from arlington, texas —
The best strategy for challenger Joshua Clottey in his fight against Manny Pacquiao may be to use his head.
Not his brain, his head.
There is a history here, and the Pacquiao camp is aware. Their fighter is so heavily favored that some odds on Pacquiao winning have been as high as 15-2. There has been more discussion about where the fight is taking place — massive Cowboys Stadium in front of 45,000 people — than how it will turn out. To most, it's a foregone conclusion.
Still, Pacquiao and his people know that danger lurks in any ring battle, no matter the odds. They know that, in this one, Clottey's forehead may be as dangerous as his fists.
"We're not going to fight him in the box, straight on, where his head can get at Manny," says Pacquiao's trainer, Freddie Roach, of the Saturday night match.
The memory of Clottey's fight last June 13 against Miguel Cotto in Madison Square Garden remains vivid to all in boxing.
In the third round, Cotto and Clottey banged heads and Cotto was cut over his left eye. The remainder of the fight was a struggle in Cotto's corner to stop the blood flow, and it wasn't until the last two rounds that Cotto seemed to recover enough to chase down Clottey and score enough points to escape with a split decision.
In November 1999 in London, a then-unbeaten Clottey fought Carlos Baldomir of Argentina. Ahead on all three judges' cards, Clottey was penalized two points in the 10th round for what was termed an "intentional head butt" that opened a cut over Baldomir's left eye. In the 11th, Clottey was warned again about leading with his head, and when he did it one more time, the referee stopped it and gave Baldomir the fight on a disqualification.
The rules state that if a fighter is cut by a head butt, but is deemed by medical personnel to be able to continue, then there is no recourse for the wounded fighter, other than disqualification for repeated offenses, as happened in the Baldomir fight. With Cotto, there were no further detected head butts, so he had to fight his way back through it.
The exception occurs if the head butt happens in the first four rounds and the wounded fighter is judged to be unable to go on. Then they go to the scorecards to get the winner.
The head-butting issue is especially significant in this fight because Pacquiao has a history of not doing well when cut.
"He freaks out a little bit," Roach says.
Pacquiao has lost only three fights on the way to his current 50-3-2 record and status as the best boxer in the world. One loss occurred March 19, 2005, when Erik Morales cut him over the right eye — ruled a cut by punch, not head butt — and Pacquiao lost a unanimous decision.
"I couldn't see out of one eye, and it was very hard," Pacquiao said then.
He went on to avenge that loss by knocking out Morales twice.
Interestingly, the cut man in Pacquiao's corner Saturday night will be Miguel Diaz, whom Roach calls "the best in the business."
There is some history there too.
In May 2004, Pacquiao, still a little-known boxer on the rise, took on Juan Manuel Marquez in Las Vegas. In the first round, Pacquiao nearly destroyed Marquez, knocking him down three times. The third time, Marquez barely made it to his feet in time, but his nose, clearly broken, was a bloody mess.
In his corner, veteran trainer Nacho Berenstein struggled to stop the bleeding in Marquez's nose. Sitting nearby at ringside, having worked an undercard fight, was Diaz, who saw the problem, knew how to help and went to Berenstein's aide, despite some resistance from security guards. He wasn't allowed in the ring, but he handed Berenstein the extra medical tools needed. Marquez went back out for the second round, survived, and Diaz did the same thing for Berenstein in the corner after the round.
Somehow, with the blood stopped just enough for him to be effective, Marquez turned the fight around enough to get a draw from the judges, one of whom had not realized he could have scored Pacquiao's three knockdowns in the first as a 10-6 round, rather than the 10-7 he made it.
Saturday night, Diaz will be on Pacquiao's side, just in case Clottey uses his head too much.
"I told Manny," Roach says, "that he's got the best cut man in the world in his corner. I told him not to worry."