Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Strategic Matchmaking By Pacquiao: A Response To Ricardo Lois

In a recent article by’s Ricardo Lois, the respected scribe and boxing radio show host posted some points that insinuate that Manny Pacquiao’s meteoric rise through the ranks is, in Lois’ own words, aided by weak opposition. Pacquiao’s rocket-like ascent from super featherweight to junior middleweight is only possible because the seven-division champion ran through big names who were in decline and past their prime (at least it’s not munching on ‘power pellets’).

Allow this writer to make a response to such suggestion.

Pacquiao probably had the toughest fights of his career as a featherweight and super featherweight. From lightweight and up, it really looked like as if every opponent Pacquiao faced was a cakewalk. Arguably true. But then, let this writer speak out his arguments.

Pacquiao’s only fight in lightweight was a title bid against then WBC lightweight champion and former Olympian David Diaz. Sure, Diaz was not the toughest titleholder in the division at that point and Pacquiao could have chosen names like Nate Campbell and Joel Casamayor, as all three fought in March 2008 and were pretty much available to fight each other at the time. Campbell then held the IBF, WBO, and WBA lightweight crowns while Casamayor was then the WBO interim champion.

Considered a paper champion at lightweight, the fact remains that Diaz sent Pacquiao’s archnemesis Erik Morales into a semi-retirement state. Morales still remains as the last fighter to beat Pacquiao.

Next fight for Pacquiao was a welterweight dream match against Oscar dela Hoya. Many people seem to forget that it was Oscar who cherry-picked Pacquiao after the former’s rematch with Floyd Mayweather, Jr. collapsed when Money May “retired” from the sport of boxing. A lot of people did not even give Pacquiao much of a chance, from the casual fans to boxing experts. Even a congressman from the Philippines tried to persuade Philippine sports authorities to stop the Pacquiao-Dela Hoya match because Pacquiao is endangering himself in a huge mismatch.

A mismatch indeed, only it was the other way around. The fight against Dela Hoya was no product of strategic matchmaking from the Pacquiao camp, as what Lois’ article insinuates. Rather, it was a matter of confident handpicking that went down south exponentially.

Ricky Hatton was coming off an impressive win against Paulie Malignaggi prior to facing the Pacman. With a new trainer in the person of Floyd Mayweather, Sr., Hatton was a greatly improved fighter, or so they say. Is this fight another strategic matchmaking scheme by Pacquiao’s camp? The answer is a big no.

For starters, Hatton was then the lineal champion at the light welterweight division and has only lost once to Floyd Mayweather, whom he fought at welterweight. Hatton was also undefeated as a light welter. People were also demanding a showdown between the Brit and the Filipino. And lastly, was there anyone else worthy to face Pacquiao at that particular moment? Really, was there anyone else?

Miguel Cotto was the first legitimate welterweight Pacquiao has ever faced. A stylistic power-puncher, many, writer included, felt that Cotto was damaged goods by the time he went up against Pacquiao. Still, Cotto lost only once and was the reigning WBO welterweight champion, so pretty much it was a good deal. Cotto at the time and up until now is no weak opposition.

However, it can be argued that Shane Mosley was available for a fight and a Pacquiao-Mosley showdown could have been a classic. It did not happen not because of another strategic maneuvering to pit Pacquiao against lesser opponents, but rather, a promotional move to keep the money in-house.

As for Joshua Clottey, he is ranked as one of the top 10 welterweights when he fought Pacquiao. Clottey himself also held the IBF welterweight title for a while. People need to understand that the Clottey fight only materialized after negotiations for the Pacquiao-Mayweather bout fell through the first time over drug testing protocols.

The only available welterweight contender at the time was Clottey as WBA welterweight champion Shane Mosley and WBC welterweight titleholder Andre Berto were slated to fight then (this was prior to the Haiti earthquake that killed thousands of Haitians, including a number of Berto’s relatives, forcing him to withdrew from the fight). Pacquiao fought Clottey simply because there was no one else left to fight.

Going back, it really does appear that Pacquiao seemed to just breeze through the said fighters, despite their reputation as elite contenders in the sport. That said, one can simply attribute such fact to Pacquiao’s dedication, undeniably strict work ethic, and determination to be the best at what he does.

Strategic matchmaking? You decide.