March 13, 2010

Bill Dwyer, of the LA Times, gave us a look at tonight’s fight between Pacquiao and Clottey (ed. I don’t think it’ll be very close unless Clottey throws a
left hook and a right head).
“The best strategy for challenger Joshua Clottey in his fight against Manny Pacquiao may be to use his head.

Not his brain, his head.

There is a history here, and the Pacquiao camp is aware. Their fighter is so heavily favored that some odds on Pacquiao winning have been as high as  15-2.
There has been more discussion about where the fight is taking place — massive Cowboys Stadium in front of 45,000 people — than how it will turn out. To most, it’s a foregone conclusion.

Still, Pacquiao and his people know that danger lurks in any ring battle, no matter the odds. They know that, in this one, Clottey’s forehead may be as
dangerous as his fists.

“We’re not going to fight him in the box, straight on, where his head can get at Manny,” says Pacquiao’s trainer, Freddie Roach, of the Saturday night match.

The memory of Clottey’s fight last June 13 against Miguel Cotto in Madison Square Garden remains vivid to all in boxing.

In the third round, Cotto and Clottey banged heads and Cotto was cut over his left eye. The remainder of the fight was a struggle in Cotto’s corner to stop the blood flow, and it wasn’t until the last two rounds that Cotto seemed to recover enough to chase down Clottey and score enough points to escape with a split decision.

In November 1999 in London, a then-unbeaten Clottey fought Carlos Baldomir of Argentina. Ahead on all three judges’ cards, Clottey was enalized two points in the 10th round for what was termed an “intentional head butt” that opened a cut over Baldomir’s left eye. In the 11th, Clottey was warned again about leading with his head, and when he did it one more time, the referee stopped it and gave Baldomir the fight on a disqualification.

The rules state that if a fighter is cut by a head butt, but is deemed by medical personnel to be able to continue, then there is no recourse for the wounded
fighter, other than disqualification for repeated offenses, as happened in the Baldomir fight. With Cotto, there were no further detected head butts, so he had to fight his way back through it.

The exception occurs if the head butt happens in the first four rounds and the wounded fighter is judged to be unable to go on. Then they go to the scorecards to get the winner.

The head-butting issue is especially significant in this fight because Pacquiao has a history of not doing well when cut.

“He freaks out a little bit,” Roach says.

Pacquiao has lost only three fights on the way to his current 50-3-2 record and status as the best boxer in the world. One loss occurred March 19, 2005,
when Erik Morales cut him over the right eye — ruled a cut by punch, not head butt — and Pacquiao lost a unanimous decision.

“I couldn’t see out of one eye, and it was very hard,” Pacquiao said then.

He went on to avenge that loss by knocking out Morales twice.

Interestingly, the cut man in Pacquiao’s corner Saturday night will be Miguel Diaz, whom Roach calls “the best in the business.”

There is some history there too.

In May 2004, Pacquiao, still a little-known boxer on the rise, took on Juan Manuel Marquez in Las Vegas. In the first round, Pacquiao nearly destroyed
Marquez, knocking him down three times. The third time, Marquez barely made it to his feet in time, but his nose, clearly broken, was a bloody mess.

In his corner, veteran trainer Nacho Beristain struggled to stop the bleeding in Marquez’s nose. Sitting nearby at ringside, having worked an undercard fight, was Diaz, who saw the problem, knew how to help and went to Beristain’s aide, despite some resistance from security guards. He wasn’t allowed in the ring, but he handed Beristain the extra medical tools needed. Marquez went back out for the second round, survived, and Diaz did the same thing for Beristain in the corner after the round.

Somehow, with the blood stopped just enough for him to be effective, Marquez turned the fight around enough to get a draw from the judges, one of whom had not realized he could have scored Pacquiao’s three knockdowns in the first as a 10-6 round, rather than the 10-7 he made it.

Saturday night, Diaz will be on Pacquiao’s side, just in case Clottey uses his head too much.

“I told Manny,” Roach says, “that he’s got the best cut man in the world in his corner. I told him not to worry.”

Jim Souhan, of Minny’s Star Tribune, looked at the Twins’ track record and thought about Johan Santana when he wrote, “It’s mid-March and the race of the reluctant Minnesota stars is on:
Who’ll make a commitment first? Back-and-Forth Brett Favre or Jockeyin’ Joe Mauer?
Mauer still has more leverage than Pat Williams on a teeter-totter, but as negotiations have lagged, Mauer’s hesitancy to accept a record-setting contract offer from his hometown team has made his signing less than a sure thing and raised this previously unthinkable question:
“Won’t the Twins have to trade him if he refuses their best offer?”
A deal between the All-Star catcher and the Twins is still more likely than not, and at any moment Mauer’s agent, Ron Shapiro, could call the team and make it happen, prompting a combination press conference/Minnesota Mardi Gras.
But a combination of modern baseball logic and Twins history suggests that if the Twins’ decision-makers can’t sign Mauer, they will be obligated to trade
The Twins and Shapiro have kept the details of their negotiations remarkably quiet, but my sense, after talking with a variety of people, is that the team has
offered more than $20 million a year. If Shapiro is intent on pushing Mauer to $25 million or more a year, Mauer might find himself on the Johan Santana Shuttle out of town.
A trade could yield a closer to replace Joe Nathan and would protect the franchise in the future from having one player on their roster consuming 20 to 25 percent of their payroll, a formula that rarely works in baseball.
The idea of trading Mauer may seem ridiculous to those who wear his jersey while mailing him marriage proposals. The Twins are about to enter Target Field with Mauer as their centerpiece, a homegrown, reigning MVP with a wholesome reputation who has helped the franchise peak in popularity.
Until spring training started, the onus was on the Twins to lock up Mauer before he and the team would be forced to deal with the awkwardness of the
most-scrutinized negotiations in franchise history playing out as the team prepares for the season.
Once the Twins began making huge offers, though, the onus switched to Mauer.
If he’s spurning amounts the Twins feel are exorbitant, the team could discern that Mauer is intent on playing in New York or Boston. Those might be the only two baseball cities where a team other than the Twins would be willing to pay more than $20 million a year for a catcher with a history of leg and back injuries.
Shapiro is famous for keeping two clients — the Twins’ Kirby Puckett and the Orioles’ Cal Ripken Jr. — in one city for their entire careers. But he didn’t
accept hometown discounts. Both players set monetary records when they re-signed.
Twins players and officials hoped that the Mauer negotiations would be different, that Mauer would crave playing for the Twins at Target Field, and with his buddy Justin Morneau. In the Twins clubhouse, he is surrounded by players who eagerly signed long-term deals, including Morneau, Michael Cuddyer, Nick Blackburn, Scott Baker and Nathan.
Last summer, when talking about Mauer’s future, Morneau and Mauer both made two points:
1) That they weren’t trying to extract every last dollar from the Twins. “We’ve already got all the money we’re ever going to need,” Morneau said then.
2) That Mauer would be encouraged to re-sign if the Twins’ front office demonstrated a commitment to building a championship club.
Since then, the Twins front office has excelled, making moves that propelled the team into the playoffs last summer and acquiring three former All-Stars — J.J. Hardy, Orlando Hudson and Jim Thome — this winter.
Tuesday in the Twins spring training clubhouse, Mauer was his usual polite, friendly self, but the circumstances around him have changed. On a team intent on opening Target Field with a championship, Mauer is the Twins’ last internal distraction.
Once known for reserve bordering on shyness, Mauer this winter became the subject of ESPN’s “Homecoming” special, appeared in commercials in which
he refers to himself in the third person, and signed a marketing, endorsement and sponsorship deal with the powerful IMG agency. “It was a little different, I guess,” Mauer said. “For all the things I said ’Yes’ to, I had to say ’No’ to a lot, too. I think my mentality going into the offseason didn’t change. I still got to
get my work in and prepare for the season.”
Morneau was also a quiet young player who emerged from his shell after winning an MVP Award, but he was surprised by Mauer’s visibility this winter. “I didn’t expect that out of him,” Morneau said. “You want to take advantage of those opportunities when you get them, but at the same time, you don’t want to be everywhere. That’s not really the Minnesota way — humble, and all that kind of stuff.
“And he is. He hasn’t changed in that way at all. But he’s gotten his opportunities and he’s taken advantage of them, which is good. He’s still the same guy.”
A public relations expert would urge the Twins to sign Mauer at any cost A statistician or scout might argue that he might never duplicate his remarkable 2009 season, that he has been plagued by injuries, that the Twins are high on catching prospect Wilson Ramos, that the franchise might be better off spending the $200 million it might take to sign Mauer on a handful of other players.
If the Twins signed Mauer to a deal worth $25 million a year — which might be what it takes — what might they have to pay to keep Morneau, who was
considered the more valuable player until last season?
Would the Twins be willing to make the most unpopular move in franchise history, and trade Mauer?
Look at it from their perspective. The franchise has survived the early retirement and subsequent death of Puckett; eight consecutive losing seasons in the ’90s, $20 million payrolls; the trade of Johan Santana; their owner volunteering the franchise for contraction; and Lew Ford.
At some point, the Twins’ attitude will change from eagerness to sign Mauer, to indignation that he won’t accept a franchise-record offer.
The worst scenario for the Twins would be watching Mauer leave in free agency. That would be far more damaging to the franchise than a productive trade of even their most popular player.”


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