Thursday, March 11, 2010

Good Big Men and Good Little Men

Manny Pacquiao and Joshua Clottey are smiling in this picture, but Saturday night will be a different story.

One of boxing’s most famous axioms is this: “A good big man will always beat a good little man.”

In this case the “little” man happens to be great - but that’s not going to change the outcome when Manny Pacquiao and Joshua Clottey step into the ring at Cowboys Stadium on Saturday night.

What I have learned about the sport of boxing over the course of a lifetime spent observing is that just when a fighter appears totally invincible - is also the point at which he is most susceptible.

Don’t believe me? Ask Sonny Liston about Cassius Clay. Ask George Foreman about Muhammad Ali. Ask Mike Tyson about Buster Douglas. Ask Roy Jones, Jr. about Antonio Tarver.

Call me crazy - but I think Clottey stands a real shot of achieving the impossible when he steps into the ring with Manny Pacquiao.

I’ve seen both Pacquiao and Clottey fight in person recently. Last June, I was seated four rows back from the ring, just behind the legendary Budd Schulberg, when Clottey “lost” a 12-round split-decision to Miguel Cotto at New York’s Madison Square Garden.

I scored the fight 115-113 for Clottey and I was one of the few that really believed that Clottey did more than enough to deserve the nod against Cotto.

I was eleven rows back from the ring last November, seated with Tony Paige, when Manny Pacquiao knocked out the same Miguel Cotto in 12 rounds at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. Manny looked good in that fight, he won and he impressed.

But Manny showed some vulnerabilities in the ring against Cotto. I’ll touch on those later.

Pacquiao pounded Miguel Cotto into submission when they met in November at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

So, I’ve been up close to both guys. I’ve been to Freddie Roach’s Wild Card Boxing Club on Vine St. in Hollywood to see Manny in training. I congratulate him for all that he has accomplished and I feel he is the best thing to happen to the sport of boxing in years.

But the bottom line is this: I think Joshua Clottey scores the upset win on Saturday night. Now, before you call me a Manny Pacquiao hater - hear me out.

Although Pacquiao is now competing as a 147-pound welterweight, he is really the furthest thing from a true welterweight fighter. True welterweights were the two “Sugar” Ray’s - Robinson and Leonard. They were larger men who stood 5’11” and 5’10” tall respectively. Pacquiao, who turned pro at 106 pounds, is a small man who stands in the vicinity of 5’6”.

Joshua Clottey is a true welterweight and in my humble opinion, the first true welterweight that Manny will have ever faced. While only a couple of inches taller than Pacquiao, he has the upper body of a middleweight. Furthermore, he may be able to take the punch of a light heavyweight.

Putting Pacquiao’s recent wins into perspective, you must consider that his victory over De La Hoya was against a weight-drained, over-the-hill, shell of his former self prizefighter. Miguel Cotto was coming off a brutal knockout loss at the hands of Antonio Margarito and another fight in which I thought he lost and took a beating in against Clottey. When he and Pacquiao met - it was at a catch-weight of 145 pounds. Besides that, Cotto himself is really a career 140-pounder who stands only 5’7” tall and had fought just 9 times at 147, officially losing two of those fights.

Clottey is the biggest and strongest opponent that Manny Pacquiao will have faced in his prizefighting career.

Joshua Clottey will be the first real, true, legitimate welterweight that Pacquiao has ever faced. Clottey has spent his career at 147. In between bouts he comfortably walks around at 175 pounds. While he is the larger man he is also the stronger man. He is used to taking the punches of bigger men than Pacquiao. At welterweight, Joshua Clottey is physically imposing.

Furthermore, Clottey can take a punch. The best punches of Cotto, Antonio Margarito, Zab Judah and Diego Corrales haven’t bothered him too much. While he suffered a knockdown against Cotto in the first round (from a left jab, no less) he rarely stumbles or wobbles when hit. He seems to have a rock solid chin and a tight defense.

Pacquiao, on the other hand, can be hit and he can be hurt. Cotto was able to reach him on several occasions. While Pacquiao is exquisite on offense, his defense leaves something to be desired. He often rushes in, leaving himself wide open for counter shots. He seems susceptible to punches that come from underneath. Not necessarily uppercuts, but shots that start low and come upwards that meet him as he is coming in. Pacquiao’s style leaves him open up the middle. I believe that is where Clottey will find success on Saturday night.

I see the fight playing out with Pacquiao looking very good in the first few rounds. His quickness and speed will make Clottey appear slow and off balance. But remember that Clottey is a slow starter who takes a few rounds to get warmed up.

Clottey proved against Zab Judah that he has no problem fighting southpaws. He also proved against Judah that he can handle speed and quickness. I believe that once Clottey settles into a rhythm he will begin to get closer to Pacquiao and back him up. Clottey will be the stronger, larger man and I don’t think Manny will be able to hurt him like he was able to hurt De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton and Cotto.

Freddie Roach has turned Pacquiao into an offensive machine. But what about defense?

And one other thing - Manny Pacquiao cannot fight backing up.

Freddie Roach has taught Manny many, many things. But a few areas where I have seen a weakness in Pacquiao is defense and fighting while backing up. He also has not been taught how to hold on when hurt. I’ve spent some time at the Wild Card and in the sessions I have seen there with Freddie and Manny - nary a second was spent on anything except offense.

As the fight wears on I see Manny landing the greater volume of shots - but Clottey landing the harder and heavier shots - the shots that will ultimately count. Clottey is durable. He should be able to weather the shots that Pacquiao will land.

Manny is hittable - and like I alluded to earlier - his defense is not impenetrable. Those heavier, harder, though infrequent shots by Clottey will begin to take their toll on the smaller Pacquiao. I look for Clottey to be a good 10-15 pounds heavier than Pacquiao on fight night and I believe that will ultimately prove to be the difference.

By the time the bout passes the midway point I believe any momentum Pacquiao will have built up will begin to ebb. It is then that Clottey will begin to break down the smaller man. Once Clottey begins to gain the upper hand, my feeling is that he will not give up his advantage and will then begin to impose his will on Pacquiao. Once Pacquiao begins to back up, the fight will be over.

I have always been of the belief that the best punch to use in order to defeat a southpaw is the straight right hand. Clottey has an interesting right hand shot. He sometimes fires it in a corkscrew like manner and when he does it is usually thrown as a lead. I look for him to land that shot somewhere around the 10th or 11th round. It is the punch that will unravel the Pac Man and propel Clottey to one of the most startling boxing upsets of the past decade.

In the end, Manny Pacquiao will simply have bitten off a little more than he can chew - and a good big man will have defeated a great little man.

March 2010

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