Saturday, January 16, 2010

Pacquiao vs Clottey: Set Up OR Sacrificial Lamb?

By P.H. Burbridge - The events of the last few weeks have left a lot of us wavering between frustrated to disillusioned to down right angry to hopeful. The fight we all wanted to see that once seemed just within our grasp was violently snatched away creating a void and also sparking the most hotly debated issue we’ve seen in a while. In the fall out two very distinct groups have emerged, the believers and the non-believers. Some have chosen to stand by Pacquiao and point to various scenarios while rationalizing his decision not to acquiesce while others view his refusal as absolute “proof” that he’s hiding something. The only people who know for certain what the truth is are Manny and his inner circle. Whatever the motivation we’ll all agree that some of us can accept it and others just can’t! So, regardless of which group you fit into it’s time to move on. At least, for now. There is some interest building for Manny’s March 13th title defense against former IBF welterweight champion Joshua Clottey (35-3, 20 KO’s) in Dallas, Texas but its hardly captured the fight worlds imagination. Perhaps another dose of HBO’s 24/7 will help convince some of us. Joshua Clottey is seen as one of those hard luck fighters who always seem just on the outside of the spotlight. He’s no slouch but he’s also not anybody’s secret weapon. We’ve seen him look good against decent fighters like Diego Corrales and Zab Judah but we’ve also been puzzled by his seeming inability to capitalize on opportunities against the likes of Antonio Margarito and Miguel Cotto. The old timers have a saying for fighters like Clottey, “He fights just hard enough to lose”. Everybody respects him because he’s likable and appears to have the required skill set to compete with anyone on any given night but he also has shown an inability to maintain a consistent attack at crucial moments in big fights. That’s what his history tells us and if you follow that line of thought then Joshua Clottey is the perfect opponent for Manny Pacquiao..

Especially now!

Once the Mayweather fight fell through Bob Arum needed a name fighter with decent credentials who he could easily and quickly deliver to Manny Pacquiao. He needed a man on short notice who would provide little to no resistance in negotiations.

Enter Joshua Clottey. A fighter who lost his last match against the man Manny Pacquiao just beat for the WBO welterweight title, Miguel Cotto. Clottey is someone who once showed great promise but who never made it to the next level. Clottey’s one loss away from boxing's point of no return where the names are referenced only in a “past” tense manner.

The boxing life cycle if you have a moderate level of success works as such, you go from being a hot prospect to a world champions to an ex-champion to a stepping stones in a blink of an eye in this sport. Some faster than others and for Joshua Clottey he might be cycling OUT!

On paper this seems like a safe fight for Manny because he has clear advantages in speed and pedigree. The size edge goes to Clottey but Joshua often time gives up his height so don’t expect that to be a major factor. Clottey is a snappy puncher but by no means a devastating puncher and being that Pacquiao has an excellent chin I don’t see any real danger here. The big problem for Clottey is that he often falls asleep at the wheel by doing more looking and blocking than punching and scoring. His punch out put goes from strong in one round to infantile in the next. This inconsistency has defined his career as much as his flashes of excellence. His stamina has also been questioned because his punch output drops significantly late in fights. Although he never appears outwardly tired his lack of aggression and lackadaisical manner suggests fatigue. This adds to his value as an opponent when you consider that Pacquiao appears to get stronger as fights wear on.

Joshua Clottey was chosen because he has acceptable credentials and everybody knows that the Mayweather fight is still just down the road. All they needed was a safe opponent so they could pivot out of this whole “I want your blood” controversy. In my opinion, they wouldn’t take an opponent they weren’t absolutely 100% convinced they couldn’t beat. That’s how this works and Manny isn’t the first to do it and he won’t be the last. Give the general public the “impression” that you’re taking on a serious challenger without putting yourself in too much jeopardy. Don’t worry Mayweather fans. Floyd will be doing exactly the same damn thing!

Both guys are taking “holding pattern” fights. It’s the business of big time boxing.

But, that doesn’t mean we wont be entertained by these fights. Manny’s fight with Clottey does offer some interesting possibilities.

Is it possible for Clottey to pull off an upset here at 32 years of age and emerge as a top ten P4P fighter? Sure but its HIGHLY unlikely. Manny appears to have too much of everything to create any real drama here and if he sticks to his normal in and out tactics he should be able to win a comfortable decision. I don’t see a knockout for either guy and my only concern for Pacquiao would be from a potential (and likely) head butt which seems to have become a staple of Joshua’s recent attacks. Could Manny lose this fight by his own hands? Yeah, he could if he goes for the knockout as Freddie Roach has hinted to in the press recently but, again he’s got a good set of whiskers and we haven’t seen anything in his recent history to suggest that he’s vulnerable in anyway. Plus Roach has a history of saying things in the press just to build fan interest. He’s too smart to tell us what he really has planned.

But, that doesn’t mean there aren’t any scenarios for Clottey to achieve some measure of success. There are!

Clottey when he’s aggressive looks quite formidable and has an excellent jab when he uses it. IF he commits to the jab he has a chance here because he does have excellent defense and could conceivably frustrate Pacquiao by making him reach for his body while timing him with the jab and hitting Manny on the way out. Don’t underestimate a reach advantage. Yes, boxing is about timing but there’s a lot to say for a reach advantage and finding your range too. Clottey’s defense will at times create problems for Pacquiao like it did for Margarito, Corrales, Judah and Cotto. It forces fighters to aim for a very small target between his elbows and his flanks. This is a designed tactic to make opponents focus on a lower target so he can land his shots to the head. Ike Quartey was excellent at using this very same tactic. When Clottey gets his opponents to commit to those shots he unloads his half hooks - half uppercuts. Those are his most effective punches and he gets tremendous leverage on those shots when he’s moving forward. Pacquiao will have to be on high alert for that sequence and will no doubt move in and out of range accordingly. If Manny can manage that sequence then he’ll be just fine but if he has trouble shutting it down or getting out of range then you’re going to see him take some shots and that could be interesting.

Manny as he showed in the Cotto fight can be hit by the jab and he has also shown some lapses in his defense. He’s proven that he can take a good shot but what we learned in the Cotto fight is that his face starts to come apart a little. This is what you would expect from a fighter moving up in weight. The opponents punch harder so more damage is done by fewer shots. Pacquiao, although he beat Cotto in spectacular fashion left that fight with some significant abrasions to his face and his right ear. The ear damage was caused by Cotto’s left hook and an injury like that should it reoccur could potentially cause issues with his equilibrium.

Clottey will test that theory in their fight BUT it’s still a long shot.

If Clottey can replicate or create a similar level of damage and impose not so much his punching power but his overall physical strength then MAYBE he can wear Pacquiao down on his way to a TKO stoppage. (And that’s a big “MAYBE”) That’s really his best chance at winning. This is a Top Rank Promoted event in TEXAS where questionable judgments are not some distant memory so Clottey will need to take matters into his own hands to a large degree. If he can disrupt Manny’s timing and force him into a close quarters battle then his chances of wining increase significantly.

Roach knows this. Clottey, unlike Miguel Cotto has absolute confidence in his chin and will accommodate Pacquiao if he steps inside to brawl. Where Miguel ran away from Manny Joshua will run AT Manny. Again, I think Manny is too smart to engage this way and seriously doubt Roach would allow him to so get ready for a lot of spinning out of range. In this case, that’s absolutely the correct tactic. Although Joshua is not be as hard of a puncher as Miguel Cotto he does give out a more durable vibe which could give the overall impression that Pacquiao isn’t hurting him which might prompt Manny to stay in Clottey’s punching range in attempt to hurt him. That could be a mistake and Roach will work hard to keep him focused on fighting his normal fight at his normal pace. Don’t be a tough guy and don’t get discouraged especially if Manny’s not hurting Clottey. Just stay focused on landing volume shots and winning rounds.

For Clottey, he must do something he’s always had difficulty doing in big fights and that’s answer back! HE MUST ANSWER BACK!!

He can’t get into his usual head shaking “you didn’t hurt me” mode because the rounds will start whisking by and the next thing he’ll know it will be the 9th round and he’ll find himself in a serious hole on the score cards. He MUST increase his punch output and give the overall impression that HE’s forcing the action.

If he doesn’t establish that early and I do mean EARLY in the first 3 rounds then expect this to turn into a glorified sparring session for Pacquiao.

If Clottey fights like he’s just happy to be there rather than with the aggression he keeps promising then AFTER this fight you’ll know exactly what stage of the boxing life cycle you can find him.



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