All the weeks of anticipation are finally over, all the talking and speculation finished and tonight it will all be settled in the loneliest place in sport 'the ring'. I have had this article on my mind for a few weeks now, but after weeks of deliberation I am now ready to deliver. The article had to 'weight' until the last minute just because the weigh-in may prove to be so pivotal in the outcome of the fight. Those of you who manage to read my article before the big fight consider it an appetizer for the main course, those of you who read it after the fight consider it prophecy...
Would it be right to start anywhere else, it is the topic that has dominated the reporting in the build-up to this fight. Over the past few years the issue of weight has been a prevalent theme in articles about Manny Pacquiao, Pacquiao's conditioning has lead to widespread speculation about use of steroids and performance enhancing drugs, yet in the build up for this fight the guy responsible for Pacquiao's climb up the division's has been undermined by Pacquiao himself according to certain reports. If we are to believe the rumours, Pacquiao abandoned conditioning coach Alex Ariza's strength program in favour of more traditional training method's mid-way through his preparation. Ariza had up until this point been consider by most as an indispensable member of Pacquiao's team. However, after suggestions from Pacquiao's entourage that the 7 weight world champion had been looking 'slow' in training (hard to comprehend), Pacquiao made the decision to stop 'Plyometric' work and focus on his key asset [speed]. Consequently Pacquiao has now come in at 144.6lbs when it was expected that he would weigh close to 149lbs, which may now be a closer estimation of his ring weight against an opponent who is sure to weigh somewhere close to 160lbs in the ring.
As a boxing fan it seems nonsensical that Pacquiao should look to the opinion of anyone other than Alex Ariza when it comes to his conditioning, Ariza's disappointment has been evident in television interviews, despite what he may be saying you can see a man whose confidence has been shattered. It would be unfair to lay blame to Pacquiao's entourage as it has become somewhat obligatory with every training camp, in truth I think Bob Arum (Pacquiao's celebrated promoter) has a lot to answer for in this debacle. Pacquiao's choice to change training methods coincided with Arum's visit to Manilla. Arum caused an uproar when he suggested Pacquiao looked poor in sparring, there was talks of crisis meetings in the camp which surely played a part in the change of tact. Ultimately it is the fighter who should have the last say in all matters, however in this case I think Pacquiao has been slightly short-sighted.
Antonio Margarito has had his own weight issues, it had been suggested that it would be a struggle for him to make 150lbs after his year long suspension. Margarito has only had one fight which was at 154lbs, although it seems to have been mostly conjecture as revealed at the weigh-in, Margarito made the weight and looked particularly good on the scales. Often a fighters eyes and skin can be telling in regards to the difficulties they have faced cutting weight. Significantly Margarito appeared healthy at the weigh in, he had no dark circles under his eyes and did not look off colour. In all truth Margarito's camp have said all along that there would be no excuses about weight going into the fight and it is clear they have left little to chance.
The fight itself is taking place at a 150lbs catch-weight, which has fuelled debate amongst many boxing fans and writers, 'catch-weight' is a modern day issue that can often split the boxing public. Some play it no mind and others find it quite despicable, for me personally it is not such a big issue as long as a title is not being contested. What do I mean by that? Well, if a fighter is moving up in weight and he wants to test the waters I think a catch-weight can be a great thing to help a steady climb, however to contest a world title at a catch-weight is completely absurd, but that is a topic for an article on another day...
You Box How You Train, So Who's Training You?
Anyone who has been following the build up of this fight would now be quite familiar with Margarito's trainer; Robert Garcia. It has to be said that Garcia's approach has been nothing less than refreshing, little or no trash talking and no secrecy. Margarito's training camp has been open to all since day one, and Garcia has not made any outrageous claims about changing the fighter's style which has become an often tired rhetoric in boxing. Newly appointed trainers often talk about making radical changes to boxer's over the span of a training camp which is truly ludicrous. Garcia said from the off that Freddie Roach was well acquainted with his fighter's strengths and they were just going to tune-him up and have a strong hard-working camp.
Conversely, Pacquiao's camp has been full of secrecy. Freddie Roach decided to close camp after Pacquiao suffered at the hands of a couple of his sparring partners early on in training. Throughout the camp there was little media coverage of Pacquiao's training which is particularly unusual for 'Pacman' followers, there has only been the odd story leaking here and there. The truth is many of the reports about Pacquiao's camp have been spurred by quotes from Freddie Roach suggesting it has been the worst camp he has had with the fighter, but Roach's insistence on playing mind games has become somewhat tiresome over the past few fights. The stories have some factual resonance but a lot of it is just media hype and I think most genuine fans find it rather tedious.
Freddie Roach has often been portrayed in the media as a straightforward guy, a real boxing man and often contrasted against the brash talking Mayweather's, which makes it is easy to come off humble and modest. However, Roach's image is much the creation of a white media who lack a white fighter to get behind, I know it seems slightly cynical, perhaps... but the dominance of Latin and African American fighters could not be more apparent when you glance over the current pound for pound rankings. Until recently, Kelly Pavlik had burdened the pressure of being the 'great white hope', but Freddie being aligned with Manny Pacquiao is as close to the P4P list a white American is likely to get. Sure, Freddie's a good trainer but only as good as any good trainer.
Bullying the Bully
Over the last few years Pacquiao’s performances at the welterweight limit have been nothing short of spectacular he has dominated his opponents to an extent that no one could have ever expected not even the most ardent Pacquiao supporter. Therefore my analysis may suprise readers, I have chosen to take a slightly more conservative look at his match up against Margarito in-spite of what Pacquiao has accomplished over recent times. I have decided to take a rather more simplistic view of the match-up, no need to complicate it with Pacquiao's exceptional performances since moving up to lightweight through to welterweight. Think back to what was consider a circus show when Oscar De la Hoya and Pacquiao agreed to meet, and how everyone said Oscar was too big. So I ask has Pacquiao really changed the landscape of boxing that much? Where all of a sudden ‘Weight’ no longer matters?
I will go as far as saying ignore all of Pacquiao's previous fights at 140lbs+, because this time the old adage will apply, Antonio Margarito is just too big for Manny Pacquiao, simple. Pacquiao may come out and do well for the first 6 rounds, but as the fight goes on Margarito will wear him down and the weight will tell. It will not be an upset when Margarito wins this fight, he is the logical choice. That may seem odd given Pacquiao's current dominance, in truth it feels peculiar writing it, but it is simply because we have all forgotten that it has been Pacquiao who has defied logic since moving up in weight.
Looking at the fight, there is no doubt that it will be an old fashioned tear up between two tough and competitive fighters. Margarito cannot afford to be overly dependable on just his size, he needs to be weary of the many threats Pacquiao possesses. Margarito may be susceptible to Pacquiao’s lethal right hook, but if 'Tony' can use his jab to good effect he may be able to neutralise it. Inevitably Margarito will back Pacquiao up and that is when he has to get off his combinations, throwing his uppercut and hooks to good effect.
I guess it poses the question, if Margarito is can be so capable against a smaller guy why was he not able to do the same against Shane Mosley, if Mosley was able to stop Margarito, surely Pacquiao will?Shane may have been slightly smaller in height but Shane had the reach advantage against Margarito and adding to that Shane weighed close to 160lbs on the night of his fight against Magarito whereas Pacquiao will be weighing 10lbs south of that, subsequently his punches will not have the same purchase behind them. Pacquiao will be giving up 10lbs + on the night of the fight, similar to what Floyd Mayweather gave up against Oscar De la Hoya. Floyd was dominated by De la Hoya’s size in their fight, even if Floyd managed to be illusive and avoid shots, I do not forsee Pacquiao being able to do the same. If Margarito can back Pacquiao up as well as Oscar managed against Mayweather that is when the fight will get extremely dangerous for Pacquiao and when Margarito will let his hands go.
Throughout his career, Margarito has always been a fighter who likes to throw close to a 100 punches a round, Pacquiao has tended to throw around an average of 60 punches per round but as seen when Margarito fought Paul Williams whoever takes the initial momentum will ultimately dictate the pace of the fight. We may see a lower output from Margarito against Pacquiao somewhere around 600 punches during the duration of 12rounds, which will still be above the division average and far more punches than Pacquaio had to face in his last fight against Joshua Clottey.
Although Manny's become somewhat of a volume puncher as of late, that is not his natural game, Paul Williams was able to counter Margarito's pressure with the intensity of his own work, Paul is very much in the mold of a Joe Calzaghe in that aspect; pressure, pressure, pressure. It seems that in this fight Pacquiao's tactics will not be like those he employed in his fights against Miguel Cotto, Joshua Clottey, Ricky Hatton and David Diaz where we saw an increased output from the Filipino. It is very likely Pacquiao will use Margarito's lack of mobility against him, by forcing him to turn by circling on the outside, this will also serve to offset Margarito's pressure and to keep him off balance. Pacquiao's movement in and out will be key, I do though have a concern for how long Pacquiao can maintain that level off intensity he may have effectively carried out those tactics out against a weight drained De la Hoya, but even in that fight it was evident that Pacquiao reverted to form after the 4th round. It is important to note that a boxer is a creature of habit, and Pacquiao may start in cautious manner but he will ultimately return to his natural instincts; fighting on the front foot and unleashing combinations. I do not see Pacquiao being able to bounce around effectively for more than 4 rounds, where that may have been enough to derail De la Hoya (who was a shell), it will not be sufficient for a force of nature like the 'Tijuana Tornado'.
Margarito's biggest problem is if Pacquiao can sustain the in and out movement, will he be quick enough to close the angles and cut off the ring? Margarito needs to stay competitive for the first 6 rounds, not getting caught with anything through a reckless approach but still doing enough to keep Pacquiao concerned and as 'the Pacman' slows, yes he will slow... that is when Margarito can really take advantage unlike Clottey before him. Pacquiao fans will hold testament to his atheleticism and endurance, he is quick and powerful, but Pacquiao has always been sloppy late on in fights he is not a fighter who does well over the distance, he becomes increasingly easier to hit. If a big guy like Margarito can weigh on him for 8 rounds we will see the effects of it. It is in Pacquiao's best interest to make it an early night, Margarito's not Cotto he'll have the tank to go for 12 rounds, he's got that Mexican spirit (Machismo) even if Pacquiao dominates the fight early I am convinced after round 8 is where we will see the drama unfold. Miguel Cotto had opportunities in his fight against Pacquiao but Cotto is a fighter who has always had stamina issues and he could not quite get that second wind against the 'Pacman'.
I wonder whether Freddie Roach would have been so keen to take this fight had Margarito been on a winning streak? I doubt it, Margarito was well and truly out-classed by a Shane Mosley who himself had only prior to that fight shown signs that he no longer had what it took to compete at the top level. Maybe allegations of loaded wraps ignited a fire that had been missing from Mosley's performances (and which has since withered out) who knows? maybe that was a return to former glory for a once great fighter, the one great performance he had in him, ironically that beating may have taken more out of Shane than it did Margarito.
The suspension brought Margarito some much needed time for reflection and recuperation, and since his return he has had a solitary tune-up bout against a decent opponent. His performance in his comeback was widely criticised for being sub-par, however any claims that he does not have the power or the ability to beat Pacquiao are slightly off the mark. In truth if Margarito had fought a couple of highly ranked light-middlweights and showed signs of his old self it is unlikely the fight would have been made, thus making it the best time to take the fight for Pacquiao. Margarito's only fought a fringe contender off the back of technical knockout loss, it is unlikely he would have shaken off the ring rust all together and fighting a quick and awkward fighter like Pacquiao is the worst thing you could want to do if you were anything less than in your best fighting condition.
That being said the fight still provides intrigue, I myself never could have imagined Pacquiao's camp conceding anywhere near the weight advantage we are likely to see on fight night just because we know that Margarito will be content to rough house and push Manny about at what would be a light weight [144.6lbs] for even the welter limit, not mentioning the catch-weight [150lbs] the fight is taking place at. Pacquiao's weight plays into Margarito strengths, it will allow Margarito to use his physicality as oppose to movement to back Pacquiao up. If Pacquiao has not managed to stop Margarito by round 8 as per his coaches prediction, I believe that is when we will see the tide turn assuming Pacquiao will be ahead at that point. Margarito's big shots will start to take Pacquiao's legs and as his defence loosens it will lead to only one conclusion.