ARLINGTON, Texas — The unquestioned star of Saturday night’s show was neither Manny Pacquiao nor Joshua Clottey, but Cowboys Stadium. The combination of the exotic space-age venue and an enthusiastic crowd of nearly 51,000 combined to produce an atmosphere unmatched in the present millennium.
Had Saturday night’s bout occurred at a more conventional venue and before, say, an audience one-third the size of the party crowd that showed up in Dallas, what you’d mostly be hearing today is “what a stinking fight!” (Editor Note: Fights! LOL)
Pacquiao might have sold out Cowboys Stadium, successfully defended his WBO welterweight title, reaffirmed his position as the world’s top boxer, and, once it was over, called out Floyd Mayweather Jr., but he didn’t bring the same explosiveness to this one that has characterized his recent matches — and he never did make Joshua Clottey cry ‘Uncle.’
Clottey, for his part, was a frustrating opponent, turning his forearms into a steel cage so formidable that if Pacquiao was in any danger at all, it was of damaging his hands as he banged them incessantly against the Ghanaian’s defenses. And while Clottey (now 35-3) became the first Pacquiao foe in two years to finish on his feet, and the only man alive weighing more than 130 pounds to have gone the distance with the world’s top boxer, in the end what he had to show for his efforts was his second straight loss.
Pacquiao’s flurries had the patrons in the cheap seats swooning in delight, and on those occasions Clottey turned from his Star Wars-like defensive shield to offer even a semblance of retaliation elicited similar squeals of approval. But Clottey was the bigger and, presumably stronger boxer. He was supposed to play the tough guy.
‘Sure, he had great defense,” said Pacquiao’s trainer Freddie Roach, “but you can’t win a fight with defense alone. In fact, I don’t think we lost a round.”
Roach’s counterpart in the Clottey corner, Lenny DeJesus, pretty much agreed with that assessment, as did one of the scoring judges, Duane Ford of Nevada. Two other judges gave Clottey a round apiece.
“I was pleading along with the whole corner for Joshua to start throwing punches,” said DeJesus.
“It was not an easy fight. In fact, it was a hard fight,” said Pacquiao. “He’s very strong, and you could tell he was trying to land his big shot.”
Actually, it wasn’t clear from the conduct of the bout that Clottey was at all interested in laying the heavy lumber to Pacquiao. He seemed much more concerned with minimizing the damage to himself, which, when you’re getting hit three times for every one you land, is probably not a bad idea.
* * *
Did a mole tunnel his way into Pacquiao’s preparations at the Wild Card Gym? Roach is wondering himself. After an exhaustive study of Clottey’s past performances, the trainer had incorporated an innovation into Pacquiao’s game plan.
“I knew our best chance of knocking Clottey out would be to catch him when he’s throwing a punch,” said Roach. “But Clottey doesn’t like to punch while you’re throwing one. “The plan was that Manny would throw a one-two and then step backward as if he were trying to get out. We knew that would bring Clottey in, and the instant Manny saw him start to throw his jab he was supposed to catch him with a hook on top of it.”
“But when I step back out, what if he doesn’t come in?” wondered Pacquiao.
“He will,” said Roach. The trainer, in fact, was relying heavily on the tactic when he confidently predicted that his man would knock Clottey out.
“The key is that Manny can’t be too effective with the first combination, because you didn’t want to discourage Clottey from doing what he was bound to do next,” he explained.” It’s just to bait the hook. The problem was we had Manny try it about ten times during the fight, and not once did Clottey try to move in and throw the jab. They (Clottey and his corner) say they don’t watch tape, but they must have watched something, because they were onto our plan. I dunno. We had a Ghanaian sparring partner (Abdullai Amidu) in this camp. Maybe that’s the answer.”
Or maybe the answer is that Roach has become victim of his own success. In a gym as teeming with bodies as the Wild Card has become these day’s it’s hard to know who everybody is — and harder still to keep secrets.
Oh, yes. About that “Thunderclap” — a/k/a “Pop Goes the Weasel” — Pacquiao effected in the fourth round, drawing a stern admonition from referee Rafael Ramos when he slammed his fists against both of Clottey’s ears at once. Roach chalks that one up to, well, a case of Manny being Manny.
“He does it in a gym all the time,” said Roach. “I don’t think there’s been a guy he ever sparred with he didn’t try it on, and Steve Forbes, in this camp, was the first guy who’d even retaliated. When he talked about doing it in a fight I warned him ‘Manny, don’t even think about it, because they’ll take a point away if you do.’”
“No they won’t,” replied Pacquiao. “The first time I do it they’ll just warn me.”
In gym sparring, or in amateur bouts, the technique can be downright dangerous, since catching an opponent wearing tight-fitting headgear on both ear-holes at once could easily rupture an eardrum, “but I frankly don’t understand why it should be illegal in a professional fight,” said Roach. “I’ve asked a bunch of people and never gotten a good answer. Think about it: all you’re doing is throwing two punches at the same time. I can’t think of any rule that says you can’t do that.”
It takes 20 minutes to open the retractable roof at Cowboys Stadium. Presumably Jerry Jones was just showing off when he sent word to start winching the roof open with two rounds left in the main event, and it had peeled back to reveal the nighttime sky by the time the crowd was headed out the door. If Jones had done it an hour earlier, Pacquiao-Clottey would have topped Oscar De La Hoya-Patrick Charpentier as the largest gathering ever to watch an outdoor event in Texas.