTrump Undercard’.
Giving that label to the undercard, which features a bevy of top Hispanic boxers, is a poke at billionaire real estate developer Donald Trump, who is running to become the Republican Party’s U.S. presidential candidate.
Trump has advocated building a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico to keep out illegal immigrants.
Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes