So continues our marathon coverage of one of the biggest fights of 2010, Manny Pacquiao versus Joshua Clottey on Saturday. Previously: why and how Pacquiao-Clottey matters; how good is Clottey?; keys to the fight, parts I and II; the undercard. Next: the ultimate guide.
No use beating around the bush here. You know that scene near the beginning of “Jurassic Park,” where they lower a cow into the velociraptor pit by crane, then after some infernal racket, they wheel the cow’s harness back up and there’s nothing left but ragged straps? That’s what I think Pacquiao-Clottey is kind of going to look like.
If ever a boxer was like a velociraptor — predatory, quick, intelligence on the attack — it’s Pacquiao (above left). But it’s not that I think Clottey (above right) is some defenseless cow, exactly. In fact, he’s very defense-ful. Defense is what he excels at most. I do think, though, with his tendency to have to plant his feet to punch and the way he covers up so passively when blocking shots will have the effect of Pacquiao making him look like he’s strapped to a harness. And I don’t think he’s going to be pretty at the end of the night.
That’ll make the rest of this anticlimatic, but I do think it’s worth considering the alternatives – the scenarios where Pacquiao has a long, difficult night or even where Clottey wins. Clottey is no schlub. He’s a very good fighter. Even in losses, he has given his opponents hell, to the point that some believe he’s been ripped off repeatedly. It’s not far-fetched that Clottey gets his licks in or even pulls off the win.
Pacquiao is the best fighter in the world for a lot of reasons: He’s got the kind of offense that invites comparisons to natural disasters; he’s an athletic marvel; he’s become a complete fighter, adding defense and versatility; his style is unique and unpredictable; and mentally, he’s as hard as diamonds. He’s far better than Clottey, really, having proven time and time again that he will beat future Hall of Famers like he’s batting an eyelash.
Clottey, meanwhile, has a style that lends itself to frustrating showings at the end of the night. There’s no doubting his talent. He’s sharp, if too conservative, on offense. He’s no knockout artist, but he hits hard enough that when you see his opponents tasting his power, they often shy away. He rarely gets hit cleanly because of his defense, and he’s apparently unhurtable even if he’s hit. But there are flaws, like I mentioned, and that reactivity/passivity in his style means that even when he’s doing effective work, judges side against him because the other man is working harder, trying to make the fight, looking like he’s winning even if he’s not.
It’s style, not class, that presents Clottey with an opening. Where I see Clottey presenting potential problems for Pacquiao are in his size, his defense, his counterpunching and maybe even a little luck.
Clottey is going to be massive compared to Pacquiao, and Pacquiao has never faced anyone who could weigh as much as 170 pounds on the day of the fight (thanks to Clottey’s record of rehydration from the weigh-in the day before). Pacquiao might well come in below the 147-pound limit, and may stay that way the night of. And Clottey might as well be made of stone. If I close my eyes and play pretend, I can see Clottey taking advantage of his size by using his ability to cut off the ring, brushing off Pacquiao’s punches and roughing him up.
Clottey as well will be the best defensive fighter Pacquiao has ever faced. We don’t know exactly how he’ll handle that. Will he be able to connect cleanly enough to convince the judges he’s the winner?
And as recently as early 2008, albeit in a time before Pacquiao had added as much nuance to his game as he has now, Pacquiao struggled badly against the counterpunching of Juan Manuel Marquez. Pacquiao hasn’t faced a very good counterpuncher since then, and Clottey’s got some authentic counterpunching chops.
As for that luck? You don’t have to look around too hard to find a bunch of people hyping the “head butt” path to a Clottey victory. A head butt that opened a bad cut over Miguel Cotto’s eye helped Clottey keep things close in his last fight, even if he ultimately didn’t get the decision. In the past, Pacquiao has struggled with cuts, although only for a few rounds with his current cut man, Miguel Diaz, who’s worked miracles on Pac at times. I suppose, though, Clottey could “make a little luck for himself” by initiating a head butt, or elbow.
None of these are the most hopeful situations for Clottey. If one of your best chances for winning is “inadvertent head butt,” maybe you’ve reached a point in your career where you’re overstretched. Clottey is good. Pacquiao is great.
What’s more, aside from the difference in class, I think that the stylistic factors working to aid Clottey are far exceeded by the stylistic factors working to aid Pacquiao. In some ways, it’s hard to imagine a better match-up for Pacquiao than an opponent who comes straight forward and does nothing but stand there when you punch him. From what I can tell, that’s as sophisticated as Clottey’s plan is for this weekend. He asserted this week at news conferences that he would block Pacquiao’s punches. Well, no duh. I think Clottey will block a good many of Pacquiao’s punches. But Pacquiao won’t throw at a single punch at a time, the way Clottey does. Pacquiao will fire a combo that tries to penetrate Clottey’s gloves through the middle, then down low, then around the side — and then he’ll fire three more punches before he’s done with the combo. Some of that’s going to get through, and all of it will be harder and more dangerous than any volley he’s ever encountered. And by the time Clottey fires back, Pacquiao will already be gone, out of range.
For all my doubts about Clottey’s fighting mentality and its inherent whininess, I don’t think he’s the kind who will quit on his stool. But I think he’s going to get hit so much, and so much more cleanly than he’s used to, that he’s going to find somebody — the referee, his corner — eager to save him from as nasty a beating as Pacquiao can deliver.
It might be the case that Pacquiao ends up with a bit more of a scrap than I’ve depicted, should Clottey catch Pacquiao with some counters here and there. That’s far more feasible to me than the idea that Clottey will actually win, though . That, I have real trouble imagining. He doesn’t have the power to either KO or dissuade Pacquiao from throwing, by my reckoning, and if he doesn’t have that he will, at minimum, get outworked.
Clottey has been good enough to hang with the likes of Cotto and Antonio Margarito. I don’t think he’ll hang with Pacquiao. It’s a legitimate fight, Pacquiao-Clottey, and it might offer good two-way action, but mostly I think it will be a one-sided thrashing, albeit an entertaining one. It will probably be damn near the most fun you ever have at an execution.
[The prediction game is in effect for this fight. Remember, for those of you who are still filing predictions late and won’t receive credit for them from this point forward: You must have your submission in by 11:59 p.m. ET the day before the fight, in this case Friday.]