Saturday, November 14, 2009

:boxing: Super Seventh:: Cotto vs Pacquiao

Manny Pacquiao, the little dynamo that could, wishes to gain a record seventh title at a different weight class. Certainly a doable task for a man that has charged his way though nearly every division from flyweight up to light welterweight, improving and honing his skills to almost perfection when coupled with his frightening physical capabilities and being involved in all-out wars, blowouts, and clinics, losing last to the great Erik Morales in 2005 (before KOing him twice the following year). After making sport of another great in Oscar De La Hoya nearly a year ago and demolishing Ricky Hatton this past May, Pacquiao wants to hang the WBO welterweight belt on his already wide Wall of Achievement as "Lucky No. 7" come Saturday night in Las Vegas. One little problem, though: it's buckled around Miguel Cotto's waist.

But that doesn't matter at all. Since no one seems to be giving him much of a chance, it's not a matter of "if" but "how bad" and "how long". Not even Bob Arum, who promotes both fighters, doesn't seem to cast much stock in a victory for Cotto.

Back to reality, there is a good amount of misconceptions going around about this so-called "blowout". The "Weight-Class Warrior" may have faced the likes of Morales, De La Hoya, Hatton, Juan Manuel Marquez, and Marco Antonio Barrera, but the champion poses perhaps the greatest challenge in his career. Cotto, despite starting his career as a lightweight, has largely been a lifetime welterweight, finding early success at light before moving up to the 145's in 2006. His power is more acclimated at the class than Pacquiao's, whose incredible strength at the lighter weights has not completely carried over into lightweight and, more apparently, beyond that.

After his stoppages of David Diaz (lightweight), Hatton (light welterweight), and De La Hoya (welterweight), each fighter said that his speed, not his power, is what they had trouble with. In spite of a sometimes shaky chin and inadequate defense, Cotto is one of the hardest pugilists to keep down or take out, with only Antonio Margarito staking that sole claim (now under dubious light after the Mosley fiasco in January). Pacquiao, on the other hand, has shown discomfort at taking shots from said three fighters--all of whom have been lifers at 135lbs and above. Those have been the only times he has ever been at that weight range.

Not being acclimated at a certain weight class strength-wise can be a major problem for any fighter, no matter how good they are. It certainly didn't bode well for middleweight Kelly Pavlik moving up to fight light heavyweight Bernard Hopkins or lightweight Juan Manuel Marquez fighting Floyd Mayweather, Jr. at welterweight, where he had been for four years (and Marquez, never). What did those fights have in common besides being sweeping wins for the more naturally-weighted man? The combatants in both fights had virtually the same height and reach.

One of the biggest misconceptions of this Saturday's bout is that Cotto is the much bigger man to Pacquiao. By way of dimensions, they are exactly even (5'7" height, 67" reach), but where that belief may be correct at is in terms of body mass. Cotto's body is thicker and bigger than Pacquiao's thinner, leaner frame, no doubt from being at welterweight for so long and not coming up from the lighter weights that have that sort of body type (like the latter). Height differences and reach advantages meant nothing in those other bouts or this one, as more natural strength, speed, and stamina at those levels meant much more than what was being brought up from below, even talent. And with Cotto's substantial power, all-out pressure, and ability to absorb punishment, Manny Pacquiao's night will be anything but a romp.

The Filipino may not have the advantage in terms of total physicality, but he does bring with him experience in traversing through weight classes and his own formidable traits and skills. He is no stranger to it and thus knows how to properly gain weight and muscle and stay in peek condition. Though his power has not completely made the transition, he certainly has enough of it left to do some damage and stop opponents. He has, however, retained his incredible hand speed, which combined with it, he can mount up a great deal of damage quickly without having to trade long-term with the heavier, stronger fighter. It will be his primary and most vital weapon against the slower Cotto and thanks to trainer Freddie Roach's work, he has become a well-rounded enough boxer that he can string together a smart and careful gameplan around it. Footwork and stamina, both of which he excels at more than Cotto, will also be key to obtaining victory. Also, the champion's stalking style is great for pressuring, but too often does he "follow" more than he does protect himself or try to score, leaving him open to quick barrage of blows before Pacquiao slips out of range.

In June 2007, Miguel Cotto fought Zab Judah, then the fastest fighter he had ever faced, and TKO'd the chronic underwhelmer after he failed to make use of his given talents. Manny Pacquiao surely won't make the same mistake, being a better, faster, and more dynamic opponent than he, but he'll have his work cut out for himself. The Puerto Rican champion is by far the strongest and most dangerous fighter he has ever faced and he'll do everything he can to break his will like he has with many others. Overall, it is the kind of match-up that poses a lot of risk for both combatants and it will either be a short night or a full-on blowout at or near the contested twelve rounds. The first round will most likely be tentative, but after that, it will be whoever shows any sign of discomfort or buckling (and it will be apparent quickly) that will be looking at one fateful night.

Prediction: Cotto, TKO4 (if Cotto shows no answer for Pacquiao's quickness and handspeed, Pacquiao, TKO7). Pacquiao is HOF-great and the best in the world, but as good as his chances are, I think Cotto will have too much power for him to handle, especially if he lands a good head shot or works his smaller body--and he'll most likely try to pounce on him early and without relent to do so. Cotto has gotten better since his loss to Margarito, but remains a vulnerable fighter, so the tide may turn if he gets complacent or relaxed. As the battle looms for his WBO welterweight belt (and a diamond-encrusted WBC belt worth nowhere near what its lofty appearance suggests...don't ask) and with a post-fight concert by Pacquiao to come, it's not a sure win for either man, but it will possibly be a rout for one of them.


Outcome: Pacquiao, TKO12. I would have posted the results soon after the fight, but I was too tired from eating on this Filipino-fried crow here. Once more, Manny Pacquiao has defied my doubting predictions (proving the counter one true, more or less) and went on a tear on Miguel Cotto enroute to his unheard-of seventh title at a different weight class. The reports, as most of you already know, said that the match was a back-and-forth struggle for the first four rounds, with Cotto dominating the first, but going down briefly in the third. The tide turned, however, when he barely recovered from a second knockdown in the forth, and from there, Pacquiao did what he usually does: smartly swarm fighters with hard shots from all angles and break them down.

The eleventh saw the end of the night for Cotto, now swollen and bloodied from the affair, as Kenny Bayless prevented things from going further in the final round. Most have said it could have been stopped in the ninth round and Cotto and his corner considered doing it in the eleventh. It was a hard fight, it seemed, for Pacquiao too, who remarked afterwards about the now-former champion's toughness and power, which he tasted more than a few times in the bout. That was the most surprising element from reading the coverage--him taking Cotto's best shots--and it is just one of the many reasons why I'll be glued to the screen this Saturday for HBO's replay (which just has to be on the same night of the Kessler-Ward Super Six bout).

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