Pacquiao vs Margarito: Tactical Warfare!

boxingBy P.H. Burbridge - Antonio Margarito!  The DISGRACED Antonio Margarito will never again gain the kind of universal support boxing fans showed him after his brutal and methodical dismantling of Miguel Cotto in July of 2008.  The fight with Shane Mosley in January of 2009 forever changed him as a fighter and as a man.  Not even the most highly effective PR firm in the world could change the fight public’s perception of him and at this point it doesn’t matter.  The business of boxing is a dirty one and if you’re searching for ethics in this sport you’re waiting your time.  We’re constantly being reminded that the only thing that matters is if a fighter has the right connections!  Well, Antonio Margarito is connected and has the right professional relationships to even commit boxing’s most egregious sin and STILL GET the biggest fight that can be had.  That’s the bottom line and NOTHING we say as a fan base apparently changes a thing if a promoter or a sanctioning body see’s money to be made.  There’s not even a hint of legitimacy to this fight from the participants to the sanctioning body’s making available a “world title” and not only is it maddening, it’s ridiculous.  So, that’s our reality!  This fight will happen and it will be billed as a world championship match!  Period!  I’m not going to spend this time preaching a sermon on why I feel everything about this fight is wrong and unethical but suffice it to say if I wasn’t worried about creating legal issues for my self or ESB you would be reading some pretty intense criticism of EVERYBODY involved!  I’m turning off my ethics sensor for now for the purposes of this article and you probably should too if you’re going to get anything out of it..

And to further support that sentiment the “Tactical Warfare” series is generally not about the peripheral issues surrounding the ring anyway.  It’s about fighting!  It’s about the technical application and probable tactical approach of each man inside of the ring.  That’s it!  So, let’s take the emotion / outrage out of the equation and deal with how each camp might approach this challenge.

And let’s all be clear right from the get go, this is a massive challenge for both sides.

Manny Pacquiao is on the verge of competing at his highest weight and there is a SERIOUS element of danger here.  Pacquiao fighting at a max weight of 151 lbs is again entering into uncharted territory which has kind of become the norm for boxing’s most fan friendly fighter and although he offers other worldly attributes in speed and unorthodox wizardry every other advantage appears to go to the man they call the “Tijuana Tornado”, Antonio Margarito.  Margarito is a huge welterweight who at 5’ 11” presents a number of logistical challenges for the 5′ 6½″ Pacquiao who will require a nearly perfect performance to emerge victorious.  Margarito looks like a middleweight where as Manny looks more like a lightweight but, as Pacquiao has proven to the world time after time looks can be deceiving.  Two years ago fight aficionados would have scoffed at this match up.  In fact, Antonio Margarito ridiculed Oscar De La Hoya for fighting Pacquiao instead of him proclaiming Oscar would rather fight a “small man” with little to no chance of hurting him than the #1 welterweight in the world and recent conqueror of the previously unbeaten Miguel Cotto. 

Well, nobody’s scoffing now!!  In fact, the tables have been turned.  BIG TIME!  Now, the boxing intelligentsia roundly supports Pacquiao as the favorite. 

I don’t let such opinions sway my judgment or impact my preparation for Tactical Warfare.  I just study each fighter with the volume turned all the way down.

Upon a careful analysis which included a complete analytical review of each man’s last 10 fights I’m intrigued by the style match up here.  I’ve concluded that Manny Pacquiao will have to fight in a manner that he’s not altogether known for and the question is can he ignore his own fighter DNA for a full 12 rounds?  Manny will not or at least, should not attempt to be the stalker in this fight.  He must fight very disciplined and stick to Freddie Roach’s game plan which will no doubt call for constant in and out motion.  This is a high lateral movement cardio themed fight for Pacquiao and it will be very different from the Clottey fight where Manny threw over 1,200 punches.  The punch out put will not be as high for Margarito because of the need for perpetual movement.  Pacquiao is blessed with incredible foot speed which is not to say he can out run a world class sprinter it means that he is able to change direction in a millisecond which is the key to his style of defense.  People cite his incredible hand speed as a main asset but I believe his true gift can be found in is his legs.  Freddie Roach has taught him to use his legs as the focal point of his defense and it’s allowed him to move up in weight with the great success.  His power is a given but his ability to land shots and remove himself immediately forces opponents to reach and get out of position.  He has improved over the years in moving his head and getting underneath punches but his legs still remain the focal point of his defensive approach and he’ll need every bit of them for Margarito.  A stationary Manny is a hittable Manny and no one understands that better than Freddie Roach.

Against Margarito, Roach will not allow him to test himself with his back against the ropes offering his body the way he did against Cotto and Clottey.  Margarito is a harder puncher than both of those men and his left hook to the body has ended many a fight so, if you see Manny attempting to out macho Tony in this fashion he’ll be doing exactly what Freddie Roach does not want him to do.  Everything he does will have to be on the move which will decrease his punching power to a certain degree.  It’s the correct trade off given the nature of this match up.

I expect Manny to move primarily to his right and away from Margarito’s right uppercut while using his own right hook alternately as a jab.  His main concern in doing this is Margarito’s looping left hook.  I don’t see that punch landing consistently from the outside because it’s not delivered with great speed and Margarito generally has more success with it when his opponents are either against the ropes or stationary.  By the same token, I don’t see Manny being able to hurt Tony with his right hand.  No matter what you’ve read recently about improvements in his right hand and while much of it is true from an accuracy stand point I just don’t believe it’s a hard enough punch to hurt Margarito.  Now, it looked great against smaller fighters like Diaz and Hatton but Manny was the puncher in those fights and as such was less fearful of retaliation.  He could stand, set and deliver it with authority in those cases so, it appeared considerably more damaging.  This is a whole different scenario with a heavy emphasis on constant movement and fast flurrying so you probably won’t see Manny sitting down on his punches enough to do serious damage especially with his right against Margarito.  He will however, do just fine with it as a scoring punch.

If Pacquiao is going to get some measure of respect from Tony it will not come from his right hook.    

It will come from his left hand!

In an effort to do just that Pacquiao will attempt to put himself in a position where Margarito is squared up so he has the option to fire his most damaging punch, the straight left hand.  That punch is a BIG problem for opponents because it’s delivered with Manny’s full body weight behind it and it’s very fast and unorthodox.  You’ll never see a trainer try to teach that shot the way Pacquiao throws it because almost everything about it is wrong from a technical stand point.  Manny actually leaves his feet at times and leaps into that shot.  In the case of Roach, he probably debated with himself as whether to try and correct it but the reality is that it works for Pacquiao.  AND, it’s a tremendously hard shot and will get Margarito’s respect if it lands.  On the flip side, it can also be viewed as a potential weakness and might offer an opportunity.  Manny explodes into that shot squaring himself up and in doing so becomes vulnerable to a counter right hand.  Now, typically, he’s able to avoid being countered because previous opponents have been smaller and when they saw that punch coming all they were focused on was getting out of the way.  There are two tactics that can be employed to combat that shot.  A fighter who has comparable speed and can get there first and the second is a big man like Margarito that can stay in the pocket and deliver the counter.  Truthfully, Margarito does not have the speed to counter it so he’ll have to time it perfectly or pay the price and although I don’t think Manny can get him out with one punch I do think those shots will add up and Robert Garcia will alter plans accordingly if he starts taking too many.  Don’t let the result of the Mosley fight cloud your judgment here.  Margarito more than likely still has ultra confidence in his chin and in his ability to absorb Manny’s hardest shots.  If he gauges Pacquiao’s power early and does not feel any real one shot danger there then you can count that he and his trainer, Robert Garcia will attempt to create an environment where Manny feels comfortable enough to throw it.  Roach will want to disguise it and use it sparingly.  He’ll watch closely for the trigger points and the set up.  If Margarito appears too open at times for that shot, Roach will direct Manny to use his feints to determine if it’s a set up.  If Margarito is overly reactive to Manny’s feints then expect to see him to throw more rights and hold back on his money punch.  Roach and Pacquiao will walk into the ring that night prepared with a number of alternate plans. 

If we do see that shot I think it will be early when Manny is fresh and full of energy.  I think it’s a dangerous shot to throw late because the fatigue factor will take some of the speed and power away.  The internal battle going on inside of Pacquiao will center at times on NOT throwing his best shot.  At the end of the day, Manny wants to do damage not box and for a fighter who is moving up in weight you must fight in a controlled way or run the risk of taking unnecessary punches from your bigger opponent. 

If Pacquiao is going to be safe in this fight he has to be a disciplined BOXER.  If he’s able to maintain that I think he jumps out to an early lead 5-6 round lead.

Margarito has to force Pacquiao to fight going backwards under constant duress.  He cannot allow him to land and pivot out of danger.  He NEEDS to move him backwards.  His long 73″ reach could allow him to do just that if he gets his hooks working from either side.  He also must not give up his height.  He’s the taller fighter and he must fight that way.  When on the out side he wants Manny in the constant state of reaching not zooming in and zooming out.  It’s all about timing for Margarito and his offensive success will be limited so he’ll have to make the most out of it.  In mentality, he’ll have to replicate the Cotto fight.  Obviously, the participants are different but the pressure dynamic from Margarito’s perspective needs to be similar.  For his part Tony must continually jog forward attempting to stay close not only to engage Manny but to maintain mental pressure while constantly reminding Pacquiao that he’s the bigger, stronger man capable of doing more damage.  If they fall into clinches, he needs to exert his strength by leaning on and out muscling Pacquiao.  He needs to impose his will and change Manny’s mental demeanor which I believe could be the determining factor in the final outcome of this bout.  To do that Antonio Margarito will have to prove to Pacquiao that his punching power is legitimate and not a product of loaded gloves.  Margarito is known for his high punch out put as well as his clubbing shots so even if he’s not landing cleanly he needs to be moving Pacquiao or knocking him off balance.  There’s no question that Manny is the slicker of the two but that’s usually the case for Margarito.  He has an ugly style with little to no aesthetic value.  Margarito doesn’t care how it looks just as long as he’s doing damage.  He will not become discouraged if he gives away the early rounds because his history tells us he finishes strong late.  He is willing to trade his face for yours and also don’t be surprised to see some rough tactics.  In terms sportsmanship, he couldn’t get any lower so in that regard he literally has nothing to lose.  As long as he applies it in a manner that doesn’t result in a disqualification he’ll fight his normal fight.  People still talk about what Roberto Duran was able to get away with against Davey Moore.  In the end, all that really mattered was that Duran won.  Margarito has that same mindset so it wouldn’t be a shocker to see some questionable stuff.  Roach will have plenty to say to the appointed referee through the press before the fight and during pre-fight dressing room instructions.

The rough stuff is coming and you can bet Roach’s fight plan will take that into consideration. 

Margarito will have great success in this fight if he’s able to control distance.  Manny because of his 67” reach is at a significant disadvantage in fighting on the outside and IF Margarito is successful in keeping him moving backwards rather than side to side this is going to be a huge problem for Roach.  If Manny is able to successfully and consistently use lateral movement without lunging then you’ll see him land a lot of scoring shots to the body early and after about round 7 you’ll see him shift to the head and finish strong.  That’s generally the game plan for Roach.  You spend a number of rounds measuring distance and gauging your opponents speed and power.  Once you have those internal calculations down you can mix up your punches. 

It works…..That’s why Roach is considered a master.  He’s logical and unemotional.  On the flip side, people are now starting to recognize what boxing insiders in California have known for some time and that is Robert Garcia is one of the best young trainers in the sport.  There’s a reason high profile world class fighters like Nonito Donaire rely on Garcia.  He’s not just a trainer of Mexican sluggers.  He’s very adept at outlining the nuances of a fighter and taking advantage of very subtle traits.  He knows what kind of fighter Manny is and he certainly knows what kind of fighter Margarito is. 

This match will not be a work of art for either man because of the styles.  You’re going to see Manny moving more than you’re used to and you’re going to see Tony missing badly at times because of it.

To win, Manny will need complete order and for Tony, he will need utter chaos!

(Please feel free to contact P.H. Burbridge via email at with any comments or feedback.)

Article posted on 25.09.2010

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