This weekend, the best pound for pound fighter in the game (you heard me Ilai!) and current WBO welterweight champion Manny Pacquiao takes on former welterweight champion and Eddie Guerrero doppelganger Antonio Margarito. Fighting for a vacant junior-middleweight strap (but fought at a 150 pound catchweight), this is by far the most difficult fight of their respective careers. The overwhelming favourite going in, a win for Pacquiao would only further cement his place in boxing history and, arguably, prove him to be the greatest pound for pound fighter ever. Comparatively, Margarito’s reputation as a fighter crumbled after he was found to have loaded his handwraps before his January 2009 knockout loss to Sugar Shane Mosley. If Margarito is able to upset Pacquiao, then it may lend some validity back to his career and prove that his biggest wins could possibly have been legitimate.
Manny Pacquiao (51-3-2, 38 KOs)
Pacquiao’s main weapon in his ascent thought the weight divisions has been his speed. It magnifies his power and, by using his great footwork, he creates angles where his opponents either don’t expect to be hit from or simply can’t do enough to stop it. We only need to look at his sustained beat down of Miguel Cotto to see that, although he was the smaller fighter, he was still the one coming forward and appeared stronger throughout. Margarito has trouble with guys who can box and move, as shown in the first half of his bouts with Paul Williams and Cotto. Albeit, “The Punisher” is much taller, which would make boxing easier, however Pacquiao is twice as fast with far better footwork. And, although Pacquiao began as a pure puncher, under the tutelage of Freddie Roach, his boxing skills are very well rounded.
On top of his speed, Pac’s stamina makes him an absolute buzzsaw who fights just as furiously in the last round as he did in the opening. He is straight going after you son. In his last bout, against a covering Joshua Clottey, Pacquiao could have easily tapered off his attack and simply won rounds due to activity. This was not to be as “The Pac Man” threw over 1,200 punches endlessly trying to get him out of there.
Pacquiao also has the greater activity of late, fighting three guys (in Clottey, Cotto and Hatton) who were considered in the top five of their division at the time. In each case, he completely dominated them (especially his dicknailing of Ricky Hatton) without them so much as causing Pacquiao any type of concern.
Since being voted into a congressman in his native Philippines, Pacquiao has had to try and balance his responsibilities as a statesman with his career as a professional fighter. A lot of the talk coming directly out of the Pacquiao camp, is that Pacquiao has been distracted and not looking nearly in the form that he exhibited in previous camps.
Even though Pacquiao performed admirably against a large welter in the form of Joshua Clottey and stopped Oscar De La Hoya, he still hasn’t had anyone of size that brings the fight to him. This is EXACTLY what Margarito will do and we really haven’t seen Pacquiao have to fight going backwards in, well, as long as anyone can remember.
Compounding this is the fact that Pacquiao has never fought at a weight as high as 150, which is a lot of have to pack on a 5’6 ½’’ frame. So we don’t really know what that extra weight will do to his speed. He is certainly a small welterweight and hasn’t really fought a natural welter who will bring the fight to him. Now, he is fighting a natural 154 pounder who only knows how to bring the fight to you.
Antonio “The Tijuana Tornado” Margarito (38-6, 27 KOs)
Don’t expect anything fancy from Margarito, just for him to come at you. Guys have tried to box him, guys have tried to punch him but, with exception of Sugar Shane (and that bout must be viewed with an asterisks), nobody has been effective at keeping him off. Miguel Cotto boxed well for 5 rounds before Margarito was able to walk him down and simply break his will. Let me make this clear, Margarito broke Cotto with his pressure. To the point where Cotto twice took knees in order to stop the constant barrage that he was being put under.
Margarito’s chin has also been one of the best in the business. His knockout loss to Shane Mosley (probably) also had something to do with the fact that he, before the fight, had been busted with illegal handwraps. Facing the certainty of a (possible lifetime) ban, it is more than probably than he was completely distracted. Otherwise, he has simply walked through punchers such as Cotto, Kermit Cintron and Paul Williams without being in the faintest bit of trouble. Even though Pacquiao is a great puncher, he is small compared to what Margarito has been dealing with previously.
Further to this, Margarito was a large welter who really had to cut down to make 147. Expect him to be a lot stronger at 150 and he looks to be in fantastic condition. The only real concern is that he has overtrained for the bout.
A slow starter, Margarito has been known to give away the first half of the fights before his punch output accelerates. In the first round of the Cotto fight, Margarito threw 57 punches. By the ninth, he was throwing about 100 punches per round (including an incredible 130 shots in the seventh). He also holds the compubox record for punches thrown with 1,675 against Joshua Clotty but, as Shane Mosley has shown, if you attack him early (and to the body) you have a chance of getting him out of there.
Margarito has the hand and foot speed of an Egyptian mummy. He isn’t about to box you, will stand right in front of you and he should have a massive problem against a guy who has respectable power and can keep him on the move. It must also be noted that Margarito telegraphs his punches and anyone who can move effectively with decent hand speed, SHOULD be able to win the exchange before the “Tijuana Tornado” has even uncorked a shot.
Going back to the handwrap scandal, we must also speculate that this was a strategy employed by Margarito for the entirety of his career. Certainly, what he did to Cotto was inhuman and only adds fuel to the fire as well as the fact the Margarito seems to get stronger (as the plaster hardens) as the fight progresses. At this point, it is difficult to give Margarito credit for any of the wins he has accumulated and this fight will be the ultimate litmus test. The subsequent long layoff, due to suspension, should factor as Margarito has only one fight in close to two years in looking relatively unimpressve against C-list opposition Robert Garcia. This ring rust could be disastrous, as Pacquiao is likely to start fast and not let up.
My early draft of this read ‘Margarito KO’, and this is hard to deny. He is bigger, stronger, in shape and seemingly impossible for a guy Pacquiao’s size to keep off. BUT, much of Margarito’s career has been tarnished by the handwrap scandal – which looks to be a completely logical explanation for his performances. Even though Margarito is in shape, it is entirely possible that he has overtrained (and Manny has undertrained). Pacquiao should be able to pile up points early, move his way around the ring and use his hand speed to offset the oncoming pressure from Margarito (which will be great in the later rounds) on his way to a clear decision win.