Every few months Manny Pacquiao enters the ring and shows the world that boxing does not have to be a sports afterthought in the United States. A dedicated thrillmaker, Pacquiao seems determined to make people forget how most of modern prizefighting is operated: by a complex system of smoke and mirrors that has alienated mainstream fans for decades. Pacquiao, by taking risks and by regularly fighting the best competition, shreds the typical boxing blueprint and has earned superstar status the old-fashioned way: by knocking people senseless.
Pacquiao would love nothing more than to satisfy up to 45,000 spectators tonight when he meets Joshua Clottey at tricked-out Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. He would also love to keep that amazingly wrinkle-free smile on the face of Jerry Jones. The only thing that stands in his way is Clottey, a double-tough welterweight from Ghana whose body of work is, unlike most records in boxing, not an illusion. He has fought many solid fighters over the years, but has come up short in some of his biggest fights.
Despite his accomplishments, Clottey has found himself written off by nearly everyone except his kin, perhaps, and, to the delight of chalk eaters all over America, he is as much as a 5 to 1 underdog on some books. Clottey, 35-3 (20), has not exactly done much in the last two months to change the perception that he is a fighter in over his head.
In early February, rumors about the laxness of his training camp were rampant; his trainer, Godwin Kotey, was denied a visa from Ghana and Clottey was forced to go with late substitute Lenny De Jesus. De Jesus has been the object of ridicule in some corners primarily because he is a locksmith by day. Eighty-five percent of boxing participants–trainers, writers, managers, promoters, cutmen, indeed, even fighters themselves–have day jobs, but somehow De Jesus has become a punchline for practicing a perfectly respectable trade. That this poor attempt at irreverence has been made by boxing “writers,” many of whom toil at day jobs not nearly as glamorous as locksmithing (like writing copy for pharmaceutical pamphlets, for example, or being glorified fact checkers), is typical for a sport whose media coverage is only a step or two above bathroom stall graffiti. Indeed, one of the questions asked on the application for membership into the Boxing Writers’ Association of America is: “What is your day job?”
Joshua Clottey, 32, will not win or lose this fight based on the fact that Lenny DeJesus is his chief second. If he wins, it will be a startling upset; if he loses, it will be because Pacquiao is simply the better boxer.
This fight, however, is not exactly a walkover, and there are a few angles worth looking into. First, Pacquiao, 50-3-2 (38), is back in the ring after a fairly short turnaround—roughly four months—after his bout with Miguel Cotto, which was fairly taxing for the first four rounds. In addition, in Clottey, Pacquiao will be facing his first true welterweight test. Miguel Cotto agreed to a catchweight and Oscar De La Hoya, who had fought as high as middleweight, entered the ring against Pacquiao, at 145 pounds, looking like he was in the sixth week of a hunger strike. Clottey has weighed as much as 154 pounds in his career, and has the clear physical advantage going in. One perfect punch from Clottey, perhaps his unique right uppercut, could bring Pacquiao trouble.
Another angle, recently brought up Freddie Roach, concerns dirty tactics, the accidentally-on-purpose kind Clottey seems to specialize in. The last roughhouse authority Pacquiao faced was the late Agapito Sanchez in 2001 and Pacquiao came out of that fight with a massive cut, a few bruises, and an unimpressive technical draw. (Other than Erik Morales and Juan Manuel Marquez, Sanchez is, perhaps surprisingly, the only fighter to push Pacquiao hard over the last ten years.) If Clottey starts winging shots below the belt or starts charging with his head, the uncertainty principle—the boxing version of it, at least—might come into play. In the end, however, barring the completely unexpected, the outcome will of this bout will most likely hinge on skill and skill alone.
Both fighters are coming off of fights with Miguel Cotto. Clottey, now fighting out of the Bronx, New York, dropped a close split-decision to Cotto last summer in Madison Square Garden, and Pacquiao steamrolled the Puerto Rican superstar for a 12th round TKO in November. At times, Cotto managed to keep Clottey off-balance by boxing, which is not a good sign for Clottey going into his fight with Pacquiao. After all, Pacquiao, 31, is twice as fast as Cotto and also has the advantage of being a southpaw.
Against Clottey, Pacquiao most likely will adopt his buzzsaw version of a stick and move strategy, and Clottey will spend most of his time trying to cope with it. Clottey, whose tight defense (according to Compubox, Antonio Margarito missed 1,338 punches out of the 1,675 he threw at Clottey during their 2006 bout) is predicated on blocking shots with his arms and gloves, has to guard against being too passive against Pacquiao, otherwise he risks being overwhelmed.
If Clottey changes gears, unlikely after 15 years as a pro, and tries to manhandle or bumrush Pacquiao, then the Filipino superstar may have some rough moments early. But Clottey looks like a fighter who is a little too comfortable in his style and will likely revert to his typical methodology somewhere along the way. His spotty commitment to offense will give Pacquiao, General Santos City, Philippines, too much time to set up on the outside, where his supersonic hand speed will allow him to pelt Clottey virtually at will. Lashing straight lefts and thudding right hooks, thrown from an assortment of angles, will probably keep Clottey in his shell. Clottey is a sturdy welterweight, so it seems unlikely that he will end up splayed out on the canvas like David Diaz or Ricky Hatton. After a few close early rounds, Pacquiao should be able to firebomb his way to a unanimous decision.