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?; and keys to the fight, part I. Next: the undercard.
How Pacquiao (above left) and Clottey (above right) match up could be more telling than who’s the overall better fighter. Today, we’ll look at how they stack up physically, as well as how they stack up in the more mental aspects of boxing. First up was the physical. Now: The mental.
Offense. Clottey throws technically sound, straight punches. He has good timing with them, too, so he usually can get off in a fight even when physically overmatched, like in the speed department. His jab is good to very good; he likes his lead right; he mixes in left hooks to the head and body; and he’ll uppercut you if you get in close. He can lead, and he’s good at stalking, but he prefers to counter after blocking punches. Pacquiao has a history of struggling with the best counterpuncher he ever fought, Juan Manuel Marquez. What’s problematic is how few punches Clottey throws, and how careful he is about when he throws them. Because of his preoccupation with his turtle shell defense and apparent inability to counterpunch while on D, he has a tendency to lose rounds by being outworked.
I tried to think about a weakness in Pacquiao’s offensive arsenal just now, and I couldn’t, really. Maybe his jab? It’s adequate, but no major weapon. Otherwise, he’s a two-fisted offensive maniac. He varies his head and body attack. His straight left, once his dominant weapon, is now but one of several ways he’ll knock you down and beat you up — right hooks, left hooks, uppercuts. He’ll swarm you with combos or counterpunch if you get too bold. He can determine in a round or two what’s going to work best. According to Compubox, he’s collectively outlanded his last three opponents 625-271. Exacerbating it all for his opponents is that he’s a southpaw, and after they get knocked out, most of his victims say they never see the punches coming from those weird angles. He’s a dynamo, pure and simple. Advantage: Pacquiao
Defense. Once a sitting duck whose only defense was his offense, Pacquiao has become a very good, if not quite great, defensive fighter. His key move is punching and then sidestepping, or darting in and ducking away. But as much as Miguel Cotto hit him early on in their fight, Pacquiao also showed that he can block punches with his high guard if he needs to do so. When he’s focusing on defense, you’re just not going to catch him with much of note, so you better make it count if he’s in that mode. We’ll see if that old weakness for counterpunchers has largely faded, too.
Did someone say high guard? Clottey’s is probably the best in the biz, with Winky Wright barely active as a boxer. Connecting cleanly on him is no easy task. His gloves protect his head, and his elbows protect his body. You can hit him to the body some; you can punch through the center of his gloves some with straight punches; and you can punch around his guard some with hooks. His style’s downside on offense — a reluctance to punch when his man is on the attack — is a huge plus on defense, because he’s not going to get caught with anything stupid while getting overly aggressive on O. Mostly, you’re going to be connecting on forearm, glove and elbow. As good as Pacquiao’s gotten on defense, Clottey is one of the best pure defensive fighters in the game. Advantage: Clottey
Trainer. Aside from the highly notable exception of getting this payday against Pacquiao, Clottey has had one of the worst-managed careers in the sport for a while. Exhibit A: He decided he wanted a new trainer, Godwin Dzanie Kotey, that he once worked with in Ghana. But somebody didn’t realize that Kotey might be denied a visa, so Clottey spent most of training camp pining for his trainer. Kotey’s replacement, Lenny DeJesus, might offer some slight hope by virtue of having worked Pacquiao’s corner from 2003 to 2005 as a cutman. But then DeJesus said in the “Road to Dallas” preview show that he didn’t need to watch any footage of Pacquiao because he knows him so well. Stone stupid. Pacquiao is nothing like the boxer he was in 2003, let alone 2005. It’s hard to imagine more of a clusterfuck for a boxer to have in his corner going into by far the biggest fight of his life.
Everybody knows about Freddie Roach. He’s no worse than the best trainer of today — he’s moving up the list of best ever — and has been that way for a while. He’s honed Pacquiao’s game, and he usually has the perfect game plan for his Pacquiao’s man, often predicting with eerie prescience the round in which Pacquiao will win and pinpointing the precise punch that’s going to make a difference. According to Pacquiao, he and Roach have developed some secret “new technique” for the Clottey fight. Last time they said that, it was “Manilla Ice,” aka a potent right hand where before Pacquiao was strictly only good with his left. Roach is predicting that Pacquiao will be the first to knockout Clotey. If I were Clottey, I’d be very afraid. Advantage: Pacquiao
Heart. As I mentioned recently, Clottey has some bitch in him. When he hurt his hands against Antonio Margarito, he basically shut it down. When Zab Judah hit him low, and when Miguel Cotto tossed him to the ground, he responded with wimpy histrionics. When he loses, he has an excuse at the ready. Don’t get me wrong, I would have reacted the same way in almost all of those situations, but I’m not fighting Pacquiao Saturday. And I’m not saying Clottey isn’t tough at all — his style is by its very nature tough, because he walks into the line of fire every night. But Clottey doesn’t find ways to win. He finds ways to lose. Clottey’s heart may prove pivotal, because Roach has predicted Clottey will quit in this fight.
I have but one question about Pacquiao’s heart, and it’s that in the past, he’s sometimes reacted poorly to cuts, fighting at about 25 percent capacity until his corner patches him up. That’s it. He never quits, he never stops coming — no matter how tough it gets in there. When you give him some resistance, he evidently LIKES it. He’s an uncommonly ballsy fighter. Advantage: Pacquiao
The Rest. I’ve touched on all the biggest factors as I see them, but let me offer several minor secondary factors: Pacquiao has experience in more big fights than Clottey… Clottey has competed against a greater diversity of styles than has Pacquiao, including a quick southpaw (Judah), but Pacquiao’s never fought anyone whose style even remotely resembles Clottey’s… Clottey’s style is one-dimensional, if effective, while Pacquiao has shown an ability to adapt from fight to fight… Clottey has been in some fights where his opponent ended up cut, either by a punch or head butts, and it’s sometimes given him the advantage, but Clottey’s also shown that if he’s injured he’ll be more badly affected by it than some top boxers… Pacquiao dealt with a leg injury in training camp, although reportedly it’s healed… The crowd in Dallas will be about 100 percent on Pacquiao’s side, which probably won’t affect Clottey mentally but might sway judges when Pacquiao gets huge cheers for punches that look like they landed but didn’t.
There are a lot of pros and cons there for both men, but just sizing it up all at once, I’m going to go, slightly… Advantage: Pacquiao