Next March 4, in Bayamon (Puerto Rico), Italian sensation Gianluca Branco will fight Miguel Angel Cotto for the WBO light welterweight title. It will be the fifth defense for Cotto, who became champion when he defeated Kelson Pinto on September 11, 2004. Since Pinto was unbeaten, it looked like an even match. It wasn’t: Cotto knocked down Pinto in the second, fifth and sixth rounds forcing the referee to stop the massacre. After that impressive 6th round TKO win, Cotto proved to be a legitimate champion, defending the belt against fighters with good records and always finishing them within the distance. On December 11, 2004 Cotto stopped Randall Bailey (TKO 6). On February 26, 2005 DeMarcus Corley went down (TKO 5). On June 11, 2005 it was Mohammad Abdullaev’s turn (TKO 9). On September 24, 2005 Cotto erased any doubts about his value by KOing in 7 rounds Ricardo Torres. For me, it was the fight of the year. Nobody gave Torres a chance, even if he was 28-0. But in boxing, just like in life, the only think that counts is how much you believe in yourself. From the beginning, Torres proved to everybody that he really believed he could win by attacking Cotto with a flurry of punches. The Colombian floored Cotto in the second round, forced him to throw low blows in the third (the referee didn’t deduct any points), staggered him in round five, and engaging in an all-out war until the seventh round when Cotto won by KO. It doesn’t matter that Cotto floored Torres four times in the bout; what counts is that the Colombian got up three times and gave his all. It was Torres’ performance that made the fight more exciting than it was supposed to be. When Cotto won, he exploded with joy realizing he had survived the toughest test of his career. Will Gianluca Branco provide such an excitement? Let’s ask him.
Gianluca, what strategy will you follow against Miguel Angel Cotto?
I will go after him relentessly. I saw his most recent fights and he can be hit. Ricardo Torres proved that, hitting him at will many times. The Colombian’s problem was that he never hit the right spot. Like any other boxer, Cotto will go down if he gets a hook to the jaw.
Did you change your training schedule for Cotto?
No, I always train the same way. I’m an hard worker. This time, I have an extra motivation because the fight will be for the world title. You don’t know how badly I want to become champion of the world. I’m ready to give 100% in the ring. If Cotto is as motivated as I am, it will be a spectacular fight.
Since the fight will be held in Puerto Rico, are you worried for a partisan verdict?
If I were, I wouldn’t fly to Puerto Rico. I never took the judges into consideration before accepting a fight. If I did, I wouldn’t have accepted to fight Gabriel Mapouka (in France) for the European light welterweight title. After 12 hard rounds, two judges gave me the victory while the third official saw it a draw.
Do you think that the match with Cotto will go the distance?
I trained to make 12 rounds at an high rhythm. Of course, I will try to score the knockout. Miguel Angel Cotto is a great fighter, but he is also a man like me. If I get to his chin, he will go down for more than ten seconds.
If you become WBO champion, will you accept to challenge the champions of the other major sanctioning bodies?
I’m a professional, so I must be ready to fight everybody. My main goal now is to get the largest purse possible. This means that I would be glad to unify the titles, but only for the right amount of money. If a rematch with Arturo Gatti would provide me a bigger purse than an unification fight, I would fight Arturo.
After the onesided loss against Floyd Mayweather, Arturo Gatti looked finished. After he TKOed Thomas Damgaard, most people said that he can still become a champion. What’s your opinion?
Arturo Gatti can still be an high-level fighter for a couple of years. They shouldn’t be suprised about his win over Thomas Damgaard, who is just a good fighter.
What about Floyd Mayweather?
He is the best in the world, pound-for-pound. He is incredibly fast and can hit. I would fight him anytime. I’ve been Italian and European champion, so the only thing left in my career is the world title. Beating Floyd Mayweather would make me go one step further: I would be considered the best pound-for-pound.
In the United States, they are making a lot of noise about Paul Malignaggi. Do you think he can get to the top?
I saw him against Sandro Casamonica. On December 4, 2004 in Little Rock (Arkansas) Paulie became WBC International light welterweight champion by stopping Sandro at the end of seventh round. I saw Malignaggi in action again, sometime later; I can say that he is a good fighter, but he must improve a lot before challenging anybody for the world title.
MARCH 4 – COLISEO RUBEN RODRIGUEZ – BAYAMON (PUERTO RICO)
WBO WORLD LIGHT WELTERWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP
THE CHAMPION: MIGUEL ANGEL COTTO
Born in Caguas (Puerto Rico) on October 29, 1980
Trainer: Evangelista Cotto
Pro debut in 2001
Record: 25-0, 21 KOs
Light Welterweight Titles:
WBO world champion since September 11 2004
WBC international champion
WBO North American champion
WBA Fedelatin champion
THE CHALLENGER: GIANLUCA BRANCO
Born in Civitavecchia (Italy) on September 20, 1970
Trainer: Franco Cherchi
Pro debut in 1995
Record: 36-1-1, 19 KOs
Light Welterweight Titles:
WBU intercontinental champion