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Hardluck Clottey finally catches a break

11
Mar

Joshua Clottey (right) poses back-to-back with Manny Pacquiao at the final press conference for their welterweight title bout on Saturday at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Few thought Clottey, who has suffered his share of tough breaks, would ever be a part of such a big pay-per-view event but the contender's persistence finally paid off. Photo by Chris Farina / Top Rank

When the richest fight in boxing history fell apart, nobody thought Joshua Clottey would benefit from it by landing a fight with Manny Pacquiao.

It’s not because Clottey, a RING-rated welterweight and former titleholder, isn’t qualified to challenge the sport’s pound-for-pound king at 147 pounds. It’s just that, well, Clottey isn’t that lucky.

The 32-year-old Ghanaian’s career has been defined by hard-luck setbacks.

Clottey’s three losses — to future champ Carlos Baldomir and then-titleholders Antonio Margarito and Miguel Cotto — all have asterisks by them as far he and many fans are concerned.

His first loss, to Baldomir in 1999, was a controversial 11th-round disqualification for intentional headbutts. Clottey outclassed Baldomir during the first half of their tussle but as the rugged Argentine came on in the late rounds the two began to clinch and grapple, the result being numerous head clashes. To this day, Clottey, who was ahead on all three scorecards, believes he was unfairly penalized. Most fans who have seen the bout agree with him.

Seven years later, Clottey was dominating Margarito through four rounds until he suffered stress fractures in both hands and was out-hustled over the second half of their competitive scrap.

Last June, Clottey got up from a first-round knockdown and gave Cotto all he could handle for 12 rounds only to drop a disputed split decision. The bout took place before a partisan crowd at Madison Square Garden on the eve of the Puerto Rican Day Parade, but many observers and members of the media — including those among the Puerto Rican press at ringside — scored the bout for Clottey.

So how did this poster boy for boxing disappointment land a fight with the hottest fighter in the sport?

For starters, Clottey is promoted by Top Rank, as Pacquiao is. And he has an old-school manager, Vinny Scolpino, who doesn’t believe in luck.

Scolpino believes in being in the right place at the right time and being ready to take advantage of whatever opportunity comes your way.

“That’s boxing,” Scolpino told RingTV.com at the final press conference for Pacquiao-Clottey, which took place at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, the site for Saturday’s pay-per-view event. “Be ready for an opportunity and then jump on it. And a guy like Joshua is always ready. Bob (Arum) knew that when he called.”

As soon as Scolpino heard that negotiations between Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr. had become strained he stayed in constant contact with Arum, Top Rank’s president, and let him know that his fighter was ready to step in as an opponent at any time.

“We always had our fingers in it because we’re from the same stable,” Scolpino said. “I talked to (vice president of boxing operations) Carl Moretti, I talked to Bob, and told them we’re ready if things don’t happen. And you could just smell that things weren’t going well (in the Mayweather negotiations). It was really amazing. It was just good timing. It just happened.”

Clottey is also fortunate that Arum is just as old-school as his manager.

It didn’t matter to the 78-year-old promoter that Clottey lost his last fight, or that the Bronox-based contender isn’t a big name.

“Clottey really distinguished himself even in the case of his loss to Cotto,” Arum told writers at Wednesday’s final press conference. “He didn’t wildly complain and whine and so forth. I’m a little bit more old school than the new promoters. I realize that if you lose, it’s not a death sentence. It depends how lose. If you lose and you’re a quitter, it really could be a death sentence. If you lose on your shield and give everything you have, then you bring the guy back.”

Clottey has been bought back in a big way, bigger than he could have ever imagined.

“I never thought about (replacing Mayweather as Pacquiao’s opponent),” Clottey told RingTV.com at Wednesday’s press conference. “I never thought they were going to give me the chance because I was too big in weight. So when they called me and said I was going to fight, I was surprised.”

He can be forgiven for not believing the opportunity was real when he first learned of the offer.

Clottey had suffered through months of frustration before receiving the call to take part in the first mega-fight of the year.

While the sports world was still buzzing about the potential of a Mayweather-Pacquiao showdown in late 2009, Clottey was dealing with disappointment after disappointment.

In September, he thought he had landed a Dec. 26 shot at big-name titleholder Shane Mosley but that fascinating matchup was scrapped when HBO, which was to broadcast the bout from Staples Center in Los Angeles, decided against televising a fight the day after Christmas.

To make up for yanking Clottey’s chain the subscription cable giant agreed to put him in the co-feature to the Kelly Pavlik-Paul Williams middleweight championship bout that was scheduled for Dec. 5, but finding a willing opponent for the hardnosed African wasn’t easy.

Scolpino and HBO tried to get former titleholders Kermit Cintron and Kendall Holt as opponents but both declined. Finally, in early October, former titleholder Carlos Quintana agreed to face Clottey in what would have been a high-profile matchup of seasoned pros.

However, true to form, luck was not on Clottey’s side.

Pavlik was forced to pull out of his title defense because of a recurring staph infection in his left hand, which eliminated Top Rank — and Clottey along with the promotional company — from HBO’s broadcast when the middleweight champ was replaced by Sergio Martinez.

Clottey’s string of setbacks were enough to discourage some fighters right out of the sport but being a top-five welterweight contender meant there was always a chance, however slight, that he could be called to be the B-side to a matchup with one of the division’s elite — Pacquiao, Mayweather, Mosley or undefeated titleholder Andre Berto.

In mid-January, Clottey got the call to fight arguably the most popular boxer in the world.

Some would say the shot at Pacquiao was a change in Clottey’s luck but Scolpino doesn’t see it that way. He believes his fighter was more than deserving of the opportunity and definitely up for the challenge.

“It could’ve been anybody but, like I said, it had to be a credible opponent,” he said. “I think Joshua is going to win; that’s just me. I know it’ll be a good fight for the fans. That’s important. And if we win? We’ll give him a rematch – unless we mutilate him.”

Arum doesn’t agree with Scolpino’s prediction but he supports the manager’s claim that Clottey is a credible opponent.

“Joshua Clottey certainly is among the three or four top welterweights in world,” Arum said. “When we were going to do a Mosley-Clottey fight ÔǪ everyone was saying what a close, good fight it was. And it was.

“(Clottey) brings it every fight. He brings it and he’s confident he can beat Pacquiao, absolutely confident. Do I think he can? Absolutely no. I don’t because I think nobody can beat Pacquiao. That being said, he has as good a chance as anybody.”

Although Pacquiao was the reason Cowboys Stadium owner Jerry Jones wanted to host a fight in his billion-dollar facility, and to a large extent the venue itself has been the central storyline of the showdown, Arum added that Clottey’s proven toughness and warrior mentality was important to the promotion of the event.

“When I went to (Top Rank matchmaker) Bruce (Trampler) and discussed the various alternatives (after the Mayweather fight fell out), Bruce felt that Clottey was an ideal fight because he was the toughest guy,” Arum said. “And Bruce’s concern more than anything was what would make a good show. Clottey would make a good show with Pacquiao. It would be a really exciting fight.”

Beyond the nuts-and-bolts style matchup of the fight, Top Rank needed to bring in a known contender who both fans and boxing writers respected.

“We needed somebody who’d been on HBO before to go on pay per view,” Moretti said. “We needed someone respected in the media and in the public, and that’s Clottey.”

However, respect doesn’t always put butts in the seats and Clottey has never been a ticker seller. “When he fought Cotto, there were 17,000 people there and 16,940 were for Cotto,” Moretti admitted.

But Top Rank’s brass argue that Clottey only needed to bring his credibility to the dance. Pacquiao’s star power and the grandeur of Cowboys Stadium have brought in the press, the fans and the pay-per-view buys.

“You have to look at what the person at home is buying,” Moretti said. “When you see the stadium, Manny Pacquaio and a guy like Joshua Clottey who comes to fight, it’s a great event.”

Clottey doesn’t mind being the secondary fighter in the promotion.

He’s just happy to be here.

“I feel so good about it,” Clottey said. “Like I say, this is a very big opportunity for me. I love to be here. I’m proud and happy to come from where I’ve been in boxing to become somebody like this. I’m so proud.”

Michael Rosenthal contributed to this story.

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