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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Boxing: Pacquiao, Clottey all smiles ... now

NEW YORK — Joshua Clottey smiled for photographs, hugged two Cowboys cheerleaders, then stood behind a podium and thanked Manny Pacquiao for the opportunity to fight him.

Three times.

The two will vie for Pacquiao's version of the welterweight championship March 13 at the new Cowboys Stadium in Dallas, but they looked anything like foes Wednesday. They shook hands, spoke glowingly of each other and promised fight fans something to remember.

Or perhaps a reason to forget the last two months.

Pacquiao admited at a news conference at Madison Square Garden that even he wanted to fight Floyd Mayweather Jr., the braggadocios welterweight who held the pound-for-pound mantle until the Filipino champion came along. Negotiations for the biggest fight in years began in November, but by late December had spiraled out of control.

The main sticking point became the protocol for drug testing, though that's simplifying six weeks of contentious talking.

There were accusations that Pacquiao used performance-enhancing drugs, a defamation lawsuit filed against Mayweather, a failed attempt at mediation and seemingly dozens of negative press releases dispensed by both sides.

"He didn't want to fight me," Pacquiao said, shrugging his shoulders. "I think maybe Mayweather is scared to lose."

The end came when Mayweather insisted on blood testing 14 days before the fight, even though Pacquiao agreed to 24 days out. Pacquiao had blood drawn the night before losing to Erik Morales and vowed never to let it interfere with training or a fight again.

"When Manny gives blood, he feels weak for about two days," his trainer Freddie Roach said.

Despite becoming the biggest attraction in the sport over the past few years, generating huge pay-per-view numbers with high-profile wins, Pacquiao is still an introvert when surrounded by TV cameras. He speaks softly, barely above a whisper, and is reluctant to say anything negative.

He leaves that to promoter Top Rank and outspoken chief Bob Arum, who sounded incredulous that Mayweather would seek more stringent drug testing than required by state athletic commissions.

"If Mayweather wants to fight Manny, it will have to be under the rules of the commission that governs the fight," Arum said. "You cannot have fighters in this sport imposing regulatory restrictions on other fighters because they damn well please. That is chaotic. Nobody in their right mind should allow that to happen, whether it's Mayweather or God knows who else."

The big winner — perhaps the only winner — in the failed negotiations was Clottey, a former titleholder coming off a narrow loss to Miguel Cotto last June.

Born in Ghana and now training in the Bronx, Clottey is taller and stronger than Cotto, who was stopped in the final round by Pacquiao last November. He also has a granite chin and, unlike Mayweather, prefers to fight toe-to-toe.

"This is a very big fight. He's one of the best fighters out there, and he's beaten everyone they've given him. But we're going to fight," Clottey said. "I know it's not an easy fight for me and it's not an easy fight for him."

Even so, it's difficult to sell anything less than the best in sports, which is why Arum understands he might have to work overtime to promote an alternative to Mayweather.

That's one of the reasons the fight will be at Jerry Jones' $1.2 billion showplace, where Arum hopes to see 40,000 fans the night of the fight. It's also the reason five Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders accompanied the entourage to New York for an introductory news conference, and why Top Rank is trying to put together an enticing undercard.

• KHAN WILL FIGHT — Amir Khan has reached a tentative agreement to defend his WBA lightweight title against mandatory challenger Marcos Maidana of Argentina. The WBA says the fight will be at the end of March or early April at a location yet to be determined, but most likely Las Vegas or Manchester, England.

The British fighter first defended his lightweight title by knocking out Dmitriy Salita in 76 seconds in December at Newcastle, England.


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