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Hard To Pick One in This Pick 'Em

BY John James ON November 12, 2009
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In boxing, everybody has something to say and nobody's wrong.

Pretty Boy's a bully. Taylor's finished. Hopkins should retire. Cotto's lost his power.

The boxing fan knows who's shot and who's not. And perhaps they sympathize - a little more than most – when the networks slice boxing's piece of the marketing pie because diehard fans agree that a) the sport can't get out of its own way and b) it delivers few match-ups people want to see.

So when the elusive big fight comes around, the bile begins to churn. And Cotto Pacquiao is sold as fast-acting antacid. The best fighting the best. A legitimate test of equals. Daredevil versus Wolverine.

Whether Pacquiao Cotto actually delivers on the firepower...that's anyone's guess.

Las Vegas odds right now have Pacquiao at 2 to 1. Promoter Bob Arum says big Filipino money on Pacquiao explains the skew. Still, most critics think Pacquiao is too fast and too game at this point in his career to be taken out. Cotto, they insist, isn’t the same banger since the Antonio Margarito debacle. This writer thinks there's an element of truth to that; being hit with bricks over ten rounds would cause anyone to lose a measure of timing, if not confidence.

But we don’t ever really know what's in a fighter's heart, do we?

I thought Freddie Roach was dead on when he said Hopkins should retire after watching him stroll to the wrong corner between rounds – more than once – against Calzaghe. Six months later, Hopkins put on a master class against previously unstoppable Kelly Pavlik. Cotto might be damaged goods, but he might still have enough in the tanks to handle business against a guy coming up in weight. If speed kills, so too do power and ring smarts. That's why we tune in. That’s why boxing still tantalizes. Because Manny Pacquiao might be in for the beat down of his career.

Promoter Lou DiBella believes that Manny's a great fighter, but contends that he’s a 'pumped up little guy' who will have flown too high come fight night.

"Cotto's got a big punch," DiBella said. "He's possibly the hardest hitting Welterweight who does not have concrete in his gloves. Has he lost his power? It's all relative. I don't know. When you get beaten with loaded gloves by a cheater, anything's possible. I see Cotto by stoppage."

We’ve all looked for smoke signals on HBO's 24/7. Some have said Cotto is oddly soft after a remarkably long training camp. Pacquiao is distracted by the allure of politics and hangers-on.

While the most recent incarnation of the behind-the-scenes docudrama has been the most leaden to date, the nugget for me was Miguel Senior’s attempt to describe his son's bruises following the Margarito bout. That beating may not affect Cotto’s performance this weekend, but it still puts him closer to the end of his career. Cotto himself has acknowledged that he doesn’t want to spend his golden years in the ring. Because he knows boxing is a cumulative process. Those straight rights begin to take their toll. Pacquiao merely puts Cotto closer to the finish line.

I asked legendary photographer Al Bello, who was ringside for Cotto/Clottey, what he thought watching the Boricua Bomber up close.

Was he the same fighter? Did his punch carry the same power? Or was Cotto a diminished warrior?

"I think Cotto's a natural welterweight,” Bello told me. “I don't see Manny handling Cotto's punch; I see Cotto taking a twelve round unanimous decision. I don't think he's lost his power – I  think against Clottey he was fighting with a mega cut and that's what we saw, and it bothered him, but I don't think he's lost his power."

The media has made a big deal about the corner’s role in this fight, partly because an ocean of knowledge separates Roach - boxing royalty and media darling - from Joe Santiago, newcomer and the guy that replaced the guy, so to speak. Cotto’s camp has dismissed the role of the chief second. They shouldn’t.

If Roach has uncovered a bad habit in Cotto’s stalking style, it’s that Cotto is there for the uppercut. And that will be key to this fight, not the hook and roll-under we saw Manny pull off against Hatton and De la Hoya. Clottey caught Cotto with it, again and again. So too did Judah. But Judah, unlike Pacquiao, didn’t have the ring savvy, explosiveness or the reserves to pounce on Cotto. In Clottey’s case, the Ghanaian took the last two rounds off. While Cotto won the Clottey fight, he was certainly “on the cuff, on the brink of being pushed over the cliff,” said Teddy Atlas.

“In a weird way Clottey saved him because he did not act like a fighter should,” Atlas said. “He did not seize the moment, he didn’t push Cotto off the cliff, and he let him survive.”

I won’t make a prediction. As I said, this fight is anyone’s guess.

I will end on this note. Cotto must have known something surreal was happening around the sixth round in his fight with Margarito. Something was different about the shots he was taking. Why was he so tired? By the tenth and eleventh, you could see the questions going through his mind. To date, Cotto has said very little about the matter. So I would remind boxing fans come fight night: Cotto the ‘proud’ Puerto Rican warrior pondered all of these questions – more or less standing – after eleven rounds of being hit with potentially loaded gloves. Cotto-Pacquiao: pick em! But don't for a second believe that Manny Pacquiao has ever stepped into the ring with someone as fierce as Miguel Ángel Cotto.

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