By the numbers – Pacquiao vs Clottey

By CompuBox, BoxingScene

While sports fans would’ve rather had Floyd Mayweather facing Manny Pacquiao at Cowboys Stadium Saturday, boxing aficionados ended up with the next best thing in the form of rock-hard Ghanaian Joshua Clottey.

Meanwhile, “Money” is scheduled to tangle with WBA welterweight champion Shane Mosley May 1, and should Pacquiao win, a fight with the Mayweather-Mosley winner promises to be a fiscal and fistic bonanza.

Before that can happen, Pacquiao, a better than 5-1 favorite (he opened at 4-1) must get by Clottey, a recent IBF titleholder seeking to bounce back from a split-decision loss to Miguel Cotto last June. Who will emerge victorious in this international scrap? The CompuBox numbers offer factors that could be at play:

The Cotto Equation: Interestingly, Miguel Angel Cotto was the most recent opponent for both men. Clottey dropped a controversial decision, while Pacquiao scored a 12th round TKO. As most boxing people know, while Pacquiao beat Cotto, Nov. 14, 2009, and Cotto beat Clottey, five months earlier, that doesn’t necessarily mean that Pacquiao is a lock to beat Clottey. The stats from both fights, however, suggest just that.

Pacquiao’s numbers against Cotto were overwhelming – 336-172 in total connects, including a 276-93 gap in landed power punches. Following a nip-and-tuck first four rounds, Pacquiao shifted into high gear. From the sixth onward, this fistic typhoon swept Cotto out like a beachfront home. In the last five completed rounds (six through 11), Pacquiao out-punched Cotto 192-78 overall, with a face-busting 160-28 in power connects. During that same span, Pacquiao’s 53 power shots per round and 26.6 connects eroded Cotto’s willingness to fire back in kind. His output dipped to 18 and 5.3 per round. Cotto failed to reach double-digit power connects from round four on while Pacquiao’s lowest marks were12 in the 10th and 11 in the truncated 12th. The damage was done with 35 power connects by Pacquiao in the ninth.

Clottey was far more than a stepping stone when he faced Cotto before a highly charged Puerto Rican Day crowd at Madison Square Garden, June 13, 2009. Despite throwing 101 fewer punches (723-622), he out-landed Cotto by a commanding 222-179. That pattern held true in the jabs as Clottey threw 110 fewer (319-209) but was out-landed by only one (55-54). But Clottey took control in the power-punching department, unleashing nine more (413-404) and, more importantly landing 44 more (168-124).

After opening a deep gash over Cotto’s left eye early in the fight with an accidental head butt, Clottey assumed command by sweeping rounds seven through 10. In that sequence Clottey accumulated leads of 82-45 in total connects, and 66-30 in power connects despite out-throwing Cotto by just six punches (223-217). Simply put, Clottey’s accuracy, not his output, was propelling him toward a career-defining victory.

A great fighter, however, is created not only by who he beats, but also how he beats them. A vital ingredient is the ability to finish off a vulnerable foe and here Clottey fell short because he allowed Cotto, a proven great, to rise up in the “championship rounds.” Cotto overcame the deficits of the previous four rounds to draw relatively even as he out-threw the Ghanaian 101-93, closing to 38-36 in overall connects, and 35-22 in landed power shots. Just as he had in previous crises, Cotto relied on his jab in the rounds 11 and 12, using that 14-3 advantage to pull out the victory.

This contrast in ring temperament during crucial situations may be the difference between victory and defeat. When Pacquiao had Cotto dead to rights, he finished the job. The same could not be said of Clottey, who has never thrown more than 62 punches per round in nine of his fights tracked by CompuBox. At age 32, can the “Grand Master” change his demeanor and checkmate his greatest opponent to date?

Styles – and circumstances – make fights: Pacquiao’s late-career transformation was best shown in his fights against Oscar de la Hoya and Ricky Hatton. As in the Cotto bout, Pacquiao executed a mathematical tour de force for this Dec. 6, 2008 fight. His per-round average of 73.1 punches was well above the welterweight average, outscoring de la Hoya 224-83 (total connects) and 195-51 (power connects). Against Hatton, on May 3, 2009, Pacquiao was prolific and precise in a fight that ended late in the second round. Pacquiao out-landed the Englishman 73-18 (total) and 65-16 (power) while posting absurdly high connect percentages of 57.5 and 61.9 respectively. Pacquiao ended matters with a devastating left cross for the knockout punch.

Pacquiao’s critics will say the 35-year-old De La Hoya’s emaciated state turned a battle of big versus small into one of young versus old. They will also say Hatton was overrated and confused by the teachings of defensive specialist Floyd Mayweather Sr. In Clottey, Pacquiao faces an opponent who has never been knocked out and has lost only to the best.

But how does Clottey fare against slick southpaws? The Zab Judah fight on Aug. 2, 2008, offers some clues. Once again, the less-is-more formula worked. The Ghanaian posted edges of 122-117 overall, despite throwing 26 fewer punches (393-419). Judah, respectful of Clottey’s strength, used a jab-heavy offense (66 percent of his blows) to set up efficient power punching (72 of 139, 52 percent). Pacquiao, never known for his jab (19.6 percent in his last three fights) will likely adopt the opposite approach.

Pacquiao will need to apply science to his pressure, for Clottey’s April 3, 2008 bout with Jose Luis Cruz shows that a unvarnished punch-out isn’t wise. Clottey enjoyed advantages of 111-64 overall and 102-57 in power shots while landing at rates of 47 percent and 55 percent rate respectively. Clottey’s shell defense limited Cruz to 26 percent overall,11 percent in jabs and 31 percent in power shots.

Prediction: In terms of sheer strength, the heavily muscled Clottey may be the most demanding opponent Pacquiao has faced. Clottey can play some "D" too. His nine opponents tracked by CompuBox landed just 30 percent of their power shots (9 percent less than the welterweight average).

Still, Pacquiao has the tools necessary to riddle the Ghanaian’s armor. Clottey stood up to Margarito’s CompuBox record 1,675-punch attack on Dec. 2, 2006, but was floored by Cotto. In the Margarito fight, Clottey, despite a broken hand, blocked or avoided 1,338 punches, the most in a fight in CompuBox history.

As was the case with Cotto, Pacquiao wants a spectacular preamble for his next fight, whether it’s against Mayweather or Mosley. He’ll get it, but not by knockout. Pacquiao by decision.