Boxing: Cotto a tough out for Pacquiao

Nov 10, 2009 5:06 PM
Pulling No Punches by Michael Katz |

Moving up in weight not a given

This is it, the second most anticipated fight possible, and because it features the Pac Man, it transcends boxing. Manny Pacquiao is on the cover of Time magazine, Asian edition. He has been a guest on Jimmy Kimmel’s late-night American TV show. He has won the Gusi Peace Prize in Asia, the first of 17 recipients to be an athlete. He is the biggest and most popular star in the game.

But all that must be put in the context that he is the challenger here, and not because Miguel Cotto holds a paper belt. This is Pacquiao moving up in weight, if not in class, to challenge for a welterweight title, which by some counts, would be his seventh in various divisions.

It is difficult to realize that the 30-year-old Filipino superstar was once a flyweight champion. His first two losses were at 110 and 113 pounds. But he has won titles at 112, 122, 126, 130, 135 and 140. Never mind the paper trail. He is either the best fighter in the world, pound for pound, or second in that mythical category to Floyd Mayweather Jr. And right now, a meeting of these two must be considered the biggest possible fight out there.

Provided, of course, Pacquiao beats Cotto – and don’t believe that just because he is almost a 5-2 favorite that this is an easy task. There is a distinct possibility that the Pac Man has bitten off more than he can chew this time.

A confession: as I an typing, it is not clear in my addled brain who is going to win. Maybe something I write will jar me into an epiphany. As always, there are some unknowns involved. The biggest concerns Cotto.

Many "experts" believe that Cotto has not recovered from a terrible beating in 2007 at the possibly enhanced hands of Antonio Margarito.

Subsequent to that fight, Margarito was discovered to have a plaster-like substance in his handwraps against Sugar Shane Mosley and the assumption by most is that he had an illegal edge against Cotto.

That was a Cotto who was vaulting towards the top of the pound-for-pound ratings. In the first half of the Margarito fight, he was as good as we’ve ever seen him – lashing out combinations, playing defense and flat-out dominating. But Margarito’s chin, unenhanced though it may have been, was also like plaster of Paris and eventually Cotto was chipped at until he broke.

He still looked shaky seven months later when he took out a mediocre British fighter, Michael Jennings, in five. But last June, despite suffering a terrible cut from an accidental butt, he dug down and rallied to win a split decision over Joshua Clottey, one of the best welterweights in the world.

There might be further improvement now, which would make the $2 or so buyback rate on him seem attractive. But here again, there’s a caveat.

As good as Clottey is, even as fast as his hands are for a mortal welterweight, he simply is not anything like the swarming and speedy Pacquiao.

The weight limit has contractually been agreed to be 145 pounds, but that should not be a detriment to Cotto, who weighed in at 146 for Clottey a few months ago. Joe Santiago, who replaced Cotto’s estranged uncle, Evangelista Cotto, as trainer for the Clottey fight, points out that while Pacquiao is coming off spectacular stoppages of Oscar de la Hoya and Ricky Hatton, this is "the first true welterweight he will fight that is young and still in his prime."

Actually, the 29-year-old Cotto does not exactly dwarf the Pac Man. He is 5-7 to Pacquiao’s 5-6½ and both are listed with 67-inch reaches. But Cotto’s left hook could be the single hardest punch Pacquiao has ever felt – if the Puerto Rican star can land it against a defense designed to negate that punch.

Again, on the other hand, Cotto also has power in his right. Pacquiao has improved remarkably under the training of Freddie Roach, who at one point was suggesting a first-round knockout (lately, the perennial trainer of the year has been predicting the ninth round). Roach expects Cotto to try and counterpunch, his normal style, and this could help Pacquiao set his fast pace. Roach said one thing he didn’t want to do was to give Cotto any reason for early confidence so the typical Pacquiao all-out attack should be expected.

Cotto, though, has handled speed before. He scored a close but clear decision over Sugar Shane Mosley in 2007. He has stopped quick-handed southpaws like Zab Judah and Carlos Quintana.

Santiago said Cotto showed heart and will versus Clottey, but "I think this fight he is going to show you a lot more – he is going to show you his speed and his strength and how great he can be."

That’s why I’m looking forward to this fight. I still don’t know who’s going to win, but if I MUST bet, I suppose I’d take the odds. I don’t have to bet, though.

Question? Comment? E-mail me at: Michael Katz

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