NEW YORK -- When the March megafight between Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr. came apart at the seams earlier this month, it made losers of just about everybody: the fighters, the promoters and, most of all, the fans.
Everyone, that is, except Josh Clottey.
With Mayweather out of the picture, Pacquiao was committed to finding another opponent for March since he's plotting a congressional run in the Philippines in May. When initial plans for a match with 154-pound alphabet titleholder Yuri Foreman were scrapped, it was Clottey who hit the jackpot and became one of the few beneficiaries from boxing's doomsday scenario.
They'll fight for Pacquiao's WBO welterweight title on Mar. 13 at Cowboys Stadium on HBO Pay-Per-View.
Flanked by Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders at Wednesday's introductory press conference at Madison Square Garden, the 32-year-old Ghana transplant and Bronx native called it a "miracle opportunity." He wasn't exaggerating.
When Clottey pushed then-titleholder Miguel Cotto to the limit back in June -- in a first bid for the WBO welterweight belt -- another shot against a marquee name seemed unlikely. Clottey outlanded Cotto, 222 to 179, and connected at a higher rate on both jabs and power punches in that fight -- but lost a controversial split decision. (SI.com scored it 115-113 to Clottey.) Afterwards, Clottey did everything but get on his knees and beg Top Rank CEO Bob Arum for a rematch during the post-fight press conference.
That never happened. Instead, Cotto fought and ceded the welterweight belt to Pacquiao in 2009's highest-grossing pay-per-view fight.
Clottey is a talented if not transcendent fighter, the classic hard-hitting and harder-headed West African puncher. But as one of the less glamorous names in boxing's prestige division, he's become an easy opponent to dodge. His near miss against Cotto -- which came thisclose to spoiling November's lucrative Pacquiao-Cotto showdown in the womb -- seemed to cement his reputation as a high-risk/low-reward opponent not worth the trouble for anyone hoping for an easy night.
So Clottey "couldn't believe it" when he heard rumors of Pacquiao's interest last week while on vacation in Accra. He flew back to New York one day early, hashed out the details alongside manager Vinny Scolpino and signed the contract on Saturday.
"We want to fight the best guys out there because Manny likes challenges and this guy will challenge us." said Freddie Roach, Pacquiao's longtime trainer. "Losing the Mayweather fight, we wanted to give the fans something they'd want to see."
The specter of Mayweather loomed over Wednesday's presser -- and Roach was more than happy to acknowledge it.
The three-time Trainer of the Year rejected the notion that both fighters shared responsibility for the collapse.
"The commissions and the sanctioning bodies run these shows, not the fighters," Roach said. "We go by the commission rules. Let's face it, they've been doing it for a long time. They know what they're doing. Nevada, great commission. Same with California, New York. Why aren't their rules good enough for Mayweather?"
Roach was happy to offer a response to the many people who think Pacquiao's reluctance to accept random blood testing is an indication of guilt.
"Some people think we're hiding something and they won't understand why we won't give blood, because giving blood to some people is just a walk in the park," Roach said. "But when you're getting ready for a big fight -- a title fight -- there's more to that."
When asked whether Mayweather was scared of Pacquiao, Roach paused and considered the question.
"He doesn't seem like a person that gets scared," Roach said. "He's very cocky. I think he's just unsure of himself. When you see Pacquiao destroying guys that he's had trouble with, it's got to play with his mind a little bit."
Roach thinks Pacquiao's history-making run -- a record seven titles in seven different weight classes -- has invited unjustified criticism from his rivals.
"Whenever you have success, everybody's looking for a different reason," Roach said. "I've known my fighter well. We've been together a long time. We have five protein shakes a day to keep the weight on him, because he's really not a '47-pounder, he's a little smaller than that. I have trouble getting him to take protein shakes, never mind steroids."
Arum said the undercard will be announced next week and dropped a not-so-thinly-veiled hint about the inclusion of Antonio Margarito, the disgraced former welterweight champion who hopes to return to boxing in 2010.
Margarito, 31, has been inactive since getting caught with illegal plaster hand wraps before a January 2009 loss to Shane Mosley -- an offense that earned the "Tijuana Tornado" a one-year license revocation from the California State Athletic Commission and cast doubts over his entire body of work.
Arum said he's traveling with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones to Monterrey and Mexico City next week to promote the Pacquiao-Clottey fight.
"There's tremendous interest in the fight in Mexico and it will be even enhanced when we announce the undercard," Arum said.
Margarito can apply for a license with the Texas commission this week. He'd be permitted to fight on the Pacquiao-Clottey undercard if it's granted.
TRUTH & RUMORS: MARGARITO APPLIES FOR LICENSE IN TEXAS