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Boxing is Back - If not Mexican, then bet late

Jul 22, 2008 7:00 PM

Pulling No Punches by Michael Katz | Timing is not everything in gambling.

Oh, it’s an important factor, when to place the bet, especially in next weekend’s highly anticipated fight between two outstanding welterweights, Miguel Cotto and Antonio Margarito. It’s an event that will stir passions at the windows.

Those who wish to back the Puerto Rican standard-bearer Cotto should probably wait until close to first bell at the MGM Grand. Last time I looked, he was -270 after opening as the -170 favorite. I suspect the odds will drop as more Mexican fans wend their way to Vegas.

Margarito backers, on the other hand, probably should bet as early as possible, hoping to still get what many believe is a terrific bargain at +200.

But when is not as important as who. For those of us who have no special allegiance to either 147-pound title-holder, it should be abundantly clear that Cotto must be the pick. In fact, I suspect he will perform so brilliantly that he will become the main rival for Manny Pacquiao’s unofficial title of world’s best fighter.

He will have to in order to win.

Besides the fact Cotto has great technical skills, heavy hands and a giant heart (with Floyd Mayweather Jr. fleeing into retirement), he inherited the welterweight division and could easily have found a smear case. Cotto went out of his way to fight Margarito, the same guy Mayweather went out of his way not to fight.

There is the unmistakable aura of greatness around the 27-year-old. He is 32-0 with 26 knockouts and already owns victories at 147 over Zab Judah and Sugar Shane Mosley – both still in the Top 10 in the division. At 140 he weakened himself to make weight, but still had enough to beat future titleholders like Carlos Quintana, Paulie Malignaggi and Ricardo Torres.

Do not worry that he was wobbled and dropped when he was at 140. He always got up and won, spectacularly, against guys like Chop Chop Corley and Torres.

Oh, he can lose.

Margarito has substantial height and reach advantages (5-11 to 5-7 and 73 inches to 67), although he may not choose to use them. The Tornado can be a whirlwind. He says, "Strength is my power and my stamina" and expects "to be on top of him all the time."

The idea is to apply constant pressure and gradually sap Cotto’s strength, to absorb the sharper puncher’s best shots with a superior chin.

I have enough respect for Margarito to realize he can beat most welterweights by brawling. He has had trouble in the past with boxers, losing last year to Paul Williams and just scraping by Joshua Clottey.

Cotto is both brawler and boxer. He outbrawled Torres and, incredibly, outboxed Mosley down the stretch. He is at his peak, a vicious body puncher, and here he will not have to chase an opponent.

Margarito, 30, will be going right at him, which is why many of my colleagues are thinking Fight-of-the-Year possibilities (however improbable it would be to outdo the latest additions to the Israel Vazquez-Rafael Marquez and Pacquiao-Juan Manuel Marquez rivalries).

But Margarito throws wide punches and I expect the quicker-handed Cotto will be able to step inside and do great damage early and often. Then the question of attrition will apply to the brave Margarito.

If he survives, yes, the $50 pay-per-view tag will be well worth it, even in this economy. It had better because promoter Bob Arum, who handles both contestants, has come up with, on paper, a tissue-thin supporting card.

But as his late, great matchmaker, Teddy Brenner, used to say, "If you don’t have a main event, you don’t have a main event."

This is a major event, not to be missed by any fight fan. Yes, the way I see it, Cotto will probably be worth a nice price – but, no, there will be no great shock if Margarito survives and wins. Disappointment, perhaps, that there is not another "great" fighter around with Cotto, but not shock.

One final note: California doesn’t deserve wildfires and earthquakes, but it shouldn’t have boxing after allowing Dan Goossen and its boxing commission to rob Hasim Rahman, who was cut by an accidental head butt, against James Toney.

The referee ruled immediately "no contest, no decision." After the commission changed it to Toney by TKO, even though the bout had gone only three rounds, astute commentator Chris Byrd noted on Fox, "People on the moon seen it was a headbutt."

Yes, Rahman did not want to go on – so what? According to the rules, he didn’t have to and he didn’t say he quit.

The Rock slyly told Fox, "It was the worst damn decision, period."