Friday, August 1, 2008

Joshua Clottey Just Wants You to Trust Him

Ghana's Joshua Clottey gets his hands taped before a recent fight. He's facing Zab Judah for the IBF welterweight title on Saturday night at the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Joshua Clottey just wants you to listen to him for a second. And he just wants you to trust him.

He looks at you with darting, expressive eyes and he has the the type of animated personality that helps him make his point with quick hand gestures and jerky, flailing arms. He opens his eyes wide, which causes his brow to furrow, and he gets his face within a few inches of yours as he tries to convince you that he really is a very good fighter and that he is perfectly capable of beating Zab Judah on Saturday night when the two meet in the ring at the Palms Resort Casino in Las Vegas.

Oh sure, he talks too, and even though his English is pretty good, his thick African accent along with his rat-a-tat delivery sometimes causes a few words to be lost in translation.

But there is no mistaking his message.

Joshua Clottey is convinced he's going to beat Zab Judah and he wants you to be convinced, too.

"It's going to be a very good fight, a very attractive fight, because I always like to make the crowd happy," says a smiling Clottey. "This fight will not last twelve rounds, Zab cannot go twelve rounds with me. Trust me."

And maybe Joshua Clottey is right. He's done enough with his fists in his boxing career to convince the Vegas odds-makers that he's going to beat Judah and take the currently vacant IBF welterweight title back to his home in the Bronx and then onto his home country of Ghana where he was born 31 years ago.

Clottey gave newly minted WBA welterweight champion Antonio Margarito a pretty good scare in 2006 before breaking his left hand in the fourth round and damaging his right a few rounds later. Clottey would eventually lose a unanimous decision but he opened a lot of people's eyes with his impressive showing. Before injuring his hands he looked like a sure winner against Margarito who burst onto everyone's pound-for-pound lists this week with last Saturday's dominant victory over Miguel Cotto.

"The other guys, they don't want to fight me," says Clottey of the top fighters who have smartly sidestepped him in the recent past. "If they give me the chance, I have a lot of talent. If they give me the chance, I will do it. They gave me the chance with Margarito. They didn't expect me to do whatever I did. If not for the injured hand I would have beat him."

While many of the people who will show up at the Palms on Saturday night will have heard of Zab Judah they may not be so familiar with Clottey.

Zab, of course, has been in the ring with the "Who's Who" of the boxing game and counts the biggest names of the hip hop community, namely Jay-Z and Diddy, as close friends.

Even though he is only 30-years-old, Zab has been a professional prizefighter since 1996 and has fought everyone from Micky Ward to Floyd Mayweather, Jr. to Kostya Tszyu to Miguel Cotto. While Zab has had more misses than hits against the very best competition, he always makes for interesting nights.

But whereas Zab is often erratic and unpredictable, Clottey is steady and regimented. He has run his record to 34-2 (20)KO, is the #1 contender in the IBF, and he doesn't like the fact that Judah has recently taken shots at what he has been able to accomplish over the past 13 years.

"I have been a professional since 1995 and I have been all over the world fighting," proclaims the intensely proud Clottey, who began his career in Africa before moving onto England and eventually the United States.

"Cotto knocked him out," says Clottey, firing a shot back at Judah. "I beat Baldomir in England (Clottey lost by a very controversial disqualification in the 11th round) and Baldomir beat him. Mayweather beat him. With Zab, I have to beat Zab and I will beat Zab."

Clottey (left) outboxed the previously undefeated Shamone Alvarez to move into position for a shot at the title.

Clottey has a style best described as a "grinder" where he constantly applies pressure, moves forward behind a high defense and picks his shots very well. He has respectable punching power, likes to dig to the body, and possesses a chin that has kept him from ever being knocked out. He's solid and strong and has a body that looks as though it was carved from a stump of petrified mahogany.

Judah, on the other hand, has often been described as a front-runner. He has often displayed fantastic skills and has shown wonderful bursts of speed, power and deft movement blended with stunning quickness. He was wonderful early against Floyd Mayweather, Jr. and even showed greater speed and quickness than Floyd.

But as is more often the case, once a fight begins to meander its way into the middle rounds, Judah begins to slowly unravel and lose focus and it has cost him. However, in the one fight that he was able to put all of the pieces together, Zab painted an absolutely exquisite masterpiece against Cory Spinks in St. Louis. On that winter night in 2005, Judah was a sophisticated virtuoso who was as good as he has ever been - before or since.

Clottey knows that version of Judah well and he also knows another version of "Super" Judah. The two men have had minor confrontations in and around New York City over the years since Judah hails from Brooklyn and Clottey now lives in the Bronx.

According to Clottey, Judah once challenged him to a street fight and also shoved his trainer at Gleason's Gym, which caused Clottey to discontinue training there. But despite those episodes, Clottey holds no grudges and he is not threatened in the least by Zab.

"So, whatever," says Clottey of Judah as he rolls his eyes. "He's fast, his speed the first few rounds? I don't care. I want him to show me that, because I have speed, too. I'm ready for everything. I know how to fight rough. If he hits me on the back, I'll hit him on the back. I'm not waiting for the referee to tell me no. I will hit him, trust me."

Judah(left) and Clottey had another chance to size each other up last weekend at a press conference inside the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas.

Judah has a reputation as a roughhouser and a trouble maker in the ring as well as a trash-talker outside of it, but Clottey says he is ready for that type of fight if things go in that direction.

"I respect every opponent," he says. "If he shows me respect, I will show him respect. But when we get in that ring, if he tries to be rough, I'll be rough. I'm from where we fight on the streets. I'm ready for this fight and I'm ready to be a champion."

Clottey is a physical fighter who makes opponents work every second that they are in the ring with him. He has muscles on top of muscles and for some fights, even though he made the welterweight limit of 147-pounds for the official weigh-in, he has ballooned up in weight over 20 pounds by the time the bell for round one rings the next night. Clottey will likely have a significant size advantage on Judah who is a smallish welterweight.

It also seems that Clottey has thought about everything in this fight and a lot of that thought has been spent on what strategy he will employ.

"I'll beat him. We're gonna' fight a close fight. Nobody is gonna' run," explains Clottey - the visionary. "We're going to stand in one place. If he moves, I'll move. If he runs, I'll run after him. So we're going to fight close. I'm not going to let him go. I'm going to get close to him in the first round. You know, people keep saying that he is very fast for the first few rounds. If he is going to start fast that is going to be his problem. I'm in condition and I will get to him. He has to run around all day. What's going to happen in the ring is that I'm going to bring a very, very fast pace. Everyone is going to be surprised. I'm going to out-speed him, trust me. I am not going to get tired."

When Judah was asked what he thought of Clottey, he was dismissive and he obviously doesn't see the same skill set that others do which have made the Ghanaian a 5 to 2 betting favorite. Judah sees himself as the Lamborghini in a drag race against a Ford Pinto.

Zab has always been partial to flashy cars with all of the shiny accessories.

"He's a steady fighter, you know what I mean? says the fast talking Zab whose words struggle to keep up with his mind.

"If you watch some of the great fighters, all of the great fighters had gears. It's like a racing car, no car runs on just one gear. When you run in one gear, you're gonna' burn out the clutch, you know what I mean? A fighter such as Zab Judah, I can start fast, you know what I'm sayin'? I can end up fast. In this fight I'm going to start and keep it up in the same pace. It's going to be great. I'm going to change a lot in this fight. There's going to be fast pace, slow pace, defense, slippin', movin', combinations. You are guaranteed to see a Zab Judah of the young again."

What is certain is that for Clottey, everything he has accomplished and everything he has fought for thus far is riding on Saturday night's outcome. If he wins he likely goes straight to a lucrative rematch with Antonio Margarito in the fall, or at least that's what promoter Bob Arum has alluded to. And Arum should know, as he promotes both men.

But if Clottey loses, it's straight back to Palookaville and fighting for small money in front of small crowds. His chance at the big time will have passed by quicker than a southbound subway car in the Bronx.

"I really want to fight him bad," says Clottey in anticipation of Saturday night as he rubs his hands together and smiles at the thought of what a victory will mean to him.

"I want to prove to everybody, the point that I want to be a champion. I have to be a champion. If Zab beats me, he can beat Cotto. He can beat Margarito. Whatever training Zab does, if he beats me, he'll have to train all of the time like that to beat all of those guys. But he will never beat me."

Joshua Clottey just wants you to trust him on that one.

August 2008

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