Monday, March 22, 2010

Joshua Clottey Hopes to Turn “The Event” Into “The Upset”

Pacquiao vs Clottey - It was just a few short months ago when boxing seemed on the verge of getting what it always wanted: a super fight of epic proportions between the two top pound-for-pound fighters in the world of boxing in Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather All roads had led to this exciting match up; they had common opponents, had publicly spoken about fighting each other and flew through initial negotiations with reported ease. But then a sport-changing thing happened. In reaction to Pacquiao’s grandiose (some say grotesque) demand that Mayweather,
who had missed his catch weight limit of 144 pounds by two against Juan Manuel Marquez back in September of ’09, pay ten million dollars per pound for every pound over the 147-pound limit, Mayweather asked Pacquiao to join him in cleaning up the sport by submitting to random Olympic-style blood testing. What followed was a storm of controversy as Pacquiao and his promotional team, Top Rank, gave a myriad of reasons as to why they would not submit to the tests, and then negotiated for a cutoff date of 24 days before the fight to Mayweather’s offer of a 14-day cutoff. In the end, Pacquiao, Top Rank, and his team walked away from the bout and instead decided to face another fighter in the Top Rank stable, Joshua “Grand Master” Clottey, 35-2 (20) with one no-contest, at the Cowboys Stadium this Saturday live, on HBO PPV.
Lost amidst the aftershocks felt from the superfight that didn’t happen is the fact that this weekend’s welterweight fight, dubbed “The Event” between Filipino superstar Manny “Pac-Man” Pacquiao, 50-3-2 (38), and Ghana’s Clottey is a very good fight.

Clottey is, in some ways, this generation’s Ike Quartey; good enough compete at the top but not quite good enough to win there. But like his fellow Ghanaian fighter, Clottey’s physical strength, durability, underrated speed and tough-to-crack defense will present all kinds of problems, at least early on for the division-jumping Pacquiao. He has had his shots at elite welterweight glory before, most notably a decision loss against Antonio Margarito in December of 2006 and again, last June, when he dropped a close (and in some circles, controversial) split decision to Miguel Cotto.

But boxing fans loss is Clottey’s gain and this time, he feels, he will cash the winning lottery ticket.
“Like I always said, Manny’s a good fighter; he’s the best now,” said Clottey during a recent conference call. “This is my 40th fight in the professional ranks and it is the most special and I’m taking it a special way. I think this is the third time going for the WBO title and my fourth world title overall. I have had a fight with Cotto and now Manny Pacquiao. I was so surprised that I had this opportunity to fight against Manny Pacquiao and when Bob Arum and Top Rank called me about this opportunity to fight Manny Pacquiao. I was so happy and I want to win this fight in a big way.”

In Pacquiao, Clottey is facing a fighter who has traversed weight classes from 106 to 147 pounds, is shorter at 5’6½” to Clottey’s 5’8” and who has grown into 147 pounds at the age of 31, but is not what most would call a natural welterweight despite wins over Oscar De La Hoya in 2008 and Miguel Cotto last year. Pacquiao, from a style standpoint, is a southpaw power-puncher who uses his speed of hand and foot to set up shots from odd angles while leaving his opponents turning in circles looking for and walking into shots. While the slower, defensively-challenged Cotto and the older, weight-drained looking De La Hoya were favorable match ups for Pacquiao, it is Clottey’s defensive style that makes him a puzzle that may be a lot harder to solve than Pacquiao’s team thinks.

“He does throw a lot of punches. He throws a lot of punches to people when he sees the openings,” said Clottey. “He won’t see the openings with me. When I block the punches, it will always make him think. You see, I have my game plan. I know what is going to happen in the ring. I always come to fight and I always see my openings. My game plan is to chase him, but if he is going to be there, fine.”

Clottey is considered to have a large frame for the weight class and is expected to be at least 160 pounds by fight time. It is not so much his size advantage, but the fact that he is natural to the weight coupled with his seemingly impenetrable shell defense that has Clottey confident as ever going into the fight. While Cotto is the first, close to his prime welterweight that Pacquiao has fought, that fight was at a catch weight of 145 pounds. This fight is at the full 147-pound limit and pits Pacquiao against not only a natural welter, but one who looks like he can easily move up another weight class.

“You know, I’m not a flyweight. I am not a bantamweight. I am a welterweight and welterweights only throw punches that connect,” explained Clottey. “I can throw shots which connect and land and cause damage; not throw a lot of punches that he is deflecting and blocking. If you look at the last fight [the Cotto fight], I won the last round. He threw punches and I blocked them and I threw punches and they connected. I will throw punches that cause damage.”

Clottey was born and raised in Accra, Ghana. It was there that he began his journey in boxing; one that has taken him across the world in search of the fulfillment of his dream of becoming a world champion.
“When I was a young boy growing up, I saw the boys in the area and I said I wanted to fight them. I fought one and then I wanted to fight again like a revenge. I beat him and I became a boxer,” explained Clottey. “My life was not easy for me at all. I had to go all over the world to become champion. I came to America after fighting in England where things were very wrong. Then I came here and things were moving along with Top Rank and Bob Arum and I have to give thanks to them.”

Even though Clottey is a solid B-side fighter, being a naturally big welterweight with a tough style and more than a chance to win, this fight is all about Pacquiao. He is the star in the equation and the favored guy to win. But this situation is not unusual for Clottey. He got his first taste of what the shady side of boxing in 1999 against Carlos Baldomir. Clottey, up on all the cards, was inexplicably disqualified for a head butt and suffered his first loss. It is a lesson that has stayed with him and has only been solidified by the close loss to another marquee name in his own stable, Miguel Cotto. Despite that history, Clottey says he is walking into this fight fully confident and not looking to make excuses should he lose fair and square.

“No matter what people are going to talk about [Pacquiao], he is the best now,” said Clottey. “When he beats guys, like in the Cotto fight, he beats guys that don’t have a good defense. I have a defense. I will never say anything bad about the guy because he is the best now. When I walk in the ring with Manny Pacquiao and I lost, I will tell everybody I lost the fight. But I keep telling people I didn’t lose the Cotto fight because I don’t feel that I did. When I walk into the ring, I do what I want to do to win the fight, to do my best. When I walk into the ring, I will know what I need to do to win the fight.”

If there is one major disadvantage in this fight for Clottey, it’s that his longtime trainer, Godwin Nii Dzanie Kotey, is not with him for the biggest fight of his life. Visa problems kept him back in Ghana where Clottey began his training camp. But Clottey’s manager, Vinny Scolpino, claims the last-minute promotion of Clottey’s cutman Lenny DeJesus to lead trainer was a bump in the road they prepared for.

“I think Lenny brings a lot of experience, probably over 40 years and he was with Pacquiao during many of his fights,” said Scolpino. “Lenny has always been more than just a cutman; he also trains a lot of fighters. He brings a wealth of experience; he knows the business. He knows what to do in the ring whether he’s a cutman or whether he’s a trainer. So we are comfortable. Joshua is comfortable with him and we are ready to rumble. We feel comfortable coming out of that ring with a victory with what we are doing.”
While he is comfortable with the change, the loss of his trainer in this most important of fights did not leave him unmoved. Clottey reportedly broke down and cried when he heard the news but rather than let it defeat him before the fight, he has chosen to use it as fuel during it.

“We have been together for a very long time. If he could get his visa, I would fly him here,” said Clottey. “They are not going to give him his visa and I can’t wait for him because I have to get ready to fight and my life is on the line. When I get in the ring, my trainer will give me motivation. I had him in Ghana for weeks and that matters. In other fights, my cutman, Lenny, was pushing me a lot so I thought I would use him as my trainer.”

One interesting aspect of Clottey’s preparation is that he never watches tape of his opponents, instead focusing on getting into top shape and being mentally ready for anything that comes. To hear Clottey tell it, the only way to find out what the other fighter brings is to face him in the ring.

“I have never watched his tapes,” said Clottey. “I never sit down and watch him and I never sit down and talk about him. The only thing I think about is me and what I have to do when I come into the ring. I have been training very hard for myself to get to the ring and do my best. When I get to the ring, the fight will start and that’s what I’ll do.”

Without his trainer and a preconceived notion of what he will be facing, Clottey has prepared as best he can under the circumstances. With all odds seemingly against him, he heads into the unknown looking to be the upset special incarnate and turn the “The Event” into “The Upset.” This is Clottey’s moment and he plans to make the most of it.

“A victory would mean very, very more than a lot to me,” said Clottey. “That’s why I am so happy about this opportunity. And second, if I beat Manny Pacquiao, I am going to be very much happy, because he is the best fighter out there. He is the man now and he’s giving me a chance to fight him and if I beat him, I’m going to be on top of the world. It will be very important to the people in my country and that is very important in life.”

Gabriel Montoya

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