So continues our marathon coverage of one of the biggest fights of 2010, Manny Pacquiao-Antonio Margarito on Nov. 13. Before: the debate over purchasing the pay-per-view; the stakes of the bout; and keys to the fight, part I. Next: the final preview and prediction.
Mind. Matter. How do Manny Pacquiao and Antonio Margarito stack up in those categories? In the second of two parts, we compare their more mental attributes.
(The Francis Scott Keys to the fight)
Offense. After years of evolving and improving his game, Pacquiao has things pretty finely honed at this juncture. It began with the 1-2, then the double jab/straight left. Then he added in the right hook. Then, improved body punching. Then he started sharpening his uppercut. Then came the unbelievable left hook that finished Hatton. All of this offense occurs in rapid fire combination.
If you were going to complain about anything, you might note that his jab is not much of a weapon by itself, and that his punches sometimes are a bit wide. But the unconventional nature of his offense is the thing — aside from his speed — that people have been complaining about when facing Pacquiao. He’ll hit you with a fast punch then a change-up then fast again. And the arcs of those punches are weird and varied, plus come from a southpaw stance that everyone hates to face. The punch you can’t see, the old saw goes, is the one that knocks you out. It’s hard to predict what Pacquiao is going to do, what angle it’s going to come from.
Margarito’s body attack and his uppercuts stand out, more than anything. He’s a giant fighter with an inside fighter’s game. His long jab has never been much to write home about, although it’s shown flashes, and it’s clear from the Garcia fight he’s been working on it and that it will be a point of emphasis against the smaller man. His main offensive quality is volume with both hands. But as awkward as Pacquiao’s offense is sometimes, Margarito’s has been, for the bulk of his career, more awkward, and not in a good way. His wide punches, combined with his subpar (to be generous) hand speed, make it easy to counter him or beat him to the punch, although Margarito has been working on shrinking the distance between throw and land.
Margarito’s a pretty good offensive fighter despite his limitations. Pacquiao’s just much better, maybe the premier offensive fighter in the game. Edge: Pacquiao.
Defense. Pacquiao has some. Margarito has none.
Pacquiao used to be bad on defense, but he’s much better, even actively good. He keeps his gloves up better than he used to, and, most importantly, he darts in and out before anyone can do anything about it. He got marked up against Miguel Cotto and Joshua Clottey, but part of that was by choice. Pacquiao decided he wanted to test Cotto’s power for some macho reason. Against Clottey, the idea was to stay in the pocket, get Clottey to open up his offense then counter.
Margarito displayed at least some attention to defense against Garcia, trying to use his height to manage distance. It was the first time I’d even seen him try. His defense is his offense combined with the fact that, in every case but one — two fights ago against Shane Mosley — his chin could take it. He doesn’t move his head, he squares up and he doesn’t block anything.
Maybe his defense will be a bit better against Pacquiao because of Margarito’s new trainer as of the Garcia bout, but it’s a bigger reclamation project than Mel Gibson’s reputation. Even improved, it should be a good deal less than passible. Edge: Pacquiao.
Intelligence. Pacquiao has shown greater capacity to learn and adapt over his career than has Margarito, although the majority of the credit for what he has learned has to go to Freddie Roach, one of the best trainers of all time. Offensively and defensively, Pacquiao has been a sponge.
Tactically, Roach has often pinpointed the precise flaws in Pacquiao’s opponent and Pacquiao has executed to perfection. For this fight, Roach is talking about Pacquiao’s uppercut, right hand and speed, although surely he sees something Margarito does that Pacquiao will exploit but that Roach is keeping up his sleeve for now. There’s a great deal of versatility available to Pacquiao: The version that beat Clottey did it with sheer volume, the best method against the conservative Clottey; the version that beat the taller Oscar De La Hoya did it from the outside, not usually the best method for a smaller fighter to win. Pacquiao, however, still has never shown much capacity to innovate or adapt within a fight; if somebody is doing something to him and it works, it probably will keep working.
It’s not fair to say Margarito isn’t a smart fighter because intelligence has never figured into it. It would be like trying to assess the intelligence of a rock — but a rock can cause some real harm. Margarito clubs and clubs and clubs until it does the trick. That said, having new trainer Robert Garcia in his corner adds some intelligence to the approach. Previous trainer Javier Capetillo is better-known for getting his fighters into ridiculously good shape than as a tactical thinker. Garcia said he sees flaws in Pacquiao’s style that Margarito will expose.
Roach and Garcia squared off in Margarito’s last fight, but whatever Margarito does or doesn’t have left, Garcia still had the better, more accomplished horse than the journeyman Roach was training. Garcia — who’s building a rep as a good trainer — gives Margarito a boost, but Margarito isn’t going to become a thinking man’s boxer overnight and the Pacquiao-Roach combination has approached genius. Edge: Pacquiao.
Willpower. There’s no quit in either of these men that I’ve ever seen. If anything, they both have a bit too much heart for their own good, as with Pacquiao’s needlessly, foolishly fearless early stand against Cotto and the very nature of Margarito’s style, a kind that leads to shortened careers and lives.
Margarito appeared discouraged against Mosley, but in the 8th round that began his troubles, he came out harder than in any previous round. That aggressiveness played into Mosley’s hand, but it’s pretty brave stuff. There was a blip in Margarito’s career in the Paul Williams fight where he didn’t start fast enough, but he corrected that, starting fast against, say, Miguel Cotto, and keeping the pressure up throughout. (There’s also a theory that Margarito fought tentatively in his last fight because he lacked the confidence that comes with the loaded gloves he got busted with before the Mosley fight and might have used elsewhere, too. But that’s only a theory.)
The same year of Margarito-Cotto, in 2008, Pacquiao showed his last taste of a willpower lapse, as he was bothered by a bad cut against Juan Manuel Marquez and disappeared for a round until it was fixed. It’s a blip, too. Two tangible blips in two careers of indomitable willpower? That’s… Edge: Even.
The Rest. Who will have the home court advantage in Cowboys Stadium? Of the 35,000 people or so who paid to see Pacquiao-Clottey, probably only Clottey’s family came out to see him. It was a pro-Pacquiao crowd. But Texas is home to a lot of Mexican-Americans, and the majority of them can be expected to root for Margarito. If the fight is close, the judges might be swayed a bit by the Margarito fans. One of those judges is Gale Van Hoy, who has earned a reputation as a “homer,” and Margarito’s more the hometown fighter than Pacquiao.
Both fighters are experienced, on the big and small stage and against top-notch opponents, but Pacquiao’s stage has been bigger, his opponents better. That prepares him for this moment more than Margarito.
If anyone’s likely to roughhouse, it’s Margarito, since at points in his career Pacquiao has shown it troubles him. But it’s not clear to me whether having referee Laurence Cole helps Pacquiao or Margarito on this count. Cole is terrible and you can’t predict which way he might blow a call. Will he be overprotective, or not notice any foul play?
So, then… Edge: Even.