By Graham Houston
Superstar Manny Pacquiao tops the bill in the year’s biggest fight so far, meeting the durable Joshua Clottey in a welterweight title fight on Saturday that will be watched by a 40,000 crowd at the Cowboys Stadium in Texas and a worldwide TV viewing audience (HBO PPV in the U.S., Sky Box Office in Britain). Even though Pacquiao is a massive favourite, people want to see the fighter who is now regarded as a potential all-time great. The way Pacquiao has stormed through the weight divisions from flyweight right up to welterweight, and the thrilling, dominant displays of speed and power against big-name fighters Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton and Miguel Cotto have established the Filipino as a phenomenon, the type of fighter who comes along once in a lifetime.
Pacquiao defends his WBO welterweight title on Saturday and he is meeting a worthy challenger. Clottey is a big, strong fighter who will likely be coming into the ring as a junior middleweight. The fighter from Ghana promises to take the fight to Pacquiao and put him under pressure. Clottey is expected to put up a good fight. He has never been stopped. With his tight defence and his sturdy chin, Clottey has a blast-proof look. Can Pacquiao get him out of the fight inside 12 rounds? For many, this is the most intriguing aspect of the fight.
Clottey is a seasoned fighter but predictable. He moves straight ahead with gloves up and elbows tucked in, and he likes to unload bursts of punches once he is in firing range.
This style can be very effective against many fighters. Clottey was too strong and industrious for the faster, flashier Zab Judah, for instance. Although it was a cut over Judah’s eye that caused the fight to end prematurely, it did seem that Clottey was breaking down the southpaw from Brooklyn.
Pacquiao, of course, is no ordinary fighter. His hand speed and foot speed are very difficult to deal with for the more methodical types of fighter such as Clottey.
It seems to me that Pacquiao, at 31, is punching even harder — and taking a better punch — than at any time in his career while remaining just as fast as when he was boxing at much lighter weights. Floyd Mayweather Jr. doesn’t believe Pacquiao is doing this naturally, and his suspicions caused their potential superfight to fall apart, but in Pacquiao’s camp they say that it is modern nutrition and diet and incredibly hard work — plus the body’s growing process — that has seen the former flyweight give devastating displays at 147 pounds.
Pacquiao isn’t the only fighter to have started out as a slender flyweight and moved up to become formidable through the weight divisions. Old-time light-heavy champion Georges Carpentier started out as a flyweight; so did Jimmy McLarnin, who became a big-hitting welterweight champ.
The people associated with Pacquiao say that we should enjoy him while we can because we aren’t likely to see anyone like him again, and the success of Saturday’s show indicates that the public has got the message.
I am expecting an exciting performance and a convincing win from Pacquiao. Although Clottey is a capable fighter he has shown a tendency to do enough to lose in the big fights — he faded late against Antonio Margarito after making a strong start, and his failure to keep punching caused him to blow the late rounds and lose narrowly to Miguel Cotto. I can see him getting befuddled and discouraged if he if he finds himself unable to hit Pacquiao while getting peppered himself.
Clottey can give Pacquiao a competitive fight but I don’t think he will be able to maintain the constant, fists-pumping pressure that would give him his only chance of success. I think Clottey will find himself running into punches, and if he goes to the ropes and covers up he will get hammered to the body.
Pacquiao’s southpaw style as such might not be a factor, because Clottey has fought well against left-handers, but the Filipino’s speed, power and sheer dynamism are another matter. I think that Clottey might be struggling by the later rounds and it is easy to picture him being rescued while under bombardment. A head clash ending is an unfortunate possibility — Clottey has been involved in a few of those as he tends to lean in with his head when he throws uppercuts, and Cotto was badly sliced in a collision. I tend to lean a bit towards Pacquiao by decision rather than by KO or TKO, but he is on fire right now and Clottey might need all his durability and closed-shutters defence to hear the final bell.