By Cliff Rold
Scanning the headlines around the boxing news wires, the impact of last Saturday’s Miguel Cotto-Joshua Clottey fight is vibrant in the rhetoric. The victor, Cotto (34-1, 27 KO), retained his WBO belt in his latest war. His promoter, Bob Arum, has made clear what he’d like to see for his man.
Golden Boy Promotions front man Richard Schaefer has added his own name to the headlines, looking the same direction as Arum but with his charge, WBA titlist Shane Mosley (46-5, 39 KO), as the man for the job.
The postponement of what was to be July’s Floyd Mayweather-Juan Manuel Marquez clash, following a training injury to Mayweather, makes the urgency of Arum and Schafer’s desires more pointed. The fall of 2009 will be here before long and the options for big money will be limited if Mayweather-Marquez is officially rescheduled.
The biggest money hopes for both Mosley and Cotto clearly ride on World Jr. Welterweight champion Manny Pacquiao (49-3-2, 37 KO).
Pacquiao versus either Mosley or Cotto is worth looking forward to, even salivating over, on name value alone. There is a red flag though.
Prior to the opening bell of Cotto-Clottey, the scenario was pretty much the same as it is now. Mosley and Cotto were being tossed about as Pacquiao options and the noise coming from associates of the Pacquiao camp usually involved a word which, in this case, is nothing to be fired up about.
Catchweight fights are nothing new. While some high profile encounters like Bernard Hopkins versus Winky Wright (2007) and Kelly Pavlik (2008) got a lot of attention because of the scales, fighters regularly agree on weights which aren’t strictly defined by the seventeen defined weight classes available.
In a clash featuring a reigning Jr. Welterweight and Welterweight champion, we don’t have to look far back in history to find a catchweight in a big event. In 1993, Pernell Whitaker and Julio Cesar Chavez agreed to meet no higher than 145. It didn’t affect the welterweight in the scenario as Whitaker went out and clowned Chavez regardless of the draw scores which resulted. Whitaker, a former Lightweight champion, was forced to shave little more than a pound from his previous bout against Buddy McGirt and had, in fact, been a Jr. Welterweight himself little more than a year earlier.
The weight was no issue then.
Cotto and Mosley are not in the same boat. Mosley, since leaving the Lightweight division in 1999, has weighed as much as 154 lbs. and no less than 146. Cotto, since leaving Jr. Welterweight in 2006, has also not come in any lower than 146. Catchweights anywhere from 142-144 have been bandied about for either man to face Pacquiao with varying degrees of reliability and seriousness.
None should be seriously considered. In this case, with these fighters, only one number should matter.
That is the Welterweight limit. It has been for a century. For Pacquiao, who ten years ago at age 20 was the reigning Flyweight (112 lb.) champion of the World, competing as high on the scale as he is at the World championship level is astounding. He doesn’t need to beat Welterweights to prove anything.
However, given what he has done to date, it would be a disservice to the fans, to Pacquiao, and to Cotto or Mosley, to risk scenarios where anyone was not at their physical best. Were extra shaved pounds to deplete Cotto or Mosley physically from the best they could be on fight night, what would be the point?
Having seen Pacquiao pancake Ricky Hatton at 140 with little problem, and witnessing him weighing a Welterweight 142 for his toppling of Oscar De La Hoya, it is obvious he can be dangerous in either class.
It has become fashionable, by this scribe and others, to find comparisons between what Pacquiao is doing and what men of the past like Henry Armstrong and Tony Canzoneri did in their day. What must be noted is that Armstrong and Canzoneri did it straight up.
When he defeated Ross for the Welterweight title in 1938, the then-reigning Featherweight champion Armstrong weighed 133 ½ while Ross weighed 142. Armstrong ran him over. In defense of the title in 1938, and later challenging for the Middleweight title in 1940, against the excellent Ceferino Garcia, Armstrong gave up 12 ½ and 11 ½ pounds respectively. Disputed draw or not in the latter bout, Armstrong dominated on both nights.
Canzoneri, shorter and with less reach than Pacquiao and between winning world titles in three weight classes, went from unsuccessfully challenging for the Bantamweight (118 lb.) title in 1927 to splitting a pair of brawls with former Welterweight champion Jimmy McLarnin in 1936. He gave up 6 ½ and 8 pounds in those bouts latter bouts.
Astute modern observers could make the case for today’s day before fight weigh-ins, and the chance to add even more weight overnight, as a rationale for catch weights in a Pacquiao-Cotto or Pacquiao-Mosley face off. Those observations can be countered by recalling that the greatest of them all, Ray Robinson, gave up 15 ½ to challenge Joey Maxim for the Light Heavyweight crown in 1952. Barring a freakish in-ring temperature, he would have left with the throne.
It can be assumed any 2009 arena Pacquiao will fight in comes fully equipped with central air.
Even with overnight rehydration in today’s game, it would be unlikely for the weight difference Pacquiao would face to be any larger than what Robinson faced with Maxim. Let’s not even get into the great Sam Langford; standing a stocky 5’6 ½, he regularly gave up twenty pounds and more to talented Hall of Fame Heavyweights like Harry Wills, Joe Jeanette and Sam McVea and found ways to win.
Pacquiao may not have asked for the comparisons with the immortals but they are there. He has the opportunity to be one of the rare modern fighters to hang his name, if not right alongside, within the area code of the immortals mentioned. To make it stick, than when he decides to take a risk it cannot come with caveats. The immortals didn’t quibble about weight. They just made sure they weighed enough to win.
Victories over potentially weakened versions of Mosley and Cotto would further Pacquiao’s clout at the box office but there would always be a question mark, a dark cloud, under those conditions. Were Pacquiao to get either bout under the most favorable conditions possible, and still leave defeated, his reputation could suffer even more than the normal imposition of the sting of defeat.
Money only lasts as long as it can be spent. History lasts forever. It must be fully earned. To pull that off, challenging either of the two best Welterweights in the world should mean fights at the Welterweight limit. If Team Pacquiao doesn’t feel like their man can pull the feat off, if they feel the risk is too much, than they should make their business elsewhere on the scale.
Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org