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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Joshua Clottey: What He Is and What He Isn't

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A lot of times in boxing, hype is just hype. And in a lot of ways, that rings very true this week for Joshua Clottey, who in just four days will share the ring with Manny Pacquiao in the biggest, richest and most important fight of his career.

Truth be told, the fight hasn't generated the usual big fight buzz. This is nowhere near what we saw for both of Pacquiao's 2009 fights, against Ricky Hatton and Miguel Cotto. Those were massive events. This fight -- called "The Event," no less -- just isn't that sort of matchup, and there's a big reason for that.

The casual fans don't know who Joshua Clottey is. The mainstream writers and TV talking heads that don't really know boxing past a few names don't know who Joshua Clottey is, either. They're either counting him out, doing their ignorant "Who is THIS bum?" jive talk, or they're admitting that they don't really care about this fight.

That affords Top Rank, HBO and the other people responsible for selling this fight the opportunity to exaggerate some of Clottey's assets, if not flat-out lie about what he is as a fighter. Top Rank's 30-second TV spot calls Clottey a "devastating brawler." If you're a Comcast customer, you can go into your On Demand menu and find the Ghana-born New Yorker being hyped as a big-punching action star.

These things are just not true.

Of course, that's not to say that Clottey (35-3, 20 KO) isn't a challenge for Pacquiao (50-3-2, 38 KO). He is an elite-level welterweight, a physically strong, defensively excellent, rugged and extremely durable fighter who will almost certainly be the biggest man (weight-wise) that Pacquiao has ever fought. Clottey likely will come into the ring anywhere from 156 to 160 pounds. Pacquiao has never weighed over 149 once he's actually stepped into the ring for fight night.

But for the genuinely curious, let's tell the truth about Joshua Clottey and what kind of fighter he is.

Past Big Fights

Clottey, 32, has had more hard luck than good or bad luck in his career. He's had a few chances to really emerge as a major player in the welterweight division, and while you can argue he took advantage in all three of his biggest fights, he officially went just 1-2 in those bouts. (His first loss in 1999 to Carlos Baldomir is widely accepted as having been a robbery disqualification. Clottey was leading on the cards at the time the referee called it off.)

The first came against Antonio Margarito in December 2006. Margarito was seen by many as a fierce, unstoppable force, but Clottey won a toe-to-toe battle early on in that fight, before suffering injuries to both hands that took him out of the contest. Judges' scorecards for that fight were wide (116-112 twice and an awful 118-109 card), but it was Clottey who generated a lot of discussion from his performance that night.

Almost two years later, after running through overmatched competition, Clottey got another shot at the big-time, meeting Zab Judah in a Boxing After Dark main event for the vacant IBF welterweight title. Judah looked to start fast, and as usual faded fairly quickly. As Clottey began to take over the fight, a punch cut Judah. Last anyone knew, Judah and his father/trainer Yoel will claim a headbutt opened the gash that had Judah pull out after nine rounds. Clottey won a well-earned technical decision.

10 months later, Clottey met Miguel Cotto. It was pretty well-known that Cotto had to beat Clottey, and then he was looking at a fight with Manny Pacquiao for late in 2009. Cotto escaped with a very narrow victory in a rough-and-tumble fight that saw Clottey knocked down on a jab in the first round, and then later bodyslammed in the corner by the Puerto Rican. A bad cut half-blinded Cotto, and the two both fought hard for most of the night.

Those who feel Cotto deserved the win will point to Clottey's single terrible habit: he gives rounds away. I scored the fight 114-113 for Cotto, personally, and if Clottey hadn't given a couple of rounds to Miguel, it would have been a different story on my card, too.


A lot of folks are talking about Clottey's power. I don't know if it's a general misconception or owes to the hype being put out there right now, but it's not near what it's being made out to be. Clottey is not Paul Malignaggi or Ivan Calderon. He can punch a little. But Clottey is nowhere near a one-punch KO artist, and really his power is more something the other fighter has to respect rather than something they need to fear.

The 1999 fight with Baldomir was really the first time Clottey faced a legitimate opponent, and after that debacle he faced a good amount of straight-up bums again. A lot of Clottey's stoppage wins are negligible when talking about an opponent like Pacquiao; frankly, a lot of Clottey's record is fairly meaningless. That goes for a lot of guys, but Clottey's record is very heavily padded in the early days.

Clottey, to be honest, only has one notable stoppage win on his entire sheet. That came in 2008 against Jose Luis Cruz, and some argued that that stoppage was a bit premature. It's Clottey's only stoppage win in the last 5 1/2 years, though to be fair, a lesser-regarded warrior than the late Diego "Chico" Corrales might have been saved by a referee during the beating Clottey gave him in 2007.


I wouldn't go so far as to call Joshua Clottey boring, but he's not thrilling by any stretch of the imagination. He keeps his hands up and is often content to wait, wait, wait for counter-punching opportunities. He's promising to be aggressive against Pacquiao, but it would be well out of the norm for him to actually come looking to pressure Pacquiao, so even if he starts out with that, expect him to return to what he's known for the first 15 years of his professional boxing career. "Deliberate" might be the best term to describe Clottey's offensive pace.


I realize that this might sound like a bunch of reasons to count Clottey out, or at least some reasons that might temper your expectations. But there's also the fact that Clottey will on occasion really start fighting hard. He did it some against Cotto, and did it against Judah.

Judah, a fast lefty with good movement, is the only guy he's been in with that even closely compares to Pacquiao, and the 2010 Manny and 2008 Zab aren't that much alike. For one thing, I can't see Manny getting weary, frustrated and quit-happy the way Judah did. Clottey will have to really beat Pacquiao to beat him. For another thing, Judah just doesn't have Pacquiao's offensive firepower, and nobody really fights quite like Pacquiao. He's hard to duplicate.

Clottey can fight, and he's more than just a warm body to put in there with Pacquiao. Manny Pacquiao is a major favorite and deserves to be one. But don't ignore Clottey or count him out. If Pacquiao and Freddie Roach are looking past Clottey, they could find themselves in their first real fight since the rematch with Juan Manuel Marquez in 2008.


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