ARLINGTON, Texas – Manny Pacquiao has been saying all the right things as he prepares to defend his World Boxing Organization welterweight title on Saturday at Cowboys Stadium against Joshua Clottey. He respects Clottey’s ability. He is just as intense for Clottey as he was for his stunningly one-sided victories over Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton and Miguel Cotto.
His trainer, Freddie Roach, insists Pacquiao hasn’t scrimped on his training.
“He doesn’t take anyone lightly,” Roach said Thursday. “If he were going to fight you, he wouldn’t take you lightly, or me.”
Pacquiao is widely regarded as the best pound-for-pound boxer in the world, but that’s always a tenuous perch. And in Clottey, he’s facing a guy who may be as much as 15 pounds heavier when the fight begins and who is a superb defensive fighter with a great chin.
Clottey is a significant underdog in the eyes of the casual fan, but he’s not nearly as big of an underdog to those in the boxing business.
“Anybody who thinks Manny is just going to walk in and blow Joshua away is kidding themselves,” said Lenny DeJesus, formerly Pacquiao’s cut man and now Clottey’s trainer. “Joshua is one of the elite fighters in the world, too. These are two elite guys in there. Manny’s just the one getting all of the attention.”
Pacquiao’s getting attention for his string of jaw-dropping victories over larger men and because he’s a rare combination of speed and power. He was so fast that De La Hoya said he thought he saw more than one of him in the ring.
Pacquiao won every minute of every round against De La Hoya until the bout was stopped after eight rounds.
“He’s so fast,” De La Hoya said. “You’re looking for him here and he’s over there. And when he throws his punches, they’re coming so quickly, it’s hard to see them all.”
Clottey isn’t nearly as fast as Pacquiao, but he’s hardly worried about taking the three-, four- and even five-punch combinations that Pacquiao laid on De La Hoya. He’s the closest thing defensively to Winky Wright in boxing today.
Clottey has an uncanny ability to block punches, holding his arms and hands high in front of his face.
“Believe me when I tell you this,” Clottey said. “If I want to block punches, I can block. I won’t get hit by those.”
One can’t, despite the legend of Willie Pep having once won a round despite not throwing a punch, win a fight on defense alone. And Pacquiao has the kind ofspeed to take advantage of any opening Clottey leaves.
Former lightweight champion Jose Luis Castillo, who faces Alfonso S. Gomez in a welterweight bout on Saturday’s undercard, served as a sparring partner for Pacquiao. He doesn’t believe Pacquiao will stop Clottey, but that doesn’t mean he believes the fight will be close.
Castillo, who hopes to fight his way back into title contention as a super lightweight, marveled at Pacquiao’s ability and thinks he’ll hammer Clottey on Saturday.
“He’s a great fighter, out of our league,” Castillo said. “He’s great. He’s so fast. He’s also strong and he hasn’t lost any of his speed even though he’s gone up in weight.
“I visualize the fight like Clottey is going to be a punching bag and Pacquiao’s going to be hitting him, moving, hitting him and moving.”
The fight may well pan out that way. Clottey, though, has never been knocked down and has never been stopped. He’s lost three times, once by disqualification and twice by decision. He was very competitive in a loss to Antonio Margarito until suffering stress fractures in each hand and he believes he was robbed in a split-decision loss to Cotto.
Hitting him will be one thing; knocking him out will be another.
Pacquiao says he won’t even concern himself with a knockout.
“I just want to make my people happy,” Pacquiao said. “I don’t worry about a knockout. It’s nothing personal. I’m just going to do my job.”
If Pacquiao doesn’t got for the kill, though, he could open himself up for problems. Big underdogs have won before – a 42-1 underdog (Buster Douglas) and a 24-1 underdog (Evander Holyfield) both defeated Mike Tyson – and if Pacquiao doesn’t get rid of Clottey if he has a chance, he may come to regret it.
Roach, however, believes fully in his fighter’s desire to perform at the highest level. Other fighters who were major upset victims became content with their success.
Pacquiao, though, is not. He’s begun to watch video to spot opponents’ tendencies, something he didn’t do for much of his career. He’s become much more detail-oriented.
“They got lazy,” Roach said of the common thread that existed among many of boxing’s most famous upset victims. “They get satisfied. With Pacquiao, I haven’t seen that yet. I’m waiting for the day he comes through the doors of the gym and doesn’t have the work intensity he’s had for so long. He works harder today than he did eight years ago. He just likes to work.
“He’s never satisfied. We’ll come up with moves to make counters. I’ll show him how I want it done and he’ll show me how he likes it. If we find no holes with it, we go with it, but if we see a mistake, we erase it and try to figure out a way to do it better.”
Very few fighters in boxing history, though, have been immune to a major upset, particularly those who have reached the heights that Pacquiao has.
Boxing historian Bert Sugar said it’s difficult to judge when an experienced fighter has reached his peak and when the downslide has begun. Roberto Duran once lost to an unknown named Kirkland Laing, but came back to later win world titles at super welterweight and middleweight.
Pacquiao’s vulnerability to the upset is lessened by his dedication, but he’s nearing the end of a long career and it’s hard to know what the many fights have taken from him.
“We sometimes put too much faith in a fighter, whosoever it is, thinking he’s going to keep winning,” Sugar said. “Then, we’re surprised when he gets upset, but if we don’t know when his peak was, we can’t really assess it properly. It wouldn’t be a shock if he lost, but it would be a surprise.
“This is a harder fight than anyone thinks it is. Think of Winky Wright and you have the modern version of him in Clottey. And Clottey is big. I think [he] was born at 147 pounds. He’ll enter the ring at least 10, if not 15, pounds heavier. He’ll be around 160, maybe more, when he rehydrates. And you know, he might have the style to pull it off. He’s not just going to run in like [Ricky] Hatton did.”
Promoter Bob Arum has to walk a fine line. He knows Pacquiao is his cash cow and a Pacquiao win would benefit him more than a Clottey win, but he also needs the public to buy Clottey as having a chance in order to maximize pay-per-view sales.
“I don’t think he’s going to win, but he definitely can win,” Arum said of Clottey. “It’s a dangerous fight for Manny because this is a guy that is big and strong and has a very good defense. I think Manny will win, but it’s no slam dunk.”
Author: Kevin Iole