It wasn’t so long ago that I firmly believed Antonio Margarito was Miguel Cotto’s kryptonite. It didn’t make the idea of them fighting any less appealing; anyone with eyeballs could see that no matter who came out on top, the act of getting there was going to be some kind of hellacious war. But if you had asked me in, say, early 2008 about who would win, I would have answered “Margarito” faster than you could finish the question. Too big. Too much of a natural welterweight (147 lbs). Strongest in the area where Cotto was weakest — Margarito’s big punch to Cotto’s vulnerable chin. Even though I thought Cotto was the better overall fighter, sometimes, another dude’s just got your number. Things have changed since then. Cotto has showed vast improvement in his boxing skill level in his last two fights, especially when he put on a scintillating display of versatility against the admittedly limited Alfonso Gomez this spring. Suddenly, Cotto was showing great strength in the area where Margarito was weakest — speed, cleverness and slick technique. It was always there. He just hadn’t used it much. The betting line is still crazy. No way should Cotto be a 3-1 favorite. Check out parts I and II of my Cotto-Margarito preview for in-depth explanations of why. Now, it’s all about getting the moment I’d been hoping to avoid, and that’s making my own call about who will win. For all its factors, I don’t think this fight ends up being terribly complicated. If Cotto fights smart, moves in and out, and trades power punches infrequently, I think he wins. If Margarito lures Cotto into a brawl, I think he wins. Even if each fighter gets his way, it won’t be easy. Would you want to get into a brawl with Cotto? I wouldn’t. Even people who run away from him often end up with, literally, broken faces. Would you want to spend about an hour trying to dodge Margarito’s blows, which come with such ridiculous frequency that he actually owns the record for most punches thrown in a fight, ever? Go ahead, you can have it. Anybody who can throw 140 punches a round ain’t no cupcake. It may be silly to worry about Cotto’s chin anymore. After all, even when he’s gone down, he’s gotten back up again and won dramatically. And all of his worse shaking, rattling and rolling came when he fought at 140 pounds. According to his team, they did some research and tests and what not and found that, while 5’7″, Cotto’s built so much like a tank that he was actually cutting muscle when he had to make that weight limit. I believe it. He was swelling up to 160 or so after each weigh-in, and that’s not the kind of thing you do if you’re healthy at 140. And when you aren’t healthy at a weight, even the relatively light-punching likes of DeMarcus Corley can have you seeing birdies. Cotto may have had some rough moments since moving seven pounds north against Zab Judah, and, to a lesser extent, Shane Mosley, but nothing like the life and death struggle he had at 140 against Ricardo Torres. It might even be silly to worry all that much about Margarito’s difficulties with speedy mover-types. For one thing, while he is indeed a brawler, and he has some significant flaws in his technique, he’s far from hopeless. Behold his sequence of left uppercuts against Golden Johnson. Margarito, by the way, is right-handed. After you watch it, tell me if that’s the kind of thing a caveman could do. For another thing, Margarito has definitely looked like an improved fighter his last couple go-rounds. He’s vowed to no longer dig himself holes by starting slowly and giving away rounds on the scorecards. He’s lived up to his word so far. Also, while Kermit Cintron is no fleet-fisted fancypants sweet science practitioner, Margarito did pick off a lot more of his shots this year with his gloves than he did the first time. If he’s honed his defense and his jab in camp like he reportedly has tried to do, Cotto hitting-and-moving his way to a win becomes a more dicey proposition still. No matter how it plays out, I just can’t imagine this one blowing. Margarito thinks he’ll win in four rounds. Don’t see it. Paulie Malignaggi, a former Cotto victim, once predicted this fight would be easy as pie for Cotto. I think that’s pride talking, Paulie. A Ring magazine columnist said he wouldn’t be surprised if Margarito scores a 1st round knockout. I would be. About 47 out of 60 boxing experts in a recent press release predicted a Cotto win. That one does surprise me. Given both men’s styles, I can only envision a grinding, awe-inspiring slugfest that lasts pretty long either way. If you’ve never seen a boxing match, make this your first one. You’ll be spoiled if it plays out the way I expect, but you’ll come away with an appreciation of the kind of guts, strength, stamina, pain threshold, skill and raw willpower that only boxing can put on display. My prediction: Cotto by pretty close decision. He’s a smart man, Cotto. His next fight, a possible showdown with Oscar De La Hoya, would get him an eight-figure payday. I think he’ll land plenty of big punches against Margarito’s invulnerable cranium and then stay out of harm’s way enough to win. He’ll get hit plenty himself along the way, maybe enough to go down. But one way or the other, he figures out how to win. In fact, that’s his only game plan — go in there, see what Margarito gives him, and adapt. Confidence: 60%. Every time I watch Margarito, I see why he’s been so feared. He doesn’t put most people out of their misery quickly. He just keeps coming and coming and coming and coming and after a while you’re tired and ragged and that’s when he catches you with a punch that puts you to sleep. It’s not nearly as forgiving as the one-punch knockout variety. I can absolutely see Margarito applying this cruel formula to Cotto en route to a knockout win, a more likely result than Cotto putting Margarito to beddie-bye. My allegiance: I’ve always been a huge Cotto fan, and I do want to see him win. I like him enough that I’m actually nervous for him Saturday. It’s a good kind of goose bump, though, because if he pulls it off, it’ll be an exciting development for me as a follower of his career. I used to not like Margarito, but more because I thought his backers were obnoxious in supporting this crude-looking, drunken-street-fighting-seeming unskilled laborer, but I’ve come to appreciate the excitement level he brings to the game and some of his nuances, too. Usually this is where I’d say “but if Margarito wins, I’ll be happy for him.” I’m enough of a fanboy of Cotto’s, though, that I’ll probably be unhappy for a day or two if Margarito is the one celebrating in the end.