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Saturday, August 8, 2009

Cotto/Pacquiao: Calling It As It Is

By Christopher Cruz - Never say never, as they say. With the on—again off—again nature of negotiations of the Manny Pacquiao—Miguel Cotto war tentatively set on November 14, 2009 (MGM Grand in Las Vegas), nearly everyone must be reeling from all the contradicting headlines of major boxing and news websites in the past few weeks.

This hellacious turn of events began innocently enough. After initial demands were laid out by both camps, lone promoter Top Rank head Bob Arum went on a holiday with the probable plan to let the camps stew a bit and make some of the blatantly unrealistic demands go away naturally. A major sticking point cropped up and both parties stuck to their guns: The Catch-Weight. Pacquiao trainer Freddie Roach insisted on 142-143 lbs. citing his ward’s last fight where he weighed in at only 138lbs. while Cotto’s doctor declared 145 lbs. as the lowest Miguel could go without getting severely dehydrated beyond safe levels..

At this point, Arum issued a virtual non-negotiable clause of the proposed fight by decreeing the fight will be at 145 lbs. and adding that both camps had already agreed to it. This move, depending on whether the fight gets made or not, will turn out to be either a stroke of genius or one of the biggest blunders a big-time promoter has ever made in the history of boxing.

The Pacquiao camp, after the typical fanfare took this in stride and proceeded on to the other negotiating points. In a surprising twist, what has been a relatively trivial matter before is now the crux of whether the whole fight gets made or not. As it stands now, Cotto (34-1, 27 KO’s) is the reigning welterweight champion of the minor WBO by virtue of knocking out overmatched British club fighter Michael Jennings in five one-sided rounds.

Bob Arum voiced out what most of the boxing world feels when he said that nobody cares whether there is a championship belt at stake or not. This is a match-up that will surely grip the fight fan from the opening round to the twelfth or however long it lasts, belt or no belt. Except for one small detail: if Pacquiao (49-3-2, 37 KOs) beats the Boricua Bomber with the WBO strap at stake he would have claimed another belt at an unprecedented seventh weight class. Nobody in boxing history has ever been champion in seven (7) weight classes, but of course we have to take into account the introduction of new weight divisions in between the original eight (8) weight categories that severely skews any point of comparison before and after such introduction. Nevertheless, no one has been able to do it even after the influx of these new weight divisions, and the historical significance of such a feat is not lost on Pacquiao and his considerable host of supporters.

It is probably this perspective to boxing history that has prodded Miguel Cotto and his lawyer to adamantly refuse to stake his WBO crown in the impending match-up, unless Pacquiao agrees to fight at the full welterweight limit of 147 lbs. In this regard, the opinion of the boxing world is fairly evenly split. On one hand, it is Cotto‘s title belt and in the absence of a mandatory defense requirement from the sanctioning organization he has full discretion on how he wants to dispense with his so-called jewels. On the other, it is now Pacquiao who has inherited the boxing world‘s pound-for-pound and box-office thrones from Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Oscar dela Hoya respectively, and as such he actually does not need Cotto as much as Cotto needs him, with other options for Pacquiao now becoming more and more enticing in comparison.

Negotiations such as this are usually a bloody mess more so when every ploy and counteroffer is made in public. It appears now that Arum’s declarations prior to any contracts being actually signed may be more a faux pas than a brilliant coup de grâce. Reports on the web state that Cotto has already signed a contract extension with Top Rank, and one can only surmise on the concessions Arum has made in order to secure this.

Being a fan of boxing obliges one to put in his two cents’ worth on fights as big as this, with the standard spin or two added to favor whoever one is pulling for. However, there are some issues that are absolutes. If Pacquiao has indeed an eye on boxing history while he goes thru the homestretch of his boxing career, he would do well to recognize that defeating a welterweight beltholder at something less than the established welterweight limit will definitely tarnish whatever claim he may hope to stake among the all-time greats. Cotto weighed in at 146 lbs. in his last fight, he will make 145 with most likely little difficulty. The catchweight will only serve to diminish any potential achievement on the part of the Filipino.

Pacquiao should either get the even bigger slice of the pie and fight at the full welterweight limit, or drop Cotto altogether and go for the biggest fight in boxing right now with the former pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather Jr.

IF ARUM GETS HIS WAY. And his magic touch performs up to par, Pacquiao-Cotto should push through as planned. Although the oddsmakers have the PacMan as the betting favorite this early, this fight is not an easy fight for both combatants.

Cotto, of Caguas, Puerto Rico, has only been beaten once, at the now-suspect fists of Mexican Antonio Margarito. Nobody can say for certain that Cotto would still have had that one loss had his handlers inspected the hand wrappings of the dishonored Tijuana Tornado. Granted that Cotto landed every punch in his formidable arsenal and never managed to dent the chin of Margarito, the question can be posed that if Tony padded his fists with rock-hard objects that night, would he still have knocked out Cotto without them?

In his last fight against the tough and underrated Joshua Clottey, Cotto received a lot of undeserved criticism when he managed a close and controversial decision win while suffering a bad cut due to a clash of heads. This close result was not entirely unexpected as a lot of boxing writers predicted a blood-and-guts drawn-out war considering the toughness and styles of both combatants. Cotto actually performed well and showed his toughness once again, which was put in doubt after he quit under the assault of the Tijuana Tornado. Sure, he looked vulnerable in spots when the Ghanaian Clottey was able to land solid shots. But he has looked vulnerable before against Shane Mosley, even worse in fights against Zab Judah and Ricardo Torres. He did not knock out Clottey but who has? Sometimes the boxing public can be a picky lot indeed.

This seeming public disapproval of Cotto’s recent performance stands in stark contrast to Pacquiao’s ascendancy to ever loftier status with his recent accomplishments. After solidifying his hold on the pound-for-pound throne with a split decision victory over Juan Manuel Marquez, he has exceeded any and all expectations with each foray into new territory. He was favored to win over the limited David Diaz even though it would be his first lightweight match, but the way he blitzed the Chicagoan left absolutely no doubts he was going to be an irresistible force in his new weight class. Pacquiao fighting Oscar Dela Hoya was treated as such a circus freak show between a full-grown man and a midget that no self-respecting boxing analyst took the match seriously, so much so that when Pacquiao turned the tables completely it was difficult to come up with an explanation for the surprising outcome.

Against Ricky Hatton, Pacquiao was once again installed as the favorite even though it was the Mancunian who held The Ring’s junior welterweight belt. What happened next shocked even those who had picked the Filipino to win.

Cotto being a big welterweight will pose the question of how a former flyweight fighter will take the big shots the Caguas mauler dishes out. Pacquiao is not even a big junior welterweight, but he has taken well the punches dela Hoya and Hatton had managed to land on him. However, Cotto is a different animal altogether and although dela Hoya possessed bigger one-punch knockout power Miguel has thudding power that is delivered thru sustained combinations to the head and especially the body. If the Cotto camp takes in hall-of-fame trainer Emmanuel Steward, who has publicly guaranteed a knockout victory for the Puerto Rican, it would probably tilt the balance irresistibly in his favor.

Although Manny Pacquiao has continuously shocked the world fight after fight, he may be bottoming out by taking on a strong top-tier welterweight in Cotto. At this point, the bookmakers’ odds favoring the Filipino phenom are understandably relying on both protagonists’ recent performances. The disparity in size is innocently ignored but it may be the biggest factor come fight night.

Developments from both fighters’ training camps may reveal more on these warriors and affect the so-called balance of power, but were they to duke it out now Miguel Cotto holds the biggest advantage, his size and strength, and should be installed as the favorite. Manny Pacquiao faces an uphill battle in the months ahead.

Source: eastsideboxing.com

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