Wednesday, October 14, 2009
TAMPA, Fla. -- A banner high on a distant wall of The Fight Factory Gym depicts Miguel Cotto throwing a jab just above the head of Manny Pacquiao, a bull's-eye over his face.
"On Nov. 14, the world will witness who will be the new king of the ring," read the words on the large poster, beneath which the live version of Cotto is involved in a spirited sparring session with talented southpaw Fred Tukes of Atlanta, with trainer Joe Santiago also in the ring.
"We're a team and we're behind Miguel every single minute, thinking about the fight in Tampa. We have no distractions. Our focus is Manny Pacquiao and that's our target," Santiago said Wednesday.
Santiago said that the 28-year-old Cotto (34-1, 27 knockouts) has been "tirelessly" toiling in Florida for Pacquiao (49-3-2, 37 KOs), against whom he'll defend his WBO welterweight (147 pounds) title at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
"We did four weeks in [Cotto's native] Puerto Rico, and we'll accomplish eight weeks outside of Puerto Rico -- six in Tampa and two more in Las Vegas, starting on Nov. 1," said Santiago. "We wake up early in the morning to train in the morning workout, and we go to the gym because Manny Pacquiao is our No. 1 target."
In the ring, Cotto's eyes were fixed firmly upon Tukes, whom he pursued from behind a rapier-like jab during the first of three, three-minute rounds with 30 seconds rest in-between.
"I'm working on everything -- my distance, how to take the control of every round," said Cotto. "I have a plan A, plan B, and I'm pretty sure that I'm not going to have any problems the night of the fight."
Wearing blue head gear and white gloves, in contrast to Tukes' red head gear and red gloves, Cotto pursued his rival like an animal tracking prey.
"[Santiago] said that he needed for me to give Miguel a lot of movement, try to make him miss and to throw straight left hands at him. I was trying to emulate Pacquiao as much as possible. I think I did a pretty good job ," said Tukes, a muscular, 35-year-old southpaw with a professional record of 8-1-1 that includes five knockouts.
At one point, Cotto trapped Tukes in a neutral corner and fired away. Tukes acknowledged that he "felt every punch."
"If Miguel gets Pacquiao on the ropes, I think that Miguel's body shots are going to be significant," said Tukes. "That overhand left and his straight right hand and his hook that he throws off of the jab -- he's a lot faster than people think that he is."
His rotation complete, Tukes was replaced by a fresher, more youthful Kenny Abril, a gifted 25-year-old brawler-boxer from Rochester, N.Y.
"We both give different looks: Kenny has a lot of head movement, throws good combinations and has pretty fast hands," said Tukes. "And Kenny's a bit more in-your-face, straight up, one-two, spin around, that sort of thing."
As Abril came forward, Cotto again used his jab, only this time to blast his opponent from a distance. Cotto often sent volleys as he circled to the left or to the right.
"Cotto can be a boxer-puncher and switch up virtually at will. Shane Mosley, for example, when he trained for Cotto, he trained for a brawler moreso than a boxer," said Tukes, referring to Cotto's November, 2007, decision over the former world champion from Los Angeles.
"But when Miguel switched it up on him in the later rounds and went into boxing mode," said Tukes, "Shane was like, 'Oh, damn, I didn't train for this.' "
When his three-round session had run its course, Abril offered a similar impression, calling Cotto "just too strong."
"Today, Miguel caught me with a body shot and just recently, the other day, with a nice hook to the head when I went to spin off," said Abril. "Every time I move, his punches are right on point. I move to the left or move to the right, he's always there timing me beautifully."
Abril wore a white head gear and black gloves.
"But Pacquiao won't be wearing protective head gear, so if Miguel catches him like he did me on those days, he's a goner. Pacquiao will be going home early -- straight back to the Philippines. I mean, he'll be out of it," said Abril. "Miguel's really sharp and strong with the body shots -- an amazing fighter."
Abril was similarly effusive concerning Cotto's roadwork.
"He's an amazing runner, which I know because we wake up every morning with him and run with him," said Abril. "He's nonstop. I'm always gasping for air trying to keep up."
When he wasn't sparring, Cotto was being followed around by his promoter, Bob Arum, legendary trainer, Angelo Dundee, or the cameras of HBO's 24/7 series.
Also Watching the sparring from ringside was Miguel Sr., who is among his son's most ardent critics. Yet even the father had to give Miguel Jr. his props.
"I've been telling Miguel what kind of punches he needed to throw, what kind of movement we needed to do, and I was very happy with his progress today -- much better than the last session," said Miguel Sr., a short man with peppered hair.
"Mentally, Miguel's very strong. He's always been there. But that's why he's successful. But on Nov. 14, he'll be much more mentally strong than Pacquiao, and that will be the ultimate in giving my son the advantage."