By T.K. Stewart
NEW YORK – Frank Sinatra said if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. Tomorrow night against Miguel Cotto inside the ring at Madison Square Garden, Joshua Clottey gets his chance to make it.
In this melting pot of a city that is filled with equal parts of ego and ambition, Clottey via Accra, Ghana via the Bronx is putting everything he has fought for over the past 14 years on the line. He will do so against Cotto, arguably the world's best welterweight.
Clottey will have to overcome long odds, an arena that will be filled to the rafters with Cotto supporters and the lingering doubt of those in the know that think he may come up empty handed when he makes the big grab for the brass ring.
To be clear, the night is all about Miguel Cotto. His appearances in the big room at the Garden on the eve of the city's annual Puerto Rican Day Parade are designed as a showcase. It is Cotto that has fought here in the main event five times and five times he has come up a winner. With a record of 33-1, 27 knockouts and with the only loss coming last summer at the tainted hands of Antonio Margarito, Cotto is on the precipice of mega-fights against Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather, Jr.
But Joshua Clottey, who turned pro in the dusty rings of the Ivory Coast in West Africa, cut his fistic teeth in England and then hopped a flight to the United States in 2003 to live out his dream as a champion prizefighter - doesn't think much about what it is Cotto can do and what Cotto has done. His thoughts are about a world that will be filled with endless possibilities should he manage to spoil the best laid plans of promoter Bob Arum and his men.
That Joshua Clottey is even here, on this stage, is an accomplishment in itself. A great number of his countrymen scrape out a meager existence in squalid conditions and they subsist on about a dollar per day. He has fought through problems with managers, promoters and injured hands to get here and he is of the mindset that all of that simply prepared him for tomorrow night.
“To be frank with you, this is the opportunity in which I will never allow anything to slip away from me,” said an animated Clottey through his thick African accent. “I really want to fight with Miguel Cotto and that is what boxing is supposed to be all about – the best fighting the best.”
Even though the 32-year old Clottey has been a world-class and highly ranked fighter for the past few years he has not always had an easy time in coaxing other fighters into the ring with him. He has a busy, come ahead style and he holds his hands and arms in such a way that makes him difficult to hit. He likes to punch when his opponent stops punching and he has a sturdy chin that allows him to take the chances he needs to take. In his long career, he has only lost twice, a disputed disqualification to former welterweight champ Carlos Baldomir and to Cotto's arch-nemesis, Margarito.
It's the Margarito fight that he wishes he could do over again. He did well early in the bout but ended up injuring both hands and dropping a competitive unanimous decision. Margarito steered clear of him and moved on to bigger things and Clottey bristles with the fact that he didn't receive the opportunity for a rematch.
“My hands are good now,” he says as he thinks about what might have been against Margarito. “If I were to fight Margarito again it would be a different story because I am a much better fighter now. But in this fight, I want it so much, that even if something was wrong with my hands, I would still fight.”
Clottey has been in a long training camp for this fight, squeezed his body down to a low weight early on and he did it because he knows a win means everything for him. He has also spent a great deal of time thinking about the style Cotto will implement and he feels that the Puerto Rican bomber may turn into a runner.
“I know that Miguel Cotto is a good fighter,” surmises Clottey as he puts his chin in his right hand. “But if he tries to fight me with the same styles he has fought with other fighters, it is going to hurt him. I think the problem that I'm going to have tomorrow night is Cotto coming to the ring and actually fighting me.”
Clottey thinks that Cotto may turn into a mover against him, similar to what he did with Antonio Margarito in the early rounds.
“Look, I have no idea what style he is going to use against me. In his last fight [a 5th round kayo win over Michael Jennings] he was very cool and calm. I don't know if that will work against me to be honest with you. But if he runs like he did against Margarito, then there is going to be a problem for him, because I'm not going to allow him to run away from me, you understand? Maybe he will come to trade punches.”
Cotto is the betting favorite to win on Saturday night, but none of that comes as a surprise to a man that fought his first pro fight in Accra, Ghana. “He's the champion, so he's the favorite,” says Clottey.
But even if Clottey loses tomorrow, in a way, he has already won. None who were spectators on that night in Africa when Clottey turned pro could have ever predicted that the 18-year old Clottey would find himself here, in New York, on a world stage, 14 years later. He has beaten big names such as Diego Corrales and Zab Judah and he did manage to win the IBF welterweight title against Judah.
For his part, Clottey claims he doesn't spend the time in his life thinking about the past or things he has no control over. However, what he says he does have control over is what will happen inside the ring tomorrow night in the building that is known simply as “The World's Most Famous Arena.”
“I think about my boxing career more than anyone else,” he says. “I have always just wanted to fight the best. Today, they say that Miguel Cotto is the best, but we will see, we will see. Even if I am going to lose he will have to fight me to make it happen and that's all I ever wanted. I want the best from my opponent. But I will tell you this, he will have to fight me to beat me.”
In speaking to Clottey, you realize there is a certain calmness about him. He has a lifetime of experience and he has the patience to have waited this long for his big shot. Despite a career filled with disappointments, injuries and near misses none of it has broken him down.
“You know something?” he asks. “I feel something inside of me when I am hitting a guy. But you know if you don't finish the job, the job will finish you.”
And for Joshua Clottey, the job isn't quite finished.
In the Corners
I'm a bit surprised that Paulie Malignaggi decided to sign for the fight against Juan Diaz. I witnessed Malignaggi's most recent performance on the Froch vs. Taylor undercard at Foxwoods. Malignaggi faced Chris Fernandez, a club fighter from Salt Lake City. The feather-fisted Malignaggi couldn't so much as knock the dust off Fernandez – who had previously been knocked out five times. Add to that the fact that Fernandez, who had a grand total of 9 knockouts, badly rocked Malignaggi in the sixth round with a right-left combination that had “The Magic Man” holding on and you've got to figure that Juan Diaz is going to tear through him like, as Kid Rock would say, “a twister through a trailer.”...Unlike some other boxing scribes, I don't have a problem with Mike Tyson getting married two weeks after the untimely death of his daughter. Life is short and Mike Tyson likely realizes that better than anybody. A death of a family member will make you do things that you've been putting off for a while because it makes you understand that any day could be your last amongst the living – so why procrastinate? I'm happy for Tyson in that he has somebody that will be there for him in a time such as this...You've got to hand it to both Wladimir Klitschko and Ruslan Chagaev who decided to fight one another on such short notice. This is the best outcome that boxing fans could have hoped for. Also big-ups to ESPN for doing what HBO and Showtime wouldn't – or couldn't.
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