Thursday, November 20, 2014

Previews: Pacquiao-Algieri, Cleverly-Bellew II

Saturday offers fight fans two significant boxing cards, headlined by Manny Pacquiao (56-5-2, 38 KOs) defending his welterweight title against Chris Algieri (20-0, 8 KOs) in Macau, China and Nathan Cleverly (28-1, 14 KOs) rematching Tony Bellew (22-2-1, 14 KOs) in Liverpool, England. Both bouts feature compelling style matchups. For Pacquiao, one of the sport's true superstars, he faces a unique challenge with junior welterweight titlist Algieri: a youthful, intelligent and rangy jabber with excellent movement. Throughout Pacquiao's illustrious career, he has yet to take on a fighter with Algieri's dimensions. The bout will take place at a catch weight of 144 lbs.

Cleverly-Bellew II is a return to one of boxing's most spirited grudge matches; Cleverly won the first battle by majority decision in 2011. Cleverly and Bellew mesh together in the ring exceedingly well – Cleverly has the boxing skills and foot speed while Bellew has the heavier hands. An added dimension to the rematch is that the fight will be contested at cruiserweight (the first one was at light heavyweight). 

Both bouts should produce their share of fireworks. Read below to for my previews and predictions for the fights.  


What's at stake?

For Pacquiao, he must confirm that Father Time isn't knocking on his door. After picking up an excellent win over Tim Bradley earlier in the year, Pacquiao reestablished himself as a top prizefighter. However, Bradley's poor game plan, remaining stationary and trying to win with his only moderate power, played into Pacquiao's hands. At 35, Pacquiao is much closer to the end of his career than he is the beginning. His foot speed isn't what it once was and Algieri's footwork and reliance on his reach could produce some significant difficulties for Pacquiao if he can't effectively cut off the ring. A loss for Pacquiao would severely hinder his bargaining position for a 2015 mega-fight, against guys like for Juan Manuel Marquez or Floyd Mayweather. 

Algieri wants to establish that his split decision win over Ruslan Provodnikov wasn't a fluke, a product of two kind judges. The fight had wildly divergent scores (I thought that Algieri lost handily) and with that result Algieri enters Saturday's contest as one of Pacquiao's weaker challengers on paper. Nevertheless, Algieri gets his big shot on Saturday and he does possess the types of tools that could provide for an intriguing fight. If he beats Pacquiao, he will become a huge player in the sport. 

The major question for each fighter: 

Does Algieri have enough of an offensive arsenal to win seven rounds?

Manny Pacquiao’s punches are eye-catching. Constantly coming forward, throwing fast and accurate combinations, Pacquiao connects with judges. Algieri's style is more of a negative one, boxing off of his back foot, moving along the ropes to evade prolonged exchanges and popping his jab as if his life depended on it. Against Provodnikov, who had bad footwork and problems cutting off the ring, Algieri used spacing and athleticism to stick and move. He also did feature a right hand and a left hook. They're accurate punches but shots without power; he rarely sits down on them. Algieri is going to have to do enough offensively to convince two judges to give him seven rounds. Facing a fighter as friendly to judges as Pacquiao is will be a tall order.

Can Pacquiao consistently cut off the ring?

If he can, it's an easy fight. If he can't, Algieri could have some real success. As a corollary to this question, Pacquiao will have to fight close to three minutes a round. During dead spaces, Algieri will fire off his jab and if Manny takes too much time off during rounds...well, you can see a scenario where Algieri could start to pile up points. What may be more troubling than the decline of Pacquiao’s foot speed is his diminished work rate. Often, he's now down to 40-45 punches a round, which is a big drop from his peak. If Pacquiao’s not active enough, Algieri could jab him to death. So, it's not just if Pacquiao can cut off the ring, but, does he have the desire to keep doing it for 36 minutes? 

Any X-Factors worth considering?

Freddie Roach was in Provodnikov's corner for the Algieri bout. I'm sure that Roach feels that his fighter didn't lose the match but that result is now in the past. More importantly for Pacquiao is that Roach has had a first-hand look at Algieri's strengths and weaknesses in the ring and Roach is one of the better trainers in the sport at preparing a game plan (specifically an offensive one). If Manny still has his athleticism, Roach will provide him with an excellent blueprint for success. 

Another factor worth considering is how Algieri will respond to the bright lights. Let's face it: a year ago he was a Long Island club fighter who was happy to sell 1,000 tickets to a show. Now, after months of promotion, media scrutiny and buildup, it's unknown how he will react to such an imposing atmosphere. The big fights can sometimes make Pacquiao's opponents do weird things (Bradley and Clottey are recent examples). Will Algieri have the mental toughness and discipline to execute when all of boxing's eyes are watching him?

The verdict:

Pacquiao defeats Algieri by unanimous decision – something like 117-111, nine rounds to three.


What's at stake?

Bragging rights. This fight has all the makings of a classic British drama – entitlement, envy, revenge, retribution. It could be a Merchant-Ivory production for the pugilist class. Cleverly was one of Frank Warren's prized prospects. He's the fighter who did just enough to eke out a win three years ago and  has won a world title belt. Bellew probably believes that Cleverly's belt should have been his. Plus, these two just don't like each other whatsoever. Yes, the victor of this contest could go on to fight for a cruiserweight title but for these two fighters, the real glory comes on Saturday. 

The major question for each fighter:

Can Cleverly fight intelligently?

Cleverly has a maddening flaw throughout his career: he voluntarily relinquishes his advantages. In the Bellew bout, Cleverly dominated whenever the action was on the outside yet he insisted on taking the fight right to Bellew, giving his opponent opportunities that he otherwise wouldn't have had. If Cleverly boxed and moved, he would have won that fight far more easily than he did; however, intelligence isn't his calling card in the ring. Similarly, against Sergey Kovalev, Cleverly failed to respect Kovalev's power and stood directly in front of him, leading to a massive beatdown. Although it's quite possible that he couldn't have beaten Kovalev under any circumstances, he picked perhaps the worst possible strategy to try to win the fight. Cleverly still has speed, reach and technical advantages over Bellew but will he use them?

Will Bellew's power at cruiserweight swing the fight in his favor?

Bellew has knocked out both of his opponents at cruiserweight, albeit against lesser opposition. He believes that he's much more powerful at the higher weight class. During the Cleverly fight, Bellew landed a number of his best right crosses, but they weren't enough to lead him to victory. However, at the new weight, it's certainly possible that his power will be an even more significant factor in the fight. Furthermore, Cleverly's chin hasn't been adequately tested since his loss to Kovalev. Perhaps Cleverly can't take Bellew's best punch at cruiserweight. If Bellew can get to Cleverly's chin, the fight could very well be his. 

Any X-Factors worth considering? 

Bellew will be fighting at home, so that certainly could be an advantage with the crowd and judges. However, their first fight was also in Liverpool and Cleverly was successful in winning a decision. The big-fight atmosphere could help or hurt either fighter and it will be fascinating to see which one does a better job at following his game plan, placing himself in the best position to win. 

The verdict: 

Cleverly defeats Bellew by unanimous decision, along the lines of 116-112, 8 rounds to 4. 

Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of
He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
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