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21 JUNE 2018


Cotto And Pacquiao Gear Up For The Fight Of The Year

By Matthew Hurley : When the fight was announced the two combatants were coming off markedly different performances. One frighteningly dominant, the other a test of wills that came down to a scant few points on the judges scorecards. One fighter seemed to be leap-frogging the perilous climb to pound-for-pound supremacy while the other seemed to be finding slippery wet patches as he struggled onward and upward. That their ring accomplishments are in fact comparable became a moot point – one was spectacularly exciting, the other as stoic and measured in his ring approach as his manner.

Manny Pacquiao and Miguel Cotto, who will meet in the years biggest and most significant bout on November 14th, have so much more in common than their respective fans and critics would contend. And the level of experience and professionalism both men bring to the ring all but guarantees a fistic display of the highest quality.

When Manny Pacquiao flattened Ricky Hatton with one short, picture-perfect left hook in the second round of their May junior welterweight to-do he had completed his metamorphosis from a left-hook happy, whirling dervish slugger with bad balance into a compact, lightening quick complete fighter. The comparisons to the legendary Henry Armstrong may or may not have been a bit premature, but his resume demands respect.

Strangely it was the series of bouts before his recent three-fight blitz-krieg that saw him decimate David Diaz, Oscar De La Hoya and Hatton that established his vaunted reputation. Pacquiao did battle with a murderers row of future hall-of-famers in Erik Morales (three times), Marco Antonio Barrera (two times) and Juan Manuel Marquez (two times). It was these seven bouts, in which he went 5-1-1, that cemented his vaunted reputation.

His annihilation of Diaz at lightweight, De La Hoya at welterweight and Hatton at junior welterweight constituted nineteen rounds of fistic perfection. Not only didn’t he lose one stanza, his opposition barely laid a glove on him. Revisionists now maintain that all three entered the ring with significant flaws or handicaps but going into at least the two fights against De La Hoya and Hatton there were many who were not backing Pacquiao as they now may claim.

But there is one thing most fans and pundits do agree on – Miguel Cotto, because of his size, experience and iron will to win represents the biggest threat Pacquiao has yet faced. Should he steamroll past Cotto those of us still a bit unwilling to allow Manny entry into the hallowed pugilistic ground where all time greats like Henry Armstrong reside will punch his admittance ticket with a mixture of enthusiasm, reverence and awe.

So where does that leave Miguel Cotto, the admitted B-side to what truly is a double A-sided promotion? Well, according to Pacquiao’s trainer Freddie Roach, Cotto is indeed Manny’s most formidable foe. In fact, Roach is predicting a distance fight, which would indicate a healthy respect for Cotto’s strength, punching power and chin. Cotto also went into training camp much earlier than he usually does. The Puerto Rican superstar knows that this is an opportunity to not only establish his reputation as one of the best fighters of his era once and for all but should he win all the nagging whispers that his now controversial loss to Antonio Margarito ruined him will be exorcised.

And don’t think for a moment that Cotto isn’t sick to death of even the mention of that eleventh round TKO loss, or Margarito’s name for that matter. His laconic personality aside, within Miguel Cotto burns a fierce pride that, perhaps, manifested itself on his skin in the form of multiple tattoos when he reemerged from that loss. The body art was intended to reflect his fiery warrior spirit – a facet of his personality buried beneath a genuinely shy, brooding persona.

Whether that’s a facile interpretation of Cotto’s sudden fascination with tattooing it was a somewhat shocking physical transformation and Cotto acknowledged, albeit reticently, that he did suffer emotionally in the months after the loss to Margarito. When it was revealed that Margarito had loaded his gloves prior to his bout with Sugar Shane Mosley before being caught the implication was that he or his trainer had done the same thing before his bout with Cotto. It is more than plausible considering how brutalized Cotto’s face became as the rounds wore on.

That revelation seemed to relieve some of the anguish over the defeat. He further embraced the idea of improving his English speaking skills to further his connection with American audiences, something Puerto Rican icon Felix Trinidad refused to do, and then one tattoo appeared after another, as if he was trying to completely distance himself physically and mentally from that brutal July night in 2008 in Las Vegas.

Then came his ring return against lightly regarded Michael Jennings. Cotto took him out in the fifth round with clinical precision. The fight really didn’t prove much because of the level of opposition but it was the necessary exhale after months of holding his breath before swapping leather again.

After shaking off the ghost of Margarito with an easy touch he faced the rugged Joshua Clottey this past June. Cotto’s twelve round split decision victory immediately split opinion of his current state right down the middle. Some saw the tightly contested match as an indicator of slippage; that the one brutal defeat against Margarito had robbed him of his prime and left him damaged goods. Others saw his spirited effort, battling a wily veteran through a hideous cut over his left eye from the third round on, as proof that his resolve, talent and skill set remain unaffected. The final analysis should read that he simply took on yet another tough foe and found a way to win when adversity could have crippled him. That’s what true champions do and once again Miguel Cotto had his gloved fist raised in triumph when all was said and done. Yet still the critics opined and Pacquiao, sitting ringside that night at Madison Square Garden, leaned over to Bob Arum who was sitting next to him and said, “I want him next.”

With both fighters promoted by Arum’s Top Rank a superfight was quickly born.

Who you like depends on how you approach the basic questions regarding both men. Cotto is the strongest and biggest fighter Pacquiao has yet faced. Pacquiao is the fastest and best fighter Cotto has ever faced (apologies to Shane Mosley). Can Cotto deal with that demon speed, where wicked combinations become even more devastating because of that lighting quick deliver? Can Pacquiao, the smaller man, deal with Cotto’s sometimes rough housing tactics and his vastly underrated jab, which could completely disrupt his rhythm? Will size and weight finally catch up to Pacquiao who began his career at 106 pounds, or will Cotto, slower of hand and foot, become frustrated trying to find his speedier opponent?

Or will Cotto and Pacquiao, both fighting for the people of their respective homelands of Puerto Rico and the Philippines, simply march across the ring at the opening bell like Marvin Hagler and Thomas Hearns did in 1985, dispense with technique and swing for the fences? It could happen if their face-to-face sit-down with Max Kellerman in an HBO promotional video is any indicator. When posed that very question about a Hagler-Hearns type shootout the two fighters eyed each other and smiled.

“You never know,” Cotto said. “You have to wait until that bell rings.”

Pacquiao seemed almost giddy at the prospect of a firefight, smiling and nodding in Cotto’s direction. “What people want is a good fight,” he replied. “More action. A good fight.”

Cotto then leaned back and said, “People talk about fights between Leonard and Duran, Hagler and Hearns. I know with this fight people are going to remember this fight for many years.”

As both men have been in several fight-of-the-year candidates that bit of insight into their mind-set should bring a smile to the face of every boxing fan. In spite of the vast array of their skills Manny Pacquiao and Miguel Cotto love to fight and at some point one of them is going to land a haymaker and the other will either fall or bang his gloves together and the slugfest will be on. According to Miguel Cotto when that happens the fans will leap out of their seats and be witness to something very special.

“The only winner is going to be the fans, because they’re going to see a really good fight.”

With a nod and a smile Pacquiao shook Cotto’s hand and the two men, remarkably civil when you consider what they plan to do to the other, walked off the set to continue their training. The rest of us wait in anticipation for the opening bell for what very well could turn out to be the most exciting fight of the year.

October 21, 2009

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