The living legend that is Manny ”PacMan” Pacquiao takes to the ring this Saturday night. The Filipino who in a two year period has turned himself into one of the biggest attractions in boxing history, defends his WBO world welterweight title against Ghanaian iron man Joshua Clottey before an estimated 45,000 fans at the Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, home of the NFL´s Dallas Cowboys.
Pacquiao has joined illustrious names such as Jack Dempsey, Sugar Ray Robinson, Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson, Sugar Ray Leonard and Oscar De La Hoya as a fighter that has transcended his sport. He is now known the world over.
When he fights, the world holds its breath.
In an eleven month period between December 2008 and November last year, Pacquiao went from being one of the biggest stars in boxing to becoming one of the biggest stars in world sport. He was already an established attraction in the ring, picking up a purse of $5,000,000 to fight a rematch with Juan Manuel Marquez in March 2008.
Around this time, six-weight world champion Oscar De La Hoya was looking to wind up his incredible career. He wanted to go out with a rematch against Floyd Mayweather who had beaten him on a split decision in May 2007 for the WBC super-welterweight title, but Mayweather was in retirement, and at that time had no intention of coming back.
Oscar had to look for a Plan B. Manny Pacquiao had followed his split decision win over Marquez with an eighth round knockout over David Diaz, a victory that gave him the WBC lightweight title, his fourth major title in four weight classes. Suddenly the talk began of a of a De La Hoya – Pacquiao fight.
To many fans and experts alike, it seemed ridiculous that a fighter who had fought just once at lightweight, and had fought the bulk of his professional bouts at super-bantamweight or lower was going to become what amounted to a sacrificial lamb against De La Hoya, himself a six weight world champion who has been a super-welterweight or middleweight for the past 7 years.
To make the fight more evenly matched, the bout was made at welterweight. This concession by De La Hoya and his camp was to play a part in his downfall.
By fight night, Pacquiao was clearly the betting underdog. The general consensus was that a good big man would always beat a good little man, and if anything, the fight would be a mismatch.
De La Hoya, at just under 5´11´´, towered over the 5´6´´ Filipino when the two met in the center of the ring. But from the opening bell, it soon became clear that the fight was indeed a mismatch, just not the way that had been anticipated. Pacquiao looked strong and robust, his hands were lightening fast, his punches were hard and coming from all angles. His fleetness of foot ensured that he could land his shots and move out of danger before De La Hoya could counter. Where Pacquiao appeared bursting with power, De La Hoya looked thin, flat and overtrained at 147lbs.
The American´s Sunday-punch had always been his left hook, but Pacquiao´s trainer Freddie Roach, who had been in De La Hoya´s corner the night he lost to Mayweather, had worked tirelessly with Pacquiao on negating the blow´s potency. As Roach was to say after the fight; ”Taking the left hand away was a key. We took Oscar’s left hand away from him and once we did that, the fight was over.”
After three rounds, it looked like Oscar would need a miracle to turn the fight around. The miracle didn’t come. After eight one-sided rounds, only De La Hoya´s great chin and fighting heart were keeping him upright. His corner had no option but to pull him out, and Manny Pacquiao, for the first – but not the last time in his career – had stunned the sporting world.
Pacquiao´s promoter Bob Arum summed up the moment perfectly;
”Next to the night when George Foreman won the heavyweight championship of the world by knocking out Michael Moorer, this is it. These are my two most memorable fights as a promoter.”
Next up for Pacquiao was a fight against Britain´s Ricky Hatton.
Hatton, the former two time IBF junior-lightweight champion and former WBA welterweight title holder had lost just once – on a tenth round knockout in 2007 to Floyd Mayweather. Hatton was a huge box-office attraction, loved for his blue collar attitude and his aggressive body punching style.
In retrospect, Pacquiao and Roach must have felt Hatton´s style was tailor-made for the Filipino; Hatton was crushed in two rounds.
Following such an emphatic victory, any thoughts that the De La Hoya result was a fluke were laid to rest. Pacquiao was the real deal, and best fighter, pound-for-pound on the planet. The result stirred the competitive juices of Mayweather, who announced his comeback.
Barely had fans come down from the high of Pacquiao´s win over Hatton than it was announced that Pacquiao would challenge Miguel Cotto for his WBO welterweight title. Many experts, myself included, initially thought that the match-up would be fistic suicide for the Filipino. Cotto had lost just once, when in all probability his opponent Antonio Margarito had laced his hand wraps with plaster-of-Paris. Cotto was young, tough and talented. He took a great punch and gave back a better one. He was a brawler who could box. This time Pacquiao had gone one step too far.
Come fight time, this writer still favored Cotto to win. What enfolded that night at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas was a genuine classic, one of the best fights of the decade, and Pacquiao´s greatest performance thus far.
For eight rounds, despite Cotto hitting the canvas in the third and fourth rounds, it was close. Then Pacquiao began to pull away and the fight became one-sided. Once again, as he had shown against Margarito, Cotto showed incredible heart and courage. Finally, with the Puerto Rican´s face a bloody swollen mess, referee Kenny Bayless called the bout off 55 seconds into the twelfth round. Afterward Pacquiao gave credit to Cotto as the greatest fighter he had ever fought.
Two months prior to the Pacquiao – Cotto fight, Mayweather returned to the ring with a solid but unspectacular win over Juan Manuel Marquez. The clamor began for a showdown between Pacquiao and Mayweather.
Negotiations moved swiftly, and soon a venue and date had been arranged; the MGM Grand, March 13,th2010. The two fighters would split an initial purse of $50,000,000. When pay-per-view revenues were added, its conceivable that that each fighter would earn that figure individually.
Mayweather began to cast aspersions as to the methods Pacquiao had used to climb the weight divisions; adding muscular bulk to his physique, yet losing none of his speed and power. Pacquiao had been drug tested ten times in the state of Nevada following fights, and ten times he had come up clean. Nevertheless, Mayweather´s camp insisted on Olympic style random blood testing right up to the day of the fight.
Pacquiao, who resented the implications made by Mayweather and his camp, was initially against any blood testing, but agreed to a test 28 days before the fight, and another immediately after. Mayweather insisted on random testing throughout or nothing. Negotiations broke down rapidly, and suddenly the fight was in jeopardy.
On the 7th of January this year, Bob Arum announced that the Mayweather fight was off, and that they were looking for an opponent for Pacquiao to keep the March 13th date. Initially, newly crowned WBA super-welterweight champion Yuri Foreman was considered. Also in the frame was former IBF junior-welterweight champion Paulie Malignaggi. Soon the name of former IBF welterweight champion Joshua Clottey emerged as the fighter Pacquiao had chosen to defend his newly won WBO crown against.
Such was the buzz surrounding Pacquiao that public interest in his fight with Clottey enabled promoter Bob Arum to move the venue from the MGM Grand to the colossal Cowboys Stadium, with its capacity of 100,000, reduced to 45,000 for the fight.
31 year old Pacquiao (50-3-2, 38 ko´s) sells ticket´s for three reasons, one is his world wide fame, two is his exciting, all-action fighting style, and three is his personality. One can´t help but like the smiling Filipino. He is a one off – an assassin in the ring who fights like a left-handed Roberto Duran in his prime, yet a gracious, kind hearted gentleman who respects opponents, loves his wife and kids, and who´s only vice appears to be his addiction to karaoke.
At first glance, Joshua Clottey appears to be set up as the fall guy in this fight. He is in fact a hard-as-nails ring warrior who Pacquiao and Roach have no doubt taken very seriously, and prepared for accordingly.
The 32 year old Clottey (35-3, 20 ko´s) hails from Bukom, the same suburb in the heart of Accra, Ghana, that produced such African boxing greats as David Kotei, Azumah Nelson and Ike Quartey. Clottey now lives and trains in the Bronx, New York.
Turning pro in March 1995, Clottey went undefeated in his first twenty fights, before losing on an 11thdisqualification to Argentinian Carlos Baldomir when ahead on points. Clottey had been a pro for eight years when he decided to move to the United States in 2003.
By the time Clottey challenged Mexican Antonio Margarito for the WBO welterweight title in December 2006, his record was an impressive 30-1. Good as Clottey was, Margarito was better that night, and the Mexican retained his title by unanimous decision.
Following the Margarito loss, Clottey stayed busy, and in August 2008, he won a 9th round technical decision over Zab Judah for the vacant IBF welterweight title. An accidental clash of heads opened a cut over Judah´s eye, making it impossible for him to continue.
Clottey vacated the IBF title to take a June 2009 fight with Miguel Cotto for the WBO title at New York´s Madison Square Garden.
Cotto knocked Clottey down with a short left hook in the 1st round. The Ghanaian was up immediately, and unhurt. In the second round, a clash of heads saw Cotto suffer of nasty cut above the left eye. It was only the skill of Cotto´s cut man that kept him in the bout. Despite the handicap, Cotto took the fight to Clottey in the early rounds. Clottey came on strong in the second half of the fight, and by the tenth round Cotto was virtually blind in his left eye. But just when Clottey needed to press home his advantage, it was Cotto who took control of the last two rounds of the fight, doing just enough to win a split decision.
Clottey hasn’t fought since the loss to Cotto, and now faces the biggest fight of his career.
The Ghanaian stands 5´8´´ tall, but is a big welterweight, with a massive upper body. He is a solid puncher, but just one stoppage win in five years means Clottey lacks KO power at the highest level. Pacquiao proved against Cotto, when he purposefully sampled some of the Puerto Rican´s shots just to see if he could handle them, that it´s not just his punching power that has improved with his increase in weight – it´s also his shock absorption.
Can Clottey derail the express train that is Emmanuel Dapidran Pacquiao? If both men are in peak form on Saturday night, it will be a fantastic fight, but Pacquiao will have huge advantages is hand and foot speed, plus punching power.
Clottey´s head could be a problem for the Filipino, and he needs to beware of it. Countless times, most notably in high profile fights against Baldomir, Margarito, Judah and Cotto, Clottey´s reckless use of his head has been an issue.
Barring cuts, there would seem to be only one winner. Tough and brave as he is, Clottey will have never faced anything like the hailstorm of punches that is headed his way, courtesy of the flailing fists of Manny Pacquiao.
Pacquiao by TKO in eight.
Big Fight Odds; Manny Pacquiao 1/7, Joshua Clottey 9/2 bet365