Before an announced crowd of 50,994 screaming fans, Filipino icon and welterweight titleholder Manny Pacquiao used a volume-punching attack, fleet feet, and ridiculous stamina to out-throw, out-hustle, and overwhelm Joshua Clottey in 12 rounds that looked so similar, it felt like déjà vu, to take a unanimous decision Saturday night at the new Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. It was the first fight at the stadium which hopes to host many more in years to come. The fight card, dubbed “The Event” by promoter Top Rank, had the look and feel of one outside the ring. A blue wash of light bathed the crowd in a preternatural glow and the overhead HD screen dominated the landscape, giving the card an otherworldly appearance. Filipino fans wearing white cowboy hats, old Cowboys coaches and players, celebrities of all walks and even former President George W. Bush were in attendance. The pre-fight rituals were capped off by the single greatest performance of the national anthem; three Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders, in all their All-American glory, singing in three-part harmony to glorious perfection.
Inside the ring, “The Event” was anything but. The undercard was one of the sport’s most boring in years. Pedestrian middleweight John Duddy, 29-1 (18), outpointed Michael Medina, 23-2-2 (18), to take a split decision win in ten rounds. The scores were close, but the fight had little drama as neither man looked in danger of stopping the other at any point. It had the look and feel of a sparring match and quickly lost the crowd around me here in Los Angeles.
Next up was welterweight Alfonso Gomez, 22-4-2 (11), vs. former lightweight champ Jose Luis Castillo,, 60-10-1 (52). This was a mismatch from the onset, but a closer and more competitive fight than expected, for a round or two. Gomez boxed safely early, showing respect for the faded great’s powerful body attack. But as the rounds wore on, Gomez turned up the heat and began to land with regularity to Castillo’s dome with right hands and uppercuts. Castillo, who got his offense going in rounds two and three- mainly a jab and left to the body- saw his offense grind to a halt as Gomez began to gain a head of steam.
But by round five, it was all Gomez as he rocked Castillo with long combinations to the head and body. It was after this round that Castillo remained on his stool and the bout was ruled a technical decision stoppage.
The co-feature between lightweight Humberto Soto, 51-7-2 (32) with one no-contest, and David Diaz, 35-3-1 (17), had some nice action at points but, overall, was a slow dance as Soto boxed and moved his way to a unanimous decision over 12 rounds to pick up the belt vacated by former champ Edwin Valero. Early on, it looked like Soto, a boxer puncher from Los Mochis, Mexico, would take out the slower, awkward Diaz quickly. Soto scored a knockdown on in the first round off a right hook/left hook combo that made Diaz dip and touch his glove to the canvas. But Diaz would get up and, over the course of the middle rounds, work his way into the fight. Triple jabs and thudding right hands got Soto’s attention and respect and forced him to move and wait to punch more than his corner would like.
By the championship rounds, it looked like a closer fight than expected as Soto stayed on the move, flurried in spots, but was also taking hard shots here and there from Diaz to the head and body.
But Soto would rise to occasion in the final round and do his best to close the show. Diaz matched him with intensity, but it cost him as Soto caught him at round’s end with a right-left-right combo that dropped Diaz, yet again. Diaz took the shots but as he lurched forward to tie up, his legs didn’t follow and he hit the canvas for the second time in the fight.
In the end, the judges liked the boxer over the slugger and scored it 115-111 and 117-109 twice for Soto.
Finally, it was time for the man of the hour to take the stage. No matter the sleep-inducing undercard, it was Manny Pacquiao the crowd came to see.
Clottey, the challenger, entered, busting a move to a song I’ve never heard. He looked relaxed and confident as he glided up the aisle to the ring. He had every appearance of a man not overwhelmed by the environment or the fanfare.
Pacquiao entered to Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger,” looking relaxed and happy as usual, with trainer Freddie Roach and his entourage.
Once Michael Buffer finished his customary “Let’s Get Ready to RUUUUUMMMMBBBLLLLEEEEEE!”, it was indeed time to rumble.
Only thing is, one guy came to rumble and the other came to go the distance.
Pacquiao came out as usual, all energy and aggression. He slid left and right, in and out, looking for an opening and commencing to create them with jabs to the head and the tiny opening between Clottey’s elbows, that were held up seemingly all night in a shell defense. Pacquiao marked his territory on Clottey early. A right hook around the guard to the head. Left lead or right jab to the stomach. Right hook to the body. Over and over, Pacquiao threw combinations up and down at Clottey, who could only cover up, move forward, and take abuse as he bided his time waiting for Buddha-knows-what.
Clottey finally got going in the third round, letting his jab go free and his right hand. His left uppercut rocked Pacquiao’s head back a couple times, but it was mainly the right hand that landed with regularity and, for the first time in the fight, it looked like we had a fight on our hands.
However, Pacquiao had other ideas as, round after round, he barraged Clottey with an endless shelling of artillery. Right hooks, left hands, uppercuts, lead lefts, and the jab pounced and bounced off Clottey’s guard, eventually cracking it in spots.
By the middle of the fight, after Pacquiao had gotten to that body enough times, Clottey began to bend over at the waist, looking for more protection. This opened up the head attack and Pacquiao began going low then shooting up high, in combinations. It was brutally effective but, even still, not enough to get Clottey to the canvas, much less keep him there as Team Pacquiao had hoped for coming into the fight. However, the massive amount of offense from the tireless Pacquiao was enough to tame Clottey into submission. By the end of the fight, Clottey’s offensive output totaled a little more than a quarter of Pacquiao’s. He simply never was able to find a spot to counter and never took a risk to turn the tide. Manny simply wouldn’t let him. Doling out 1231 thrown punches, landing 246 to Clottey’s 399 thrown and 108 landed, Pacquiao was a whirlwind in there. Circling, moving in and out and keeping Clottey setting and resetting all night.
In the end, the judges had a unanimous decision for Pacquiao and nearly a shutout with scores of 120-108, and 119-109 twice. With the win, Pacquiao successfully defended his WBO welterweight strap and improved his record to 51-3-2 (38). Clottey drops to 35-4 (20) with one no-contest.
What lies ahead for Pacquiao remains to be seen. Welterweights Shane Mosley and Floyd Mayweather Jr. meet on May 1 in Vegas and the winner of that fight seems a natural for Pacquiao. But Pacquiao may take a break from the sport, as he is up for election in his homeland.