10 questions going into the Pacquiao-Clottey fight
1. Is Clottey a worthy opponent? Short answer: yes. Pacquiao is THE RING’s No. 1-rated welterweight; Clottey is No. 5. That’s a good matchup. The Ghanian is coming off a loss to Miguel Cotto, one of the most-respected fighters in the world, but some believe he did enough to win a close decision. Clottey has never been knocked out and has good defensive skills, which means he’ll probably survive at least until the late rounds. That said, it’s difficult to get excited about Clottey’s chances or the fighter himself. He’s merely a very good boxer with pretty good power, which won’t be enough to stave off a fierce, quick-handed marvel like Pacquiao. The Filipino is roughly a 4-1 favorite for a reason. And Pacquiao went from Floyd Mayweather Jr. to a relative unknown for his opponent. A drop off that enormous will limit the buzz surrounding the fight.
2. Can Pacquiao hurt Clottey? Pacquiao has faced two welterweights. One, Oscar De La Hoya, could barely fight back. The other, Cotto, doesn’t have the best chin in the world. Clottey is different. The reason he has never been knocked out is he can take a punch. He has proved that over and over again. Thus, there is a very real possibility that the Clottey will remain standing for the full 12 rounds. I don’t see that happening, though. I believe Pacquiao has legitimate welterweight power. Plus, Clottey has never seen this kind of hand speed or punches coming from so many unpredictable directions. The punches that hurt opponents most are the ones they don’t see coming. Pacquiao might not take Clottey out with one punch but an accumulation of them should do the job. If not? Doesn’t matter. Pacquiao will just outbox his inferior foe.
3. Are Pacquiao’s last four victories misleading because of the opposition? Pacquiao supporters will roll their eyes when they read this but it’s a legitimate question. Diaz is good but limited; De La Hoya had nothing left; Hatton was overrated and some will argue that Cotto never fully recovered from the beating he took from Margarito. So what does that say about Pacquiao? Not much. As his trainer, Freddie Roach, has pointed out, we thought these opponents were all pretty good going into their meetings with Pacquiao. It was afterward, for the most part, that we began to question to them. Clottey might actually be the most-difficult to criticize even after the fact because he has had a fine career and has shown no signs of decline. Still, some will find serious fault with him and anyone else Pacquiao fights short of Mayweather or Mosley. The bottom line is that he’s destroying whomever they put in front of him. Let’s enjoy it.
4. Has Pacquiao’s reputation taken a hit after the failed negotiations with Mayweather? I don’t think so. Most fans seemed to blame Mayweather for the impasse, insisting that he was out of line to make blood-testing demands outside normal protocol even though Pacquiao has never failed a drug test. I also don’t think many people believe he has taken performance-enhancing drugs. Most adhere to the innocent-until-proven-guilty philosophy, which is the only fair approach to take. Undoubtedly, a small percentage feel strongly that he should’ve taken the blood test two weeks before the fight if he had nothing to hide. And a smaller percentage, those convinced he couldn’t have such success at heavier weights without some help, will accuse Pacquiao of wrong doing. That’s a very small group, though. He is relatively unscathed.
5. Will Pacquiao suffer a letdown after his epic showdown with Mayweather fell through? Not a chance. Pacquiao is the most-focused, most-professional boxer I’ve ever seen in spite of myriad distractions. In part, that’s just how he is. He is so committed that he left his homeland and traveled halfway around the world seeking a good trainer simply because he wanted to tap into what he knew was vast potential. The fact he has the hopes and dreams of an entire nation on his shoulders also is an immensely powerful motivating factor. He knows too much is riding on every fight to let down. And even if he were to slip up, Roach would be there to give him a good kick in the behind. Pacquiao will be as ready as ever on March 13.
6. Could Pacquiao’s demanding schedule the past few years catch up to him? Pacquiao, 31, hasn’t had a particularly hard fight since the rematch with Juan Manuel Marquez in March of 2008. He cruised past David Diaz, Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton and Miguel Cotto, although the first few rounds against Cotto were brutal. However, Pacquiao, one of the hardest workers in the world, has been training diligently to perfect his craft for 15 years without a significant break. That includes countless sparring sessions in which he has absorbed considerable punishment. Also, no one has a more hectic and demanding personal schedule than the Filipino idol. It’s not farfetched to wonder whether all of the above will take a toll on him at some point.
7. How many people will attend the fight at the new Cowboys Stadium in Dallas? An estimated 20,000 tickets were sold the first day they were available. That’s probably a tribute to Pacquiao’s growing popularity in the U.S., a large number of boxing-friendly Latinos in the Dallas area, a strong sports culture in Texas and the novelty of the first boxing card there. The stadium reportedly will be configured for 45,000 seats. I doubt that many people will buy tickets but I won’t be surprised to see a large crowd. I suspect the atmosphere will be festive but those in attendance shouldn’t necessarily expect electricity. I attended the Wladimir Klitschko-Ruslan Chagaev fight at a packed 60,000-seat soccer stadium in Germany and the energy dwindled to nothing when it became clear that Klitschko was going to win easily. Then again, the 126,000-seat Estadio Azteca in Mexico City rocked throughout the Julio Cesar Chavez-Greg Haugen fight.
8. How many pay-per-view buys will the fight generate? Pacquiao-Mayweather, featuring the two biggest pay-per-view draws in the U.S., might’ve smashed records by generating a record 3 million-plus buys. Pacquiao-Clottey? I think 800,000-900,000 — or just shy of the 1 million Pacquiao-Cotto drew — is realistic. Clottey isn’t nearly the attraction Cotto is in part because he doesn’t have a Latino fan base in the U.S. However, the fascination with Pacquiao is still growing and the unusual venue — Cowboys Stadium — adds to the appeal of the event. Plus, Antonio Margarito’s return from suspension would give the show a significant bump if he receives a license in Texas.
9. What if Pacquiao wins? Bob Arum, Pacquiao’s promoter, has come up with a fascinating plan to have his star attraction fight Antonio Margarito this year if the disgraced Mexican fighter receives a license in Texas. That would be a very lucrative matchup. The fact Margarito would be returning from his suspension in California — for illegal hand wraps — and a large following among Mexicans and Mexican-Americans would make him a hot commodity and the fight much more attractive than Pacquiao-Clottey. Thus, we might be looking at 2011 for the Pacquiao-Mayweather showdown. That’s assuming neither of the star participants slips up in the meantime and can get past blood-testing issues in the end.
10. What if Clottey wins? A Clottey victory would turn the boxing world upside down. Suddenly, the sport’s most-popular figure would be exposed as human after all and lose the remarkable momentum that has experts comparing him to the greatest fighters of all time. The landscape would be far less interesting, to say the least. Pacquiao would remain an attraction — particularly if he could beat Clottey in a rematch — but he probably would never be quite the same. Pacquiao-Mayweather or Pacquiao-Mosley would still be big but, with a diminished Pacquiao, wouldn’t smash pay-per-view records. Clottey would set himself up for some healthy paydays but will never be a true star. This is fantasy, though: Clottey isn’t going to win.