By Mike Coppinger
Former welterweight champion Joshua Clottey has been incognito ever since his uninspiring effort against Manny Pacquiao in March 2010.
Rumors of his prolonged hiatus from the squared-circle ranged from being content with his hefty purse from the “Pacman” bout to not having the desire to train any longer.
For the first time since his loss to Pacquiao, Clottey spoke at length, breaking his silence of over 16 months, stating “I just wasn’t ready to answer questions before.”
Clottey, who was schedule to return in March versus Calvin Green before pulling out with a wrist injury, maintains he simply was taking some time off, waiting for the right fight to come along.
“I can fight at any time,” Clottey exclaimed. “My lawyer has been talking to Top Rank about me getting back in the ring, because you see I’m sick and tired of people calling me asking me, ‘When are you going to fight, when are you not going to fight?’ My fans worry about me, when I’m going to return to the ring… and I’m going to return to the ring.”
Top Rank Vice President of Operations Carl Moretti sees a November or December return for Clottey, where Top Rank will assess the fighter and make plans for his future.
“First he needs to get back in the ring, which will happen between now and the end of the year,” said Moretti. “Then we’ll just evaluate from there what’s going to be available. He’s got an uphill battle right now.”
Clottey is ready for the challenge though, insisting that money isn’t an issue.
“I’m ready to return to the ring, now it’s up to the promoters because I’m waiting for them to give me a decent fight. I think [manager Vinny Scolpino] has to let me just do my thing. I’m not saying that I need all the money, but it needs to be fair. It’s not good that he’s going to call me and offer me low money, I’m not ready for that.”
The Bronx, N.Y. resident will be moving up to junior middleweight when his layoff finally comes to an end. He hopes to return to the ring in a tune-up bout before the end of the year, before possibly challenging the winner of the rematch between Miguel Cotto and Antonio Margarito, two fighters with whom he’s quite familiar.
“When I was at 147, I struggled a lot to make the weight,” said Clottey, a big welterweight who once unofficially weighed in at 170 on fight night. “So sometimes the weight killed me before I got to the ring. Because of the warrior I am, I always do my best. This time, I’m moving up to 154 and it’s going to be a new story.
“If you look at me, I’m big from head to toe. My legs are so big. Even at 154, I still have to make weight, but I’m going to struggle myself like at 147.”
The one fight Clottey (35-4, 20 KOs) wants is a rematch of his controversial June ’09 clash with Cotto, a split decision loss which many observers felt should’ve went the other way.
“One tune-up fight, two tune-up fights for me, I will be there and fight the best,” Clottey said. ”I want a fight with Miguel Cotto because we have unfinished business. We need to fight again because our first fight they robbed me. I won the fight, they robbed me, so I need to get my revenge.”
Climbing the Ranks
Clottey, 30, entered the public consciousness in 2006, making his HBO debut with a majority decision victory over Richard Gutierrez.
The Accra, Ghana native impressed boxing pundits with his excellent defense – a tight guard held high in the mold of “Winky” Wright – and his toughness and size.
Clottey followed up that win with a loss to Antonio Margarito on Showtime, a fight in which “The Grand Master” was faring quite well until a hand injury suffered in the fourth round. Clottey ended up losing on points to the Mexican pressure fighter, but he was right back in the mix in his next outing.
“If not for my hand, I would have won the fight,” said Clottey.
His next bout was also on Showtime, Diego “Chico” Corrales’ first fight above 140 – and the late fighter’s final ring appearance. Clottey thoroughly dominated Corrales from the onset, battering his foe throughout the duration of the 10-round bout. Clottey even dropped Corrales in each of the last two rounds, but couldn’t finish him. Nonetheless, the statement was made – Clottey was a force to be reckoned with in the welterweight division.
In August 2008, Clottey authored the biggest win of his career, a nine-round technical decision victory over Zab Judah on HBO’s Boxing After Dark, netting him his first title.
The bout was a grueling toe-to-toe affair. Clottey weathered Judah’s offensive onslaught and began to impose his will as the fight progressed. Judah eventually bowed out due to a nasty gash from a punch, although the referee incorrectly ruled it was from a clash of the heads. So it went to the cards, Clottey pulling off the close victory.
What should’ve been a momentum builder instead turned into a10-month hiatus. Clottey rode the pine until his June ’09 showdown with Cotto at Madison Square Garden, a bout which saw Clottey rise off the canvas in the first round. The fight was a back-and-forth encounter, with many rounds hard to score. Ultimately, Cotto was deemed the victor, although it’s a fight that warrants a rematch.
New Weight Class and Mindset
Clottey has been criticized in the past for not letting his hands go, content to stay in his defensive shell and rip uppercuts. His lack of offense can be attributed to many of his losses, something he plans to change upon his return to the ring.
“Right now everything is going good with my new trainer, he’s teaching me a lot about offense,” Clottey said. “He’s a good trainer, everything is going good. I can’t wait to get to the ring and show the people not to write me off because of the Pacquiao fight. If I’m throwing my hands, nobody’s going to beat me. Me and my trainer are working on that. “
Athough Clottey hasn’t fought in over 16 months, he remains in top physical condition, with a regiment that includes daily runs.
The trick is getting back into boxing shape, as he’s been absent from the gym while awaiting his next assigment.
“I’m always in shape, I’ve been jogging,” Clottey said. “I’m expecting to have my tune-up fight before the year closes. I just need two months, so that I can fly my trainer to U.S., he’s in Africa. I want to be a champion at 154 in 2012.”
Fight with Pacquiao
Clottey’s last bout came against the great Pacquiao in March ‘10, a fight that came about only after negotiations between Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather famously crashed and burned. While boxing lost in the aftermath in the biggest fight in boxing history not happening, Clottey turned out to be a huge winner, receiving by far his biggest payday and a chance to dethrone Pacquiao.
The big payday was the closest Clottey came to victory. The Ghanaian was thoroughly dominated, remaining stuck in a defensive shell for the vast majority of the bout, more content to cover up than let his hands go. He received massive criticism for the effort, with many fans and observers claiming he just showed up for a paycheck.
As the fight was put together at the last minute – finalized in January for a March date – Clottey had little time to prepare among many problems in his camp. His trainer had visa problems, forcing him to use Lenny DeJesus for the bout.
“I went to training camp for only three weeks,” said Clottey. “[DeJesus] is not my trainer, he’s my cut man. You go to training camp for only three weeks for Pacquiao, it’s not going to be easy. The world’s pound-for-pound number one fighter. It was very short notice. He had speed and I couldn’t utilize my gameplan.
“It’s not like I’m making excuses, I lost to Pacquiao. He’s very dangerous, I lose that fight. I took the fight on short notice because I’m a warrior. If I win, I get the big fights like with Mayweather. But I didn’t have time to prepare. For Cotto and Margarito, I had months to prepare.
“But that is not the end of Joshua,” said Clottey. “I want everybody to understand that they shouldn’t just look at the Pacquiao fight, they should look at my past fights. My fight with Margarito, my fight with Cotto, my fight with Diego Corrales, my fight with Zab Judah.
“I really miss the ring, I really want to fight. I want the fans to know that they shouldn’t write me off because of the Pacquiao fight.”
Besides the Cotto-Margarito winner, there’s one more name Clottey would love to add to his resume.
“I remember when they made the fight with Pacquiao, everyone said he’s going to beat me easy,” Clottey recalled. “They should give me to Canelo [Alvarez] and see if Canelo is going to beat me easy. I’m going to wear him down if they give me the chance.”
Clottey is ready for the second act of his career to begin, seven pounds north at 154.
“Those guys at 154, I’m going to beat all of them if they give me a chance,” said Clottey. “I’m really here to be something.”
Mike Coppinger is a regular boxing freelancer for USA TODAY and Ring Magazine. He’s a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America, the Ring Ratings Advisory Panel and the Yahoo! Sports Boxing Panel. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeCoppinger.