Can Clottey Reign On Cotto's Parade?
By Nat Gottlieb Courtesy of HBO.com
Miguel Cotto rebounded from his loss to Antonio Margarito by beating a light-hitting Brit who posed no real danger. Joshua Clottey is a genuine threat and might just have the tools to beat him.
Like Margarito before him, Clottey has been caught in one of the most frustrating Catch 22s of boxing: he's a dangerous fighter who hasn't faced many elite boxers, a fact that makes it hard to attract those elite boxers. But if top boxers won't fight him, how can he change his status?
One way is to be in the right place at the right time. Saturday night's fight falls on June 13, the eve of the Puerto Rican Day parade in New York—a weekend in which thousands of Cotto's fellow Puerto Ricans will be flooding the city. You could make a case that Cotto could probably stage a public workout or fight the proverbial "TBA" on this night and he'd still sell out Madison Square Garden.
Three times before, Cotto has fought on the eve of the parade, and in each instance he not only packed the Garden, but left it rocking, scoring victories over Mohamad Abdulaev, Paulie Malignaggi and Zab Judah. Can Cotto extend his festive streak against Clottey?
The odds-makers say yes, having favored him by 3-1. But it's going to take a major effort because in many ways Clottey (35-2, 20 KOs) may be a more dangerous opponent for Cotto (33-1, 27 KOs) than Margarito was. Unlike the predictable, one-dimensional Margarito, Clottey is the complete package. In fact, if you had to build a flawless fighter piece by piece, Clottey might be your android boxer. He's got extremely fast hands, great defense, excellent footwork and a chin so strong he's never been knocked down in 37 career fights.
All of which raises the question: If this guy is so perfect, why has he lost two fights? The answer is that in both instances Clottey beat himself. His first loss came in a 1999 bout with Carlos Baldomir in England. Clottey was safely ahead on all three scorecards in the 11th round when he lost his composure. The referee subtracted two points from him for an intentional head butt, and then being warned about leading with his noggin, Clottey proceeded to do just that and was disqualified.
In Clottey's only other loss, his body betrayed him. Clottey was winning the early rounds against Margarito in 2006 and giving the Mexican all kinds of trouble when he broke his left hand in the fourth round and then badly hurt the other in the fifth. Hobbled with pain in both hands, Clottey still managed to give Margarito all that he could handle, losing on two cards by just 112-116, and by a score of 109-118 from a third judge who apparently left his glasses at home.
Cotto is also a very complete fighter who can outbox an opponent, break down his body or knock him out with one thudding punch. But Clottey's style may neutralize Cotto's strengths. He fights out of a very compact, high-glove defense similar to Winky Wright's, which will make it difficult for Cotto to work behind his jab. Margarito tried it. So did Judah. Both had little success. Clottey stopped at least 80 per cent of their incoming missiles.
The only time Clottey's gloves are not serving as a face mask is when he explodes out of his shell and throws combinations of short, precision punches that come so fast they're nearly impossible to pick up. Clottey is just as fast at getting his gloves back to his face, all but nullifying counterpunching.
Unlike Margarito, Clottey will come at Cotto from different angles with a great deal of movement. Because of Clottey's footwork, it will be tough for the Puerto Rican to trap him and unleash his trademark body attack. Even when Cotto does get close enough to work inside, Clottey keeps his arms tucked so tight to his ribs that they absorb the brunt of most blows.
Another major weapon in Clottey's arsenal is a ferocious left hook. Cotto's hooks pack more power, but Clottey throws them faster. In round two against Margarito, Clottey peppered the Mexican's face with three rapid left hooks in the time it takes most fighters just to get off one.
Clottey doesn't have one-punch knockout power like Cotto, but he hits hard, and the cumulative effect of his punches can wear down a fighter. In his bout just before facing Judah last year, Clottey took on Jose Luis Cruz, who was 36-3-2 at the time and had never been stopped, not even by hard-hitting Shane Mosley in 2005. Clottey beat down Cruz with a fifth round TKO.
Clottey will also walk into the ring the bigger man. Although just one inch taller than the 5'7" Cotto, Clottey has been known to pack on 13-16 pounds from the official weigh-in to fight night. Against Judah, Clottey weighed in at 147, and then entered the ring a tightly-sculpted middleweight at 160. Cotto generally gains eight to 10 pounds after the weigh-in.
If there's a good strategy for beating Clottey—other than praying he breaks his hand—nobody's unveiled it yet, and there's legitimate doubt that Cotto's corner is capable of coming up with one. That's because in April, after a nasty training camp fight with his uncle and trainer Evangelista, Cotto fired the man who had been in his corner for 18 years, dating back to the amateurs. Cotto replaced him with his best friend, Joe Santiago, who was Evangelista's assistant. Santiago is going to be asked to come up with his very first fight strategy, and the degree of difficulty here for a novice could be off the charts.
Cotto's promoter Bob Arum, however, thinks getting rid of Evangelista will pay positive dividends. "The uncle was actually a distraction to Miguel," Arum says. "This is an improvement because it's like a weight has been lifted from Miguel's back."
It will take more than good vibes in his corner for Cotto to beat this underdog. In an interview with El Nuevo, Dia Cotto said, "This is nothing more than a case of who has more heart." If that's true, then perhaps Cotto should note that Clottey was bred to be a warrior on the streets of the Ghanaian capital of Accra, a city which has produced tough-as-nails champions like Azumah Nelson, Ike Quartey, David Kotey and current bantamweight title holder Joseph Agbeko.
Cotto may be the favorite, but it wouldn't be all that much of a shock if it was Clottey's hand raised at the end.