I love familiar things. Not 15 minutes ago I got back from my local corner store, and I’ve stopped in so many times after big fights that without even asking, the guy behind the sandwich counter made my usual order when I queued up. It was nice of him.
Manny Pacquiao is not familiar. He is not nice, or pleasant, or kind, or anything else along those lines, not when he gets into a boxing ring. You may not realize it yet, but when you’re watching him you’re watching one of the very greatest fighters of all time. It’s not that he edges out or narrowly defeats boxers in heavier weight classes; it’s that he beats, destroys really, one man after another from flyweight to welterweight. That is unprecedented. Over the course of his professional career he’s added something like a quarter of his initial weight to his fighting weight and not just maintained relevance, or competitiveness- he’s succeeded in destroying world fucking class fighters at the higher weights. Shane Mosley is the generally considered world champion at welterweight; Cotto holds a win over him. Cotto was destroyed tonight by Pacquiao. Pacquiao has entered the stage where I don’t need to do anything to praise him except state accurately what he’s done.
He’s the best fighter I’ve ever seen. I don’t give a fuck what happens against Floyd Mayweather if that fight even happens: Floyd may beat him but he’ll never be him, never have that kind of record of dominance from one weight to another against one hall of famer after another. Manny Pacquiao is the best. He’s almost certainly one of the ten greatest fighters of all time, maybe one of the five, and if I live another 50 years- which I may- I don’t expect to see his equal. He’s the best fighter in the world. He rules the time, as much as a Michael Jordan or a Wayne Gretzky ever did.
He’s knocked out 4 hall of famers and beaten 5 and demolished more excellent fighters and belt holders than I can name. What can you say? He’s the best.
Gonna be late and short, what can you do?
Floyd Mayweather Jr. is the most talented pugilist in the world, everybody knows this. He’s got the greatest athletic gifts, the most highly developed skills, and arguably the best case to be placed at the top of pound for pound lists; he’s the finest boxer today. But. There’s one accolade which still escapes his grasp, one which is a matter of public acclaim as much as it is of records and results, polls and prizemoney: the title of the Best Fighter Alive. That is the title which demands not just the talent and cool excellence of a Mayweather, but the killer spirit of a prime Roberto Duran or, well, a Pacquiao; and the incredible heart and drive to keep going of an Arturo Gatti; or, well, a Miguel Cotto. The man who holds that title, the one embraced by the public for his spirit as well as his talent and for his desire to conquer men and not just get through matchups- that man will be the winner tomorrow night. Perhaps Floyd will challenge him for that title; perhaps not. It matters little in the end, because Saturday belongs to the victor. On that day, despite the rise of MMA which has attained mainstream exposure but not yet the throne, the sports world will still stop and pay homage to one of the great old time events left: a championship fight between two of the best, a war between two hall of famers, to settle which of them is really the better man. One more time, and maybe for the last time, the sports world will turn and gaze in awe at what two men can drive themselves to, what two warriors can achieve and endure; and in the end they’ll say: there goes the baddest man on the planet. There goes the Best Fighter In The World.
I can’t fucking wait.
It’s a fight which will be either one thing or the other; I do not anticipate a back and forth war or a great exchange of rounds, and the only way I can see a major momentum swing is if Cotto badly outboxes Pacquiao early but begins to fade- which may well happen. Beyond that, if fights were card games this would be No Limit Hold ‘Em: it won’t take long to find out what each man is holding. Either Pacquiao is too quick for Cotto, or he isn’t; either Pacquiao can take Cotto’s punch and solve his timing, or he can’t. A quick look at what each man will be trying to do:
Guns don’t kill people, speed kills people, and by speed I mean Manny Pacquiao. He has to be quicker than Cotto, not by a little, but by a lot. He can’t lurk inside, he can’t stand in front of the larger man, and he almost certainly can’t and won’t begin to throw combinations until he believes he can stun Cotto- if he can. If he can’t, or in the early going at any rate, he has to be in and out one bite and away, using a combination of quickness and footwork to keep Cotto off-balance, guessing, trying to hit things that aren’t there anymore and lapsing into a reactive mode. If Cotto does that he’s dead; but he knows that, and no one’s really been able to do it to him before, not even Shane Mosley. Pacquiao has his work cut out for him.
Pacquiao’s punch of choice will likely be an uppercut, thrown with either hand but perhaps tending towards the right for the speed advantage of the shorter distance to travel out of a southpaw stance. No one is better than Freddie Roach at picking up ticks, quirks, tendencies and bad habits, and if I’ve noticed the way Cotto earmuffs and leaves a space low and between the gloves there’s no doubt Freddie did long before me. If the uppercut can land regularly it’s a scoring blow which can help Pacquiao come in and out with his offense; if there’s enough behind it to stun Cotto, even momentarily, then it opens up the chance for Pacquiao to punch in combinations. And when he does that he’s the scourge of God. I think a huge amount of this fight turns on the effectiveness of that punch, and whether- when Cotto adjusts to it as he will- Pacquiao can disguise the blow and throw a right hook from a similar arm angle as a changeup. If he knocks Cotto down, that has a good chance of being how it happens.
People seem to be expecting the Cotto of several years ago to make an appearance, the walk-forward-drop-a-left-hook-to-the-ribs fighter who showed up for the Ricardo Torres or Fonso Gomez fights. I don’t really think there’s a chance of that, and thank goodness- that version of Cotto would have gotten worked. While the weight cut to 140 likely contributed to his chin issues back then, the fact of the matter is that he used to get tagged more than the fat kid in recess and it wasn’t an accident- he had the same iffy defensive quirks he has now, but he was flatfooted with his weight leaning forward and thinking only about the next punch he was going to throw- not the one the other guy might be. Cotto in his last few fights has been very, very different, and maybe some of that was circumstances like being cut early against Clottey- but I think most of it is simply that Cotto is now a smarter, more disciplined, more skilled and vastly more dangerous fighter. When he fought Shane Mosley the best ever version of the old Cotto went back and forth, life or death with Sugar for most of that fight; but in the later rounds the new Cotto showed up and won the fight for him. He got up on his toes; he moved; he showed superior footwork for maintaining proper distance and throwing off the timing of a lunger; he pumped a vicious, accurate and powerful jab. Frankly it was almost Barreraesque watching an immensely talented but basically prototypical Mexican-style brawler become a boxer- and a brilliant one.
That is the Cotto Pacquiao faces, and that’s the one that can beat him. Where Pacquiao has to be physically dominant- faster, hit harder, have a deeper gas tank- Cotto has to be smarter. Pacquiao’s not stupid but for 3 out of every four minutes his brain will be sitting on a stool in the corner, yelling. Cotto’s will be in his head, working, staying sharp and looking out for things. His key punch is the jab: if he uses his footwork to maintain distance- and he’s shown he can against world-fucking-class opposition- than he nullifies much of Pacquiao’s offense especially in the early going before Pacquiao wants to throw combinations. He makes the Pinoy a lunger, a flailer, an awkward fighter; and that’s when the jab begins to work. Thud. ThudThud. Thud. Over and over and over into the face of a guy who’s now too off-balance to avoid it. It’s a scoring blow, it’s a punishing blow, and when a natural welterweight throws it over and over at a guy who began his career at flyweight, it may just be a fight winning blow. Everything else Cotto does offensively has to be keyed off of that jab, because it’s the jab which will create all the other openings: you throw a naked left hook at a Pacquiao who has his weight under him and your death certificate says “right hook” on it; you throw it hooking off the jab on a guy whose balance is gone, and half the arena falls silent or moans in fear.
But Cotto has to be perfect. He has to be, because if there’s one thing he’s lost in his change over from a brawler to a boxer, it’s the finishing. He hits as hard as ever, he wants to finish as much as ever, there’s no questioning his heart; but now his offense is keyed off of a punishing blow and not a potential knockout blow, now his gameplan is based as much around avoiding damage as delivering it. I fully believe that if Cotto hits Pacquiao with his best punch, Manny will be knocked out; but Cotto’s style means he has relatively fewer chances to hit that best punch than he did a few years ago. He has a lot fewer chances than Pacquiao. As noted above, Pacquiao may well get his ears boxed off for the first 7 or 8 rounds of this things, trying and failing to find the timing and looking kind of stupid as he flails around in the process. But that will not necessarily mean he’s out of the fight. He may not hit as hard as Cotto (or maybe he does); but so many more of his punches are thrown to finish, to try to stop the fight, that he has a better chance of coming from behind than most fighters. It’s a game of inches, and Pacquiao can be one inch away all night… until he’s suddenly not, anymore, and someone’s counting amidst the screams and cheers.
So who wins? What, in the end, is the deciding factor? 3 months ago I was absolutely sure that Pacquiao was going to win this. I’ve had a reoccurring image of him landing this ridiculous windmilling left hook on a lunge in against Cotto which is the beginning of the end, and while Cotto is among the best fighters in the game at fighting while hurt and staying competitive Pacquiao is THE deadly finisher in the world today. Now, writing this the night before the fight, I’m honestly not sure. Frankly it’s one of the best matchups I’ve seen in my time as a boxing fan, because I don’t feel remotely comfortable picking either man. Probably, if you’re putting money on this, the most likely turn of affairs is that Cotto gets off the deck in the 7th or 8th to win a thrilling close points victory, or else lose a similarly close call which many to most people disagree with. As for my pick….
…well I’ll tell ya tomorrow.
It’s going to be an amazing fight.
All-Brock and MMA week continues! This one’s just for fun, but feel free to use it for barguments. I’ll do the current UFC champs plus a few others. Part 2 on Monday.
1. Brock Lesnar converts to Wladimir Klitschko.
Similarities: They’re both gihugic slow-moving white things with offensive games defined by massive power and minimal technical fluidity. Both have nicknames which reflect that- “Vanilla Gorilla” and “The Ukrainian Robot”. Both are substantially larger than much of their competition. Both have careers defined in some respects by what they’ve not done: Brock proving his success over time and against diverse competition, Klitschko proving himself against another heavyweight who would be considered top shelf from a historical perspective and not just in the current debased heavyweight division. Both are from foreign countries, Klitschko from the Ukraine and Brock from the Midwest. Both have had the reputation of being headcases (of different sorts) at various times in their careers. Both ultimately labor in the shadow of another: Klitschko under Lennox Lewis, the last great heavyweight champion who he never fought and cannot equal, Brock under Fedor Emilianenko who is, and will be, considered by many fans the true heavyweight champ until he retires or someone beats him. Both have developed dramatically as fighters in the course of their careers, yet both still have a whiff of vulnerability to them- Brock to submissions and Wladimir to a big power puncher, which is why Brock compares better to Wladimir than to Vitali (along with Vitali having fought Lewis).
Differences: Brock has actual top-level competition to define himself against; he’s also got a chin and a much more memorable personality.
2. Lyoto Machida converts to Arthur Abraham or Iron Boy Ivan Calderon.
Similarities: All three men are defined by the near-insoluble defensive puzzles they pose for opposing fighters- Machida’s movement and control of distance, Abraham’s perfect high guard, Calderon’s movement and technical perfection. All three have underrated offense, and Abraham and Machida share the quality of not necessarily hitting often, but hitting surprisingly hard when they do open up. All three are undefeated. All three are probably not as big of stars as their talent theoretically warrants, though Machida appears to be growing into it. Machida and Abraham share a common experience of narrowly getting past a better-known fighter in battles they easily could have lost- Abraham against Edison Miranda in their first fight, Machida against Tito Ortiz. None of the three is American or speaks English as their native tongue, and all three began their careers outside the US.
Differences: Machida has power Calderon can only dream of; Abraham has been tested in a fight and proved he could win a war in a way Machida never really has (Tito nearly finished him with that triangle, but was otherwise outclassed); Machida has easily the biggest collection of names on his resume; unlike the other two, Calderon at 34 is in the twilight of his career, especially for such a small fighter.
3. Anderson Silva converts to Manny Pacquiao.
Similarities: Or he did, back when he could be bothered to show up to his own fights. Back then he was, as Pacquiao is now, essentially the perfect striker in his sport: remarkably quick, eerily accurate, calm and composed, and able to effectively throw essentially every strike available to him with bone-jarring power. Both are or were masters at controlling distance and pace in a fight, both are or were ferocious finishers, both have cleaned out large swathes of their respective divisions at various times and now have to look outside of that comfort zone to find real challenges. Both are non-American and have become stars in the US despite limited English. Both have a few early losses in their careers not indicative of their peak abilities, often by odd or non-repeatable methods: Pacquiao at 18 to an 11-4 fighter, Silva to the infamous Ryo Chonan flying heel hook, etc.
Differences: Everything Silva has done in his last two fights. God those sucked. By contrast there really doesn’t exist a bad Pacquiao fight, even when he was pitted against lesser competition like Jorge Solis or David Diaz- there’s a level of professionalism which separates the men, with Silva much more given to the sort of histrionics and open disrespect of fellow fighters that brings to mind many of the stereotypes about Brazilian professional athletes. Silva is 4 years older than Pacquiao, and perhaps starting to show signs of a decline which Pacquiao is not. Pacquiao has also faced the much, much tougher competition in his career- and thus has more great wins, and also more very close fights, than Silva.
4. GSP converts to Floyd Mayweather, Jr..
Similarities: Both are preposterously great athletes who began training at very young ages and as mature professionals are defined by quickness and versatility, able to out-think nearly all of their opponents and often make even the very best (Ricky Hatton, Jon Fitch) look clownishly inept by comparison. Both have more power than you sometimes expect or remember, both are huge stars and major draws, both have immense natural charisma, both have had several career-defining fights (Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton, Matt Hughes, Matt Serra) go in their favor. Both have headlined or co-headlined the single largest-drawing PPV shows in the history of their respective sports, and both will be regarded as the second-most important figure in drawing those numbers. Both are considered by some to be pretty boys without the stones to mix it up, even though both have long since proved against fighters like Fitch and Jose Luis Castillo that that’s total nonsense. Both are expert at forcing their opponents into unfavorable positions, GSP with his wrestling and Mayweather by forcing opponents to come to him as aggressors and leave themselves open for counterpunching.
Differences: GSP is most likely just entering his prime while Mayweather is finishing a period of squandering a large chunk of his, as he spent years farting around against the Henry Bruseles, Carlos Baldomir, Sharmba Mitchell (the aged version) and Chop Chop Corley types of the boxing world. GSP is probably a closer comp to the Mayweather who was coming off defeating Jose Luis Castillo for the second time at age 26.
More of these Monday.
Yeah, I told you so. I’ve been a boxing fan for a long time, and my previous best call of a boxing event was Lennox Lewis KO2 Michael Grant where I called the winner and round. But man, I got this one more right. I told you speed would kill, and God did it ever; I told you Pacquiao’s straight left was the best punch in the fight, and boy was it ever; I told you De La Hoya would think 3 men were punching him, and he sure seemed to by the end; I told you he would accept a loss, and he did. After all the rhetoric about mismatches and how people who supported this hated boxing, I get this moment: I motherfucking told you so. Can’t tell me nothing.
Ok, that out of the way, let’s have an orderly review of events. The undercard for this one was exactly what it promised to be, a series of jobber squashes. Daniel Jacobs faced a Night of the Living Dead extra and pounded him into oblivion, which was useful mostly for letting people know about the Brooklyn youth. That’s a fitting description for the Victor Ortiz fight as well. Sergio Medina was supposed to give Juanma a slightly better challenge, but he looked like he’d never heard of boxing before and had no idea why he was wearing gloves and a stranger was punching him as he slumped to a useless first round KO loss. Not really sure his head was in this one; it’s not often you’ll see a 33-2 fighter simply fail to compete, as he registered a final punchstat total of one for six. And, uh, that’s your story on those three fights. Jacobs, Ortiz and Juanma are all excellent fighters who will be major figures in this sport in the future, but they were fighting utter tomato cans on this night.
And that brings us to the main event. Pacquiao was shown entering the arena in an Arsenal FC track top, and if he can play midfield I sure as hell hope someone calls him in the January window. If nothing else he certainly cemented himself as my favorite fighter with that one. The fight itself….
Discussion of this will turn on whether people think Oscar is shot or not. I was hard before the fight on people like Kevin Iole who were claiming the only way Pacquiao could win was if DLH was done, and I’m not going to back off of that now completely despite how totally one-sided this fight was. Oscar was not shot before this fight; I’m not even sure he’s at all shot now despite how he looked, though he’s clearly in decline. People have an amazing tendency for whatever reason to underestimate and misevaluate Pacquiao, I assume partly because of how unskilled he was earlier in his career. But at this point he’s become- and credit to Freddie Roach here- a superior technical fighter. He outboxed Oscar tonight badly as his head movement and foot movement together made him almost impossible to hit and he forced Oscar to first abandon the jab to the head and then even the fallback jab to the chest. Oscar probably didn’t land a single hook all night, chasing after nothing, unable to throw even the most basic of combinations. Some of that was based on Pac Man’s unusual speed for a welterweight, but a lot of it was his throwing all sorts of looks out there and using his foot movement to keep the fight off the ropes and in the center and keep Oscar throwing his jab at odd angles, reaching for an opponent who was never there. The physical element was important but what we really learned was that Manny Pacquiao is a much better boxer than Oscar De la Hoya is; and from there it was simply a question of Pacquiao adjusting to the power which he did more quickly than I had anticipated since by the 3rd he had clearly lost all respect for Oscar and was starting to stand in front of him and throw bombs. And that’s your fight: Pacquiao has become an above-average defensive fighter, a dominant and powerful combination puncher with power in both hands, a smart fighter with experience and ring knowledge; if you let him begin to tee off on you, you’re fucked for life. I think Pacquiao beats De la Hoya at most points in each man’s respective careers, certainly so if you take a prime 147 DLH and this version of Pacquiao. It’s just not a contest.
So where does each man go from here? I think Oscar retires, or at most has a third fight with Shane Mosley if Margarito beats Mosley, as a sort of career summation bout for both of them. Most great fighters- and Oscar is one regardless of tonight’s result- require an exclamation point to conclude things, a sure sign that they’ve not just been defeated but beaten soundly and physically dominated. Bernard Hopkins has never had that and fights on; Oscar got that tonight, and I suspect that’ll be all for him as a serious going concern. He’s a proud man and being beaten into submission by a smaller man won’t sit well with him, I suspect badly enough to both stop him from fighting regularly and at the same time spur him eventually to conclude his career on a different note in a fight below the world class level. If not with Mosley, it will be a bout with Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. Pacquiao by contrast has his next bout already lined up, a legitimate world title shot at 140 pounds against the recently resurgent Ricky Hatton. I expect him to humble Hatton, and if he does so that will make him the recognized no bullshit accept-no-substitutes he’s-the-fucking-man champion in his third weight class after previously being so at flyweight and featherweight. That’s astonishing. He was a legit world champion at 112 pounds, and has beaten hall of famers as far north as 147. Where he goes from there is anyone’s guess; he’s only 29.
The day will come when people realize how great Pacquiao is. It’s been traditional to compare him with Khaosai Galaxy in recent years since both were great fighters with big power from small Asian natons, but with all due respect to that man who is a hall of famer and was a great fighter, I think Pacquiao’s gone beyond that now. On tonight’s broadcast they were comparing him with Henry Armstrong which is a bit strong since Homicide Hank was one of the three to five greatest fighters of all time, but I would say at this point you could make a strong case that Pacquiao is both the greatest ever Asian fighter and a unique historical personage based on his title achievements. This is the sort of fighter you tell your children about having watched.
More later when I have time to reflect on this.