Manny Pacquiao Vs. Antonio Margarito: Keys To The Fight, Part I

So continues our marathon coverage of one of the biggest fights of 2010, Manny Pacquiao-Antonio Margarito on Nov. 13. Before: the debate over purchasing the pay-per-view, and the stakes of the bout. Next: keys to the fight, part II.

Mind. Matter. How do Manny Pacquiao and Antonio Margarito stack up in those categories? In the first of two parts, we compare their physical attributes.

(The Florida Keys to the fight)

Size. Margarito is bigger, period. He’s a giant welterweight who has shown he can fight at junior middleweight, where this bout will be waged. Although he has been less effective at 154 than 147, he also had to struggle two fights ago to get down to 147 lbs., so there’s at least a good chance he won’t be as lethargic as he was against Shane Mosley. At age 32, he might even have trouble getting down to the 150-pound catchweight. He’s 5’11” with a 73″ reach, compared to Pacquiao’s listings of 5’6 1/2″ and 67″.

Pacquiao began his career as a 106-pound teenager, but he’s been elite all the way up to welterweight. But he’s probably more a junior welterweight at this point. He’s struggled at times to keep his weight up beyond the 147-pound limit. If he has to muscle Margarito on the inside the way Mosley did to prevent Margarito from getting off punches, I’m not convinced he’ll be able to tie up the larger man the way Mosley was.

Both men will weigh in at the catchweight Friday. But on fight night, it’s entirely possible Margarito will be close to 170 lbs., and Pacquiao will be closer to 148, 149. Pacquiao’s beaten opponents as tall as Margarito, like Oscar De La Hoya, and he’s beaten opponents who outweight him a bunch, like Joshua Clottey. He’s in uncharted territory facing both in one package. Edge: Margarito.

Speed: Pacquiao is faster, period. In his mailbag this week, asked about speed disparities in major fights in boxing history that compare to Pacquiao-Margarito, Doug Fischer recently threw out some examples that went back decades. Pacquiao has plenty of assets in any fight, but his speed is probably first on any list.

Margarito’s team said they’ve worked on his speed, and in some clips on HBO 24/7, he seemingly is throwing punches more quickly. Early in camp, Pacquiao’s team worried that he was a bit sluggish, but they’re now convinced they’ve got him into his usual form. But Pacquiao will still be almost infinitely quicker of hand and foot than the plodding, slow-handed Margarito. Margarito makes up for his lack of speed in other ways, but he’s at a distinct disadvantage.

Pacquiao has eaten significantly slower fighters alive, like David Diaz. Fighters with pretty good speed, like Miguel Cotto, sometimes have more luck, although not always. Margarito, meanwhile, had a terrible time with Mosley’s speed, although he once beat a younger, sloppier but still quick-fisted Sergio Martinez. Either way, Margarito is in uncharted territory facing someone as fast as Pacquiao, because anyone would be. Edge: Pacquiao.

Power: Here’s a spot where things get a bit less conclusive. Both have similar knockout ratios over their careers. But each have a variety of known unknowns in the power category.

Pacquiao has never fought anyone this big, and never been this big for a fight himself. At some point his power has to tail off, but because of how quickly and sharply he delivers most of his shots, and because of how well he’s grown into each new class, it’s never been an issue. Maybe it will be here. But at his best, his powerful combos wear you down and his single shots can put you on queer street.

Margarito appeared defanged power-wise against Mosley, but some of that might have had to do with his weight issues and an inability to hit Mosley flush at all. He appeared defanged power-wise in his last fight against Roberto Garcia, but some of that might have been related to the new weight class or rustiness or his manager’s subsequently declared decree that Margarito not knock Garcia out. There also are the omnipresent questions about whether Margarito’s power was defanged the night Mosley’s trainer Naazim Richardson found hardened pads in his hand wraps. At his best, his combinations do serious damage to you and his single shots wear you down.

Because I think it likely that Margarito’s hardened pads weren’t a one-time trick, I lean Pacquiao in the power department, but nobody really knows the truth about all of these things. Edge: Pacquiao.

Chin: Whatever one thinks of whether Margarito’s career was abetted by cheating with those loaded gloves, the Mexican hardass couldn’t have gotten very far with his style if not for his stupendous ability to take a punch. For years, that chin of his was one of the Eight Wonders Of The Boxing World. It literally made men crumble. In their first fight, Kermit Cintron was so accustomed to obliterating everyone he touched that Margarito’s cheerful, joyous receipt of Cintron’s big right hands very clearly psyched Cintron out.

But that was then. Mosley knocked him out, and while maybe that was related somewhat to weight struggles, getting knocked out once makes one more likely to get knocked out again. It’s doubtful his chin is gone or even close, but it’s likely it isn’t what it once was. (Receiving body shots are apparently of no concern for Margarito, or at least they never have been.)

Pacquiao has been knocked out before, but you have to go back to a skinny, weight-drained, 1999 version of Pacquiao. Pacquiao has been wobbled in his life, but you have to go back to the spring of 2008. There were moments where he clearly felt the punches of the powerful Cotto and the less-powerful Clottey, but he never was truly shaken up. His chin is elite. (Margarito’s team has a suspicion he can’t take body shots as well, but it’s been a likewise long time since Pacquiao got truly hurt to the body, and Pacquiao has said he has hardened his abdomen in anticipation of Margarito’s body attack.)

This is also inconclusive, but I’m going with recent form. Edge: Pacquiao.

Condition: This is kind of a catch-all for the physical shape of both fighters.

Both have been in some grueling battles, with Margarito’s no-defense style meaning he has probably taken more punishment over his career; there was a suspicion after the Mosley loss, for instance, that the beating Margarito took in his win against Cotto might have taken its toll in a way that ultimately softened him up. They are approximately the same chronological age, with Margarito 32 to Pacquiao’s 31. Recently, Pacquiao has been signficantly more active; since the summer of 2008, Pacquiao has been in five fights to Margarito’s three, which means the sort of mental-physical issues of timing, sharpness etc. will be an advantage.

It’s their camps where things have been very different. Stamina-wise, both have shown the ability to throw a ridiculous number of punches. But while Margarito has been borderline Adonis-like in his physique for weeks — the only real risk there is that he might have overtrained — Pacquiao’s camp has been bedeviled by an inordinate number of distractions even by Pacquiao’s standards. Not so long ago, team member Alex Ariza was quoted as saying Pacquiao’s was at about 80 percent shape, which is good for 100 percent for some fighters but not ideal for Pacquiao. Lately, his team said he’s gotten more into “Pacquiao shape.” It’s possible that he’s been dealing still with an injured foot and an ulcer, the former of which was an issue at the beginning of camp and the latter of which was an issue during his congressional campaign.

These ambiguities, particularly on the Pacquiao end, make it hard to pick a clear victor in this column. But I’ll go… Edge: Margarito.

About Tim Starks

Tim is the founder of The Queensberry Rules and co-founder of The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board ( He lives in Washington, D.C. He has written for the Guardian, Economist, New Republic, Chicago Tribune and more.