Bad Left Hook Fight Preview: Manny Pacquiao v. Antonio Margarito

By now you know the storylines. You know about the plaster elements, you know about Margarito's continual ignorance to anything around him (his team's words, not mine), you know about Pacquiao's troubled oh wait now it's not troubled camp, you know about the singing on Jimmy Kimmel Live and the Congressman Pacquiao and the new camp for Troubled Tony and everything else.

So here's a new spin: Let's talk about their fight.

Junior Middleweights (151-lb. Catchweight), 12 Rounds
Manny Pacquiao v. Antonio Margarito

A couple of years ago, Manny Pacquiao went from hardcore boxing fan favorite to global boxing icon, the biggest face and name in the world of boxing (not just the U.S., but the world). He has been the subject of much non-boxing media fawning and appeal. Hell, this week he was featured on "60 Minutes."

This is because Pacquiao is all things to all stripes of boxing fan. He's a gentleman. He's a character who isn't afraid to cut loose and have fun. There is an air of mystery to his soft-spoken humble nature; unlike almost every fighter of his generation, Pacquiao does not get angry in front of cameras. Even Oscar de la Hoya, the handsome "Golden Boy" who kept boxing commercially viable in the United States during some truly dull years, would put on a forced scowl and act like every other fight was "personal this time." To Pacquiao, it's a job and a passion. He walks the aisle before his fights grinning ear-to-ear, seemingly in awe of his own events. He fights for the people, he says, and for once you can actually believe it's not simply about money. And when the bell rings, he's a stone cold killer.

Pacquiao became that global icon the night he faced Oscar, not just beating him, but embarrassing and flat-out annihilating the former Olympic gold medalist and multi-weight titleholder. The torch was clearly passed that night, as a tired, drained, befuddled de la Hoya slumped on his stool in the corner and trudged back into three minutes of assault, until finally after eight alarmingly one-sided rounds, he walked over to Pacquiao, congratulated his foe, and conceded a fight that many felt would be the mismatch it became -- except it was supposed to go the other way.

Since then, Pacquiao has become one of the hottest names in sports. With a crushing two-round knockout of Ricky Hatton, a domination of a game and very talented Miguel Cotto, and a disappointingly easy decision win over Joshua Clottey, Pacquiao has gone from flyweight (112 lbs.) world champion in 1998 to a man who has claimed a title of note as a super bantamweight (122), featherweight (126), super featherweight (130), lightweight (135), junior welterweight (140) and welterweight (147). Against Margarito, he'll try to tack on an eighth major title in a new division, though it cannot be overstated how shady the title aspect of this fight is. Margarito and Pacquiao will be fighting with an agreed-upon catchweight of 151 pounds, three pounds short of the junior middleweight limit. That in and of itself is not as big a deal as the fact that the WBC is putting its vacant belt up, a typical biased move that benefits either a favored Mexican son (Margarito) or a money machine who has never stepped foot in the division (Pacquiao). I don't even know if Pacquiao has weighed 150 pounds a single day in his life.

As far as the fight itself goes, the most compelling story is the size difference. This is not Miguel Cotto (5'7", 67" reach) or Ricky Hatton (5'7", 65"). Pacquiao (5'6", 67") is not in the same zip code as Antonio Margarito (5'11", 73"). Margarito is a sturdy junior middleweight and was a massive welterweight, which is where much of his success in boxing has come from, along with his formerly-unbreakable chin. Pacquiao will be at the biggest size disadvantage of his incredible, Hall of Fame-bound career.

Of course, similar size did not help Oscar (5'10", 73"), who was overwhelmed mostly by the Filipino's speed, and seemed to feel a bit more power than he expected, to boot. Pacquiao, giving him four inches of height and plenty of reach, made a once-great fighter look foolish. And while Oscar was undeniably past his prime and didn't deal well with returning to welterweight for the first time in years, I would argue that even that version of Oscar de la Hoya was faster of hand and foot than Margarito, who is about as slow as a top-level fighter gets.

It's an issue of speed, most likely. Pacquiao has it in bunches. Margarito has almost none. In his last noteworthy fight, Margarito made an aged Shane Mosley look incredibly fast, and if you go back and look at that tape, Mosley wasn't even trying to put on some sort of speed display. He simply bullied and battered Margarito. Pacquiao won't be able to do what Mosley did; he's not big or physically strong enough to bully Margarito, and Mosley himself seemed prepared to simply walk through anything Margarito might be able to land in return. Manny can't do that, either. But he can use his speed. The 2010 version of Pacquiao is much faster than the 2009 version of Mosley, and he's a southpaw who uses his feet a lot better than Mosley has in the latter stages of his career. Essentially, Shane Mosley has turned into a brawler over his career, and was definitely one by the time he fought Margarito. Pacquiao has more range in his game than that, and even counting the big size advantage, this is a bad matchup for Margarito.

Grading the Fighters

PACQUIAO   MARGARITO
B+ Punching Power B+
A- Hand Speed D+
B Defense C-
B Punch Resistance
B+
A+ Heart B+

I rate them the same for punching power. Margarito is physically stronger, probably, and definitely bigger. But what you can't land on your opponent isn't of much importance, and Margarito is going to really struggle to hit Pacquiao. It would be easy to say that Margarito should box from the outside and use long right hands and left hooks, but Pacquiao is too quick to let him do that easily. Pacquiao would have to be hurt first, knocked off his game, and maybe even a bit desperate to let Margarito use his range properly. Expect Pacquiao to dart in and out, unleash combinations, and look to crack Margarito's chin. Pacquiao's power adds up, even up at these high weights for him, and he has the sort of timing to crack even harder than his pure physical power might dictate.

I'm going to skip a couple of these, but I'll make quick comments: Margarito has terrible hand speed and his defense sucks. His defense has always been his chin. So let's talk chins. I rate Margarito higher, but with an asterisk (hey! Margarito and an asterisk!). I do not think he has a phenomenal chin anymore. Shane Mosley beat him from pillar to post, and once guys start losing the ability to resist punches, they don't get it back. I also said earlier this week in the Boxing Bulletin blogger roundtable that I feel as though the half-legendary, half-notorious fight with Miguel Cotto set that in motion. The punishment Margarito took in that fight was astounding, and because he came back into it to beat Cotto down in the end, that is often overlooked. Compared to the Mosley fight, which was a one-way beatdown, Margarito didn't really take less punishment against Cotto, he just survived it. With Mosley, he was not the fighter he was in the Cotto fight. You can blame mental issues (which would be his own fault) or the weight problems he was supposedly suffering before the fight, but he was not the same. I am inclined to believe that he simply has taken too much punishment to rate higher than a B+ on the chin scale anymore.

As for Manny's chin, it's good but not amazing. Though he has thrashed his opposition at 140 and higher, there have been those rare moments where he gets hit, and you can tell Pacquiao feels the power. These guys aren't featherweights hitting him these days, and now he's facing the biggest to date. Is Margarito the best pure puncher of them all? Yeah, probably. Clottey's power has always been overrated for some bizarre reason I've never been able to figure out, and Cotto and Hatton aren't Margarito-strong. If Manny gets hit hard, this could turn on a dime. I don't think there's any denying that.

Star Power

Relevance:

Say what you will about how you're four-square against it, but this fight is huge on the overall boxing landscape. What happens in this fight determines where the next big event comes from, and who's in it. If Pacquiao wins, of course the Pacquiao-Mayweather (or is it Mayweather-Pacquiao this week?) talk begins again. But if Margarito wins, a whole lot of things open up. There'd be talk of a rematch. There'd be talk of a rematch with Mosley, or talk of a rematch with Cotto. (Cotto, by the way, seems the most likely next opponent for whomever wins this fight, or at least that's my instinct.) And it would be the biggest win of Margarito's career. A Pacquiao victory is not earth-shattering, or even unexpected, but a loss could mean any number of things for him. He has said this week that despite the usual chatter, this will not be his last fight. But I think we can guess that right now, he's prepared to leave victorious.

But all the future aside, this is a huge event and has an outside chance of being the biggest fight of 2010, though I suspect it's unlikely to beat Mayweather-Mosley on pay-per-view sales.

Good Fight Potential:

Say what you will about Margarito being this or that, but for the most part his career has been pretty exciting to watch. Even when he got smoked by Mosley, it came in an entertaining fashion. I don't think this fight can be bad, really. The Pacquiao-Clottey fight was bad, but Clottey has always been a stink-out artist whose most entertaining fights have come seemingly by accident. If Margarito is going to lose, he won't do it quietly.

Overall Pre-Fight Score:

Now you can say what you will and I'm all ears. Its relevance to boxing and the fact that it should at least be entertaining enough to watch keeps it up here, but my God in heaven does this fight reek from every other standpoint. Margarito doesn't deserve this fight. He hasn't won a fight that mattered in over two years. And then there's all the other stuff. You know, the disgrace to his sport stuff. That stuff. This is a pure money grab for everyone BUT Margarito, who is going to make big bucks but is also looking to re-establish himself as a legitimate fighter.

Prediction

I might be wrong, as anyone might be trying to pick a fight, but I don't think this is going to be particularly competitive. I look for Pacquiao to employ his speed, timing, and masterful use of angles to completely overwhelm and systematically destroy Margarito, who used to be like the Terminator but now I suspect is more like Arnold in Terminator 3 with all the wrinkles and bad jokes. No longer could you believe in his mechanical badassery, because the times they had a-changed, and he just wasn't who he was before. If Margarito wins this fight, it will be because he's the first man in a good while to land a huge shot on Pacquiao. The last time Manny took many clean blows was his 2008 rematch with Juan Manuel Marquez, which now seems like a dog's age in the past, and was at 130 pounds. Margarito has a puncher's chance and that's it. I don't think he's good enough to capitalize on the advantages he has, or good enough to keep Pacquiao from utilizing the advantages that Pacquiao has. Pacquaio TKO-9

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