So begins our marathon coverage of one of the biggest fights of 2010, Manny Pacquiao versus Joshua Clottey on March 13, culminating in a live blog on fight night. Today: Why and how Pacquiao-Clottey matters. Next: How good is Clottey?
It’s always a good thing when the world’s best boxer, who doubles as its most electrifying performer, is fighting. It’s all the better when he’s fighting a quality opponent. Those are the circumstances Saturday night on HBO pay-per-view when the pound-for-pound king, Manny Pacquiao, locks horns with dangerous Joshua Clottey, ranked #5 by Ring magazine in the top-heavy welterweight division.
Yet despite those conditions… despite the good match-up, which likely will produce nice action… despite the sui generis backdrop of a Cowboys Stadium that will host 45,000 screaming fans… despite the likelihood that Pacquiao-Clottey will be a pay-per-view smash… it feels a touch anticlimatic. It’s because March 13 was originally the date booked for what would have been the biggest fight in 20 years or more, Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather.
And you can say all you want, “Why don’t we all just move on, already?” Ring magazine’s Mike Rosenthal suggested the same thing in a recent column, then twice more mentioned Mayweather-Pacquiao in that same column. Fans of Pacquiao are constantly saying in comments on this blog, “Who cares about Mayweather?” But Pacland, the all-Pacquiao-all-the-time news hub, still lights up with Mayweather-centric articles. And some Filipino news outlets recently had a dust-up with Mayweather’s flak over whether they could interview Mayweather about the drug-testing feud that derailed Mayweather-Pacquiao.
So let’s consider what Pacquiao-Clottey is, and what it isn’t.
It is a meeting of top-notch fighters. Pacquiao is the virtually undisputed best fighter in the world, of any weight. Some historians think he has cracked the list of the top 20 fighters ever. He’s the three-time Fighter of the Year, a lineal, true boxing champion in an unprecedented four divisions and the current #1 man at welterweight per Ring magazine. Clottey, as I mentioned, is ranked #5 in the division, behind Pacquiao, Floyd Mayweather, Shane Mosley and Miguel Cotto, all of whom are in my pound-for-pound top 10. Some consider Clottey a pound-for-pound top 20 man, especially those who think he deserved the decision he narrowly lost on the scorecards to Cotto in his last fight.
It is likely to be a very entertaining fight. In 2009, Pacquiao and Clottey were in a pair of the best fights of the year, both against Cotto. Pacquiao is routinely in Fight of the Year candidates. He’s as purely kinetic as any boxer that’s stepped into the ring, and he’s added a layer of dazzle with razor-sharp boxing skill. Clottey isn’t quite on that level, excitement-wise, because he tends to be defense first, but he makes good fights because he always comes forward and looks to engage. He’s been in a number of good scraps besides the Clottey fight, against the likes of Zab Judah and Antonio Margarito.
It has a story in it stadium. Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys, coveted Mayweather-Pacquiao, and Pacquiao promoter Bob Arum coveted back. But mainly, it seems, Jones coveted Pacquiao. Jones no doubt will want to host more boxing events after this one, since an estimated crowd of 45,000 will be turning out for the show. Texas is maybe the worst big-fight jurisdiction in the country, prone to poor refereeing, hometown decisions and lackluster safety controls, but there will be a quality referee, Rafael Ramos, working this fight. As such, the focus has more been on Jones’ gaudy stadium and the world’s largest high-definition video screen, 72 feet high and 160 feet across.
It is a very big fight, but it is a touch shy of a mega-mega-fight. Besides the live gate, I’d expect the show to do in the vicinity of 1 million pay-per-view buys, probably less than more. Pacquiao has broken through to the mainstream, the rare boxer whom even non-boxing fans want to watch. He’s a sports star and a movie star and a godlike figure in his native Philippines whose story has translated in the United States. Clottey, while well-known to hardcore fans, is an unknown to the casual viewer with no clear fan base in the United States. Consider that Pacquiao-Clottey only got a half-hour preview show from HBO, not the “24/7” documentary series for which Pacquiao has become a staple.
It is not anywhere near as compelling as Mayweather-Pacquiao. There’s an argument to be made that Mayweather’s boxing style produces bad fights and Pacquiao-Clottey will produce more fireworks than Mayweather-Pacquiao could have. But sometimes it’s about more than whether a fight will be a good brawl. If good brawls were all that mattered, then the boxers I saw over the weekend at the Patriot Center would be multimillionaires. Mayweather-Pacquiao would have been a once-in-a-lifetime kind of fight because they were the two best fighters of the past decade, and the two most magnetic stars of recent years. I’d take Mayweather-Pacquiao 100 times out of 100 if offered the choice between that or Pacquiao-Clottey.
It is about the best fight that could have been made for Pacquiao in March absent Mayweather, but not quite — and it’s well shy of what Mayweather’s doing next. Clottey was a high-quality replacement for Mayweather, a potentially difficult and dangerous fight for Pacquiao and the best ranked welterweight available in March at the time the fight was signed. But there are two opponents who would have been more dangerous: a junior welterweight fight with the #1 challenger to Pacquiao’s 140-pound championship, Timothy Bradley, or a welterweight fight with Paul Williams, my #4 pound-for-pound fighter who contends from 147 to 160. Still, Clottey as an opponent isn’t a major drop off from those two, even if one suspects that was the choice because he’s under Arum’s promotional banner. Where the fight comes up significantly short is in how it compares to Mayweather’s next opponent. Mayweather is fighting Mosley in May, a match-up of the #2 and #3 fighters in the world, regardless of weight. It’s not Pacquiao’s fault that he won’t be fighting Mosley, since Mosley was booked for a January fight that was cancelled after Pacquiao signed with Clottey. For the entire decade of the 00s, Pacquiao’s choice of opponents far exceeded Mayweather’s, but for once, that’s not the case.
It is not a top-to-bottom good card. Once again, Arum is throwing us a junk undercard, with only one fight even remotely worth a damn. I’ll elaborate on this more this week.
It may be Pacquiao’s swan song. After the Clottey fight, Pacquiao will turn his full attention to running for Congress in the Philippines. If he wins the election, it’s unclear whether he’ll retire. So although I’ve offered some mild criticisms of this bout, I’ve got some advice for you: Enjoy Pacquiao while you still can. Once he’s gone, as long as you live, you may never see a fighter like him again.