Prior to the 2001 baseball season, baseball pundits and fans alike could reasonably conclude the following about Barry Bonds:
1.) Barry Bonds was an exceptional baseball player
2.) Barry Bonds was physically achieving what many people thought impossible for someone his age, but as suspect of an achievement as it may have been, it was still explainable and therefore celebratory.
Then, the 2001 season happened. Bonds hit 24 more homers than the previous season and broke Mark McGwire’s single season record. He batted .328 with 137 RBI’s and a slugging pct. of .863, an astounding accomplishment for a 36-year-old. At an age where most players’ statistics begin to plummet, he rewrote the baseball record books. The 2001 season was so disproportionate to his previous achievements that it served as an “eye brow raiser.” At that time there wasn’t any conclusive evidence linking Bonds to steroids, but when you looked at the numbers, his age and what he achieved, you at least raised an eye brow.
Manny Pacquiao placed a microscope on his achievements this past winter when he declined to accept Floyd Mayweather’s contractual request to submit to Olympic-style random blood testing. Whether you believe Manny is reasonable when he says he feels drained after such tests, the amount of money left on the table for declining such a request is enough to give pause. Still, all of Manny’s achievements up to this point are explainable and reasonable. Is it suspicious that in March 2008, he was in a war with Juan Manuel Marquez at 130lbs and by November of 2009, he was crushing an established and bigger Miguel Cotto at 145lbs? Sure. But Manny is an exceptional workhorse whose training regime is second to none. Up to this point, his achievements should still be celebrated.
This Saturday, Pacquiao is set to face Joshua Clottey in what could be his “2001 season”. Clottey has never been stopped inside of 12 rounds. He is a much bigger Welterweight than Pacquiao, has a solid chin and is a defense-first boxer. His three losses come from a disqualification, a decision to Antonio Margarito and a very questionable loss to Miguel Cotto. Yes, Manny Pacquiao is arguably the best boxer, pound for pound, on the planet. His last three wins illustrate a type of streak that is incomparable to any recent fighter. On the surface, this fight should serve no other purpose other than to showcase Pacquiao’s skill set, Dallas’s new venue and help magnify the public’s desire for a fight with Floyd Mayweather. But a closer look at the Pac Man’s last three tornado wins should lead someone to the following three facts:
1) Oscar De La Hoya was not only in the twilight of his career but was physically and mentally drained prior to the start of the fight.
2) Ricky Hatton is not, nor was he ever, an elite boxer. He was a very good fighter whose most notable win was against a much older Kostya Tszyu. In his two opportunities to fight on the grand stage, he was knocked out.
3) Cheaters never prosper, but they sure can hurt you. Miguel Cotto was badly beaten and battered in his 2008 loss to Antonio Margarito, who would later lose his boxing license for tampering with his hand wraps prior to his 2009 fight with Shane Mosley.
This fight with Clottey is an entirely different animal. Clottey is still on the rise, he hasn’t been unceremoniously battered into a pulp like Cotto and he’s not going to drop his hands and engage in a pub fight like Ricky Hatton. Manny is by far the superior fighter. He has the faster hands, and his pace is likely to frustrate and confuse Clottey. A unanimous decision win for Manny would be nothing more than a stamp on a hall of fame career. However, I cannot help but realize that going into this fight, the following states are relevant:
1.) Manny Pacquiao is an exceptional boxer.
2.) Manny Pacquiao is physically achieving what many people thought was impossible for someone his size, but as suspect of an achievement as it may be, it’s still explainable and therefore celebratory.
Maybe Manny is telling the truth and has absolutely NO idea what a steroid even is. Maybe he’s a once-in-a-lifetime fighter.
As a longtime boxing fan, I know anything can happen in a fight, but then again, a knockout of a very game, very big, very underestimated Clottey on Saturday should at least…be cause to raise an eyebrow. Or two.