Monday, March 8, 2010

Clottey Too Strong?

Saturday night sees the next chapter unfold in what has become the gladiatorial career of Manny Pacquiao. Proudly and justifiably held as boxing’s poster boy, the sport seems in more need of his services right now than vice versa. Thankfully for the fight game and its needy, often disappointed fans Manny’s still here. Still accepting the bigger fights and the bigger challenges.

David Diaz was a stepping stone. I never for one moment doubted the Filipino’s ability to take what little he’d offer and come back with substantially more. That the American went 9 rounds is testament to his resolve. Manny couldn’t have hit him harder with a baseball bat.

Against Cotto there were doubts. It was clearly a fight in which Pacman would do well; Cotto likes to box but can’t seem to avoid fighting when in with a fighter. Manny’s feet would be quicker, it was generally accepted he hit harder, and Miguel had wilted before coming apart as the rounds wore on against the heavy-handed, anything but fleet-footed Antonio Margarito. This was the key consideration of the Cotto Paquiao matchup; how much had the Puerto Rican learned? However we may judge the David Diaz’s of this world, Cotto is an accomplished, genuinely world class performer. Though he’d been drawn into the odd crazy round or two (the Demarcus Corley fight springs instantly to mind) Cotto had shown his true colours in classy wins over the legendary Shane Mosley and once-possibly-future-legendary Zab Judah. At the time I thought Mosley was washed up. I still had hopes for Judah. It’s a funny sport to call at times..

Cotto had also impressed against the previously undefeated Urkal, Quintana and Torres. He was the real deal, no doubt. And Pacman blew him away. It was stunning. In July ’08 I was thrilled for Margarito. He was Rocky; he was everyone watching not ardently behind Miguel. For five or six minutes he walked through all the patience and pain of the previous 8 or 9 rounds and looked unstoppable. He was a boxing legend that night. He was boxing. Last November as the Puerto Rican clung on through the dying rounds and Manny just refused to stop taking him apart I could barely watch.

How quickly things change, and how difficult they are to call. Floyd Mayweather, though unquestionable legend himself, once again proved that he is definitely not boxing. He may be poster boy for half the sports and image rights agents who can clamour for his attention, but walking through 8 rounds of hurt to clutch all of our imaginations as he battles the odds in the dying rounds he is not. Would he fight Manny? Certainly. But the money, locations, gloves, ropes and anything else he could think of had to be his.

Mayweather’s loss. Our gain. Saturday night will be all about 2 great fighters fighting for greatness. For Clottey, it’s a deserved chance for recognition on the biggest of stages. For Pacman, it’s just more fun. More fans, more lightning combinations, more singing. And we’ll miss him when he’s gone.

To fully appreciate the legacy he’ll eventually leave it’s necessary to bear in mind he’s fighting thousands of miles from home. Though the U.S. is fairly unchallenged as boxing’s big time venue (hoards of supporters of the likes of Hatton and Calzaghe in recent years cementing the point) it’s possible to underestimate the challenge faced by a fighter making such a move. When red-hot Juan Manuel Marquez dropped a hotly disputed decision to Chris John in Jakarta 2004 most observers were quick to dismiss the loss, citing hometown decision making as the most likely issue, yet when the Rocky Juarez scored an unquestionably generous draw 5 years later in Texas most tried to justify the decision as John’s own shortcoming, slowing down in the latter rounds. While it’s never prudent to isolate individual fights as comparisons, the challenges faced in fighting halfway round the world are nothing short of substantial. Both in and out of the ring. Fortunately, Manny’s had nothing to complain about. He’s had high’s and lows, fought an incredible round first time out with Marquez then learned a great lesson through the conclusion of the fight. But these days Manny doesn’t do decisions. These days he doesn’t take the chance.

He’s stronger, faster and more resolved than the electrifying but somewhat erratic pugilist who burst onto the scene with a breathtaking derailment of a then peak Barerra in 2003. So far he’s lost nothing of his speed and his power seems to increase naturally with his weight. So why should Clottey succeed where Cotto was found so wanting?

It’s an old cliché, but styles make fights. Records do not throw punches. If they did the Ghanaian would have came unstuck against the too-fast Judah. He didn’t. He’d have been out of depth against the world class Cotto. He certainly wasn’t. The Margarito loss raises eyebrows on the Clottey record, but that was nearly 4 years ago now. And Tony can fight, unquestionably. What seems to be of greatest interest here is the comparisons that can be drawn – though shouldn’t be – between Clottey’s fight with Cotto and Pacquiao’s. Wouldn’t life be great if it was as easy to assess an upcoming fight as that? Pacman’ll walk through him, right?

For Joshua Clottey, this is the culmination of a life spent building to this moment. It’s a payday but I don’t think that’s really the point. He’s a tough man, a hard fighter. He wants a piece of what Manny’s been getting. Loath though I am to bet against the Filipino, I think he’ll get it. I anticipate the same electric atmosphere, free foot movement and creative combinations from Manny, but I also see the Ghanaian getting on top of him at times and fighting the kind of fight Ricky Hatton hoped to conjure. In doing so I believe Clottey will present a stronger challenge than Manny’s been faced with so far. I see this as an exceptionally close call and I don’t see a stoppage. Saturday night might just raise a few more of those eyebrows picking future fights based on records.

Either way, Manny wins. Were he to lose and bow out only the sport and its fans would suffer. If he wins, if he scales more phenomenal heights and simply marches through everything Clottey offers? Then what? Perhaps well see ‘Money’ Mayweather travel halfway across the globe for modern day thriller in Manilla? Whatever happens come Saturday, however hard this game is to predict, I think we’re all safe betting Floyd just won’t take the chance.


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