Filipino southpaw Manny Pacquiao, considered by many the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world, is defending the WBO welterweight title against Ghana's Joshua Clottey on Saturday at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas (9 p.m. ET, HBO PPV).
Pacquiao is making his first defense of the 147-pound championship that he won in November with a 12th-round TKO of Miguel Cotto.
More than 45,000 fans are expected to attend the first-ever boxing event at Jerry Jones' $1.3 billion stadium outside Dallas -- one of the biggest world championship fights to be held in a major U.S. sports stadium since Muhammad Ali met Ken Norton for the heavyweight title at Yankee Stadium in 1976.
When the megafight between Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr. came apart over a drug-testing flap in January, the tepid reaction to Pacquiao-Clottey was predictable. But just because Saturday's showdown feels like a consolation prize doesn't mean it's not an attractive matchup on its own merit.
The 31-year-old Pacquiao, a global superstar and one of the world's 100 most influential people according to Time magazine, has already cemented a place in fistic lore with an unprecedented seven world championships in seven weight classes from 112 to 147 pounds. The prevailing view is Saturday's fight is a mere stepping-stone to a pound-for-pound showdown with Mayweather later in 2010.
Clottey, 32, is a talented if not transcendent boxer-puncher. Best known for a series of unlucky outcomes against Cotto, Antonio Margarito and Carlos Baldomir, Clottey's lone signature victory came against a faded Diego Corrales in 2007. He's never been stopped in 38 fights and each of his three losses came against world champions. His controversial split-decision loss to Cotto seemed to solidify his reputation as a high-risk/low-reward opponent not worth the trouble for anyone hoping for an easy night.
As one of the less glamorous names in boxing's prestige division, the Ghanian has become an easy opponent to dodge. So it came as a surprise when Team Pacquiao chose Clottey as a replacement for Pretty Boy Floyd. "We want to fight the best guys out there because Manny likes challenges and this guy will challenge us." Freddie Roach, Pacquiao's longtime trainer, told SI.com in January. "Losing the Mayweather fight, we wanted to give the fans something they'd want to see."
*Exact weights to be announced at Friday's official weigh-in (5:45 p.m. ET, TopRank.com)
Pacquiao's electric ascent through boxing's weight classes -- titles in seven divisions between 112 to 147 pounds -- is without precedent.
Clottey cemented his place among the world's elite welterweights with last June's controversial split-decision loss to Miguel Cotto.
The wiry Ghanian will never be confused with Sugar Ray Leonard or even Ike Quartey, but he presents some unique challenges for the champion. Aside from the obvious height and reach discrepancies, Clottey, who weighed 156 pounds in the ring against Zab Judah in 2008, may have as much as a 15-pound advantage on fight night. Pacquiao may have defeated Cotto and Oscar De La Hoya at welterweight, but those opponents enjoyed their greatest success at 140 pounds or below; Clottey has campaigned nearly his entire career at welterweight.
Pacquiao enters Saturday's fight on a streak of four soul-stirring victories against larger opponents: a ninth-round TKO of David Diaz for the lightweight title in June 2008; an emphatic ninth-round stoppage of De La Hoya in December 2008 that sent the Golden Boy into retirement; an awesome second-round starching of Ricky Hatton for the junior welterweight crown in May; and a TKO of Cotto in last year's most lucrative fight. With each successive outing, the Filipino seems to be getting better and better. He's not just bringing his punch up with him, but he's also absorbing opponents' shots more effectively.
No one expects Clottey to beat Pacquiao, so he's approaching the fight with nothing to lose. He's a strong, forward-moving pressure fighter who's looked impressive against southpaws in the past. He's worthy of the opportunity, but whether he has the overall excellence to contend with a fighter as skilled and dynamic as Pacquiao is a big question.
Roach, a four-time Trainer of the Year, is one of the game's best corner men whose partnership with Pacquiao is becoming the stuff of legend. On the flip side, visa issues have prevented Clottey's favored trainer, Godwin Dzanie Kotey, from traveling to the United States for the fight. That means corner duties for Team Clottey fall to Lenny DeJesus, a veteran who's worked with the likes of Roberto Duran, Wilfredo Gomez and, yes, Pacquiao.
Intangibly, you have to wonder about Pacquiao's motivation, and whether the confidence from his string of recent victories can slip toward hubris. Distractions have been everywhere. Pacquiao is gearing up for a congressional run in the April elections in the Philippines. There's the pending defamation lawsuit over Mayweather's drug-related accusations. A budding singer, he's already scheduled to perform at a post-fight party. All the while, the underestimated Clottey has quietly trained in workmanlike fashion for what he's repeatedly called his "miracle" opportunity.
Oddsmaker William Hill lists Pacquiao as a 1-to-7 favorite, with Clottey as a 4-to-1 underdog.
Just as Pacquiao respected Cotto's power during the first two rounds of their November fight, look for another cautious opening from the Filipino. Clottey may have determination to burn, but it shouldn't take long -- say, two or three rounds -- for Pacquiao to master the challenger's limited skills and straightforward approach. Defensively, Clottey has a tendency to remain stationary while covering his face with his gloves and leaving the body open. That could spell trouble against a busy fighter like Pacquiao who fires punches from so many angles and blurs the line between offense and defense so effectively. The challenger can eat leather all night, but it's Pacquiao's work downstairs that will set the stage for the first stoppage of Clottey's career. Pacquiao by 11th-round TKO.
Pacquiao and Clottey pose for photos at the Cowboys Stadium kickoff press conference. (Getty Images)
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