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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Joshua Clottey - A Stylistic Challenge for Manny Pacquiao

Michael Nelson takes a look at the the strengths and weaknesses of Joshua Clottey, and assesses why the Ghanaian welterweight poses the toughest challenge for Manny Pacquiao since Juan Manuel Marquez.

While Clottey's unfulfilled potential may have some underrating his ability, the reputation that he finds a way to lose has legs underneath it; he has three losses in fights he appeared to have the upper hand in.

Against Carlos Baldomir, he was disqualified in a bout he was winning handily. Many observers had him ahead four rounds to nil against Margarito before going long stretches without offering resistance to Antonio's torrent of punches. And he took his foot off the pedal against a reeling Miguel Cotto last June. The Ghanaian's theatrical reactions to getting fouled - many of them displayed against Cotto - doesn't win him many fans either.

But none of that changes the fact that he's a superb talent. And he has strengths that will make him far more competitive than Cotto was against Manny Pacquiao - namely, a tight guard, granite chin, and multi-dimensional attack.

Miguel Cotto, a converted southpaw, is left-hand dominant. While he possesses a sharp jab and punishing left hook, he doesn't have a dynamic right hand. A right hand less threatening than the left is a characteristic shared by Ricky Hatton and Oscar De La Hoya, Pacquiao's two opponents prior to the Puerto Rican star. The size of the role this has played in how dominant Pacquiao has been since his evenly fought 2008 battle with Juan Manuel Marquez can be debated, but it's clearly something that Manny and Freddie Roach don't have a problem fully exploiting.

Clottey will be Pacquiao's first opponent since Marquez comfortable with throwing a right hand in nearly any situation. He can consistently lead with it, like he did against southpaws Zab Judah and Shamone Alvarez. He can accurately counter a charging opponent with it. He can throw concise uppercuts between a guard, or loop shots around a guard with it. Sum it up, and the Filipino star may appear to be less than the defensive wizard he's been for the last two years when matched against Clottey's educated right.

It's also been a while since Pacquiao has faced an unmovable object, and Clottey is damn close to being one.

A primary reason Manny so thoroughly dominated the last half of his showdown with Cotto is that Miguel simply couldn't take Pacquiao's heat any longer. Cotto admirably never opted out of the fight, but after the fifth stanza, it became more about minimizing the punishment taken than giving himself the best chance to win. While Cotto is tough to knock out, he's susceptible to facial damage and to being staggered - a combination that takes him out of his element.

Joshua has been temporarily jolted by the likes of Margarito and Miguel, but has never been seriously wobbled and recovers expeditiously whenever he is moved by a punch. Moreover, we've never seen him cut, scarcely seen him badly bruised, and hardly seen him visibly bothered by a body shot. That ability to soak up punishment mixed with a tight guard makes it highly likely that he'll be in Pacquiao's face for nearly the full duration of the fight.

Whether or not he'll throw enough punches while he's there is another story.

And therein lies the criticism hurled at Clottey; despite the crisp jab, fluid combinations, clever right hand, unyielding guard, and sturdy chin, his brittle hands, shaky stamina, and oft-absent bloodthirst allows him to get outworked for long stretches of a bout. Pacquiao throws enough leather to outwork any opponent who isn't willing to let their hands fly.

But it says here we're going to see a real fight on March 13 because for the first time in two years, Pacquiao's whirlwind won't be enough to overwhelm his opponent. Joshua will have his moments, enough of them to surpass the expectations of most of his doubters. And if he does manage to upset boxing's foremost celebrity, it wouldn't be the first time a flawed virtuoso put it all together for one night.

It's a clash that may leave us with more questions than answers, more frustration about quiescent promise. But a mismatch, it is not.

Author: Michael Nelson

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