So continues our marathon coverage of one of the biggest fights of 2009, Manny Pacquiao against Miguel Cotto, culminating in a live blog of the bout Saturday. Previously – the importance of Pacquiao-Cotto; the two top questions for each man; keys to the fight, parts I and II; and a look at the undercard. Tomorrow — a round-up of all the Pacquiao-Cotto links you’ll ever need.
I couldn’t dream it any better, I really couldn’t. For the first time since I can remember, a mega-fight is a mega-fight on the merits, and I don’t have to make any excuses, things like “Dear non-boxing fans, please know that if you watch this fight and it sucks it’s not representative of the sport as a whole.” No, Nov. 14’s 145-pound bout between Manny Pacquiao and Miguel Cotto is the best of both worlds. Purists love it, but at the same time, The New York Times is giving boxing some rare coverage and even the U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, is making predictions about the winner. Usually, there’s this divide. For the biggest events, maybe it’s an old Mike Tyson you have to apologize for, but hell, Tyson is who people knew, old or not. Maybe it’s a mismatch between Floyd Mayweather, the guy everyone saw on “Dancing With The Stars” and so they know him now, but he’s fighting a guy in Juan Manuel Marquez who was at his best 20 pounds lighter and it’s a complete mismatch. Meanwhile, classics like Israel Vazquez-Rafael Marquez III, a fight everyone “in the know” knew would be dynamite and was, get a tenth of the same attention.
What we have right here in Pacquiao-Cotto is a fight that has meaning, and will be exciting one way or another, and has heat with the mainstream. Really? Hillary Clinton? Fantastic. The winner is the Fighter of the Year. Jesus, the winner might be the Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year, since Pacquiao’s been nominated should he win. That’s Michael Jordan territory.
I’ve spent a few days breaking down how each fighter stacks up. It’s that time, the time where I have to cast my lot with one fighter or another, to envision how Pacquiao-Cotto will play out. Other than “It’ll be awesome!”
Let’s stack up some of the key factors. First, and most importantly, I don’t think Pacquiao is too small for Cotto and I don’t think Cotto is too much damaged goods for Pacquiao. For all the angry Pacquiao fans out there who think, like me, Cotto isn’t over the hill from his knockout loss to Antonio Margarito, I direct you to Pacquiao trainer Freddie Roach, who says he thinks Cotto IS damaged goods. I suppose he’s just making “excuses” for his man. Oh, you zealous Pacquiao fans you. Anyway, Roach could be right. So, too, could the people who think Pacquiao has leaped one weight class too far. But I don’t think they are.
From there, I think the major advantage for Pacquiao is his speed. He has it. Cotto doesn’t have much of it. Even though I don’t think Pacquiao is “too small” for Cotto, I still think size is Cotto’s primary advantage in this fight. Cotto is going to outweigh Pacquiao by about 15 pounds once they rehydrate on Saturday from the 145 pound limit, and Cotto is going to be the bigger man, pure and simple. There are X factors. For instance, on the Pacquiao side, Roach being such a great trainer helps Pacquiao; Cotto looking weight-drained in the eyes of many observers hurts him.
Even though I picked Oscar De La Hoya to beat Pacquiao, I believe Cotto is the best fighter Pacquiao has fought since the Juan Manuel Marquez rematch in early 2008. This version of Cotto beats that version of De La Hoya with ease, and Cotto wrecks Ricky Hatton just as easily as Pacquiao did. Don’t even mention David Diaz. I say this with no intent to diminish those Pacquiao opponents. They were all top-notch to elite opponents. It’s just that Cotto’s better than them. He’s stronger than them all, he’s in better form now than they all were and he’s one of the five best active fighters roaming our planet. You don’t beat fighters like Joshua Clottey — especially with a horrible cut worthy of the doctor stopping the fight — unless you’re way, way up there. Even a narrow win means something against a guy like Clottey, and that’s not even the best guy Cotto’s beaten. Diaz, Hatton and De La Hoya wouldn’t stand a chance against the version of Shane Mosley that Cotto beat. (Yeah, De La Hoya almost beat Mosley in 2003, but it was at a weight Mosley was no good at and De La Hoya in 2003 was a better fighter than the 2007 model where we might have got De La Hoya-Mosley III, where I would have picked Mosley to win easily.)
On the other hand, Pacquiao has the air of a fighter who is once-in-a-lifetime. I said after his destruction of Hatton that I wouldn’t pick against him versus anyone near his weight until he showed signs of decline, because he’s taken on that aura that the truly special fighters have. You can badmouth Hatton as a fighter if you want, even though I wouldn’t. But the reason Pacquiao made Hatton look like a chump is because Pacquiao’s up here, and everyone else is down here. Even if you thought Hatton was overrated (which I do not), nobody had come close to doing to Hatton what Pacquiao did. Even if you thought De La Hoya was old and weight-drained (which he was) nobody had done to him what Pacquiao did. Even if Diaz was limited (and he was) nobody had done to him what Pacquiao did. I don’t think any of this is an illusion or a coincidence. Yes, these opponents made Pacquiao look good, in their own ways, but the improvement Pacquiao showed after the second Marquez fight translates against any fighter — better defense, fewer mistakes, more diversified offense. It’s harder against better fighters, true, but it’s not imaginary.
It’s why, ultimately, I think Pacquiao is going to beat Cotto. I give Cotto a better chance, much better chance, than Hatton. I thought Hatton would land some on Pacquiao, and he didn’t. Cotto is better still, so he might land some on Pacquiao. If he does, Pacquiao might get in trouble. But I don’t think Cotto will land enough on Pacquiao to win. Cotto needs to connect a lot to wear down his opponents, and I just don’t see him having the speed to do so. I expect he’ll start off in counterpunching mode, just like Roach expects, so as to mimic the trouble Marquez gave him with that style. But like I said, I wouldn’t give Marquez much of a chance of beating this version of Pacquiao. And Marquez at lightweight is a better fighter than Cotto at welterweight. Now, as previously discussed, if Pacquiao is too small for Cotto, it’s over. If Pacquiao can’t handle the punches Cotto lands, he won’t win. But again, I don’t think Pacquiao’s too small. He might get buzzed by a single Cotto punch, but I don’t think he’ll get knocked out by one. It’s going to take Cotto landing a lot, or Pacquiao not being able to handle Cotto’s size, for Cotto to win.
The pathway is easier, I think, for Pacquiao. With his fast hands, and with Cotto’s poor defense, I think he can chop up Cotto at will, especially with his uppercut. With his fast feet, I think he’ll be able to get in and out of danger against Cotto. To counter Pacquaio, you have to be an extraordinarily smart fighter, a savant like Marquez, and even then this version of Pacquiao is far more unpredictable and mistake-free than ever.
So that leaves us here: Pacquiao by decision, or Pacquiao by knockout. I’m going to go Pacquiao by knockout. And I want to get more specific than I usually do — I think Cotto, who’s prone to cuts, will suffer severe damage that way to force the fight to be halted or his corner will throw in the towel. Cotto’s going to take a lot of shots, but probably nothing big enough to actually knock him out. Somebody’s going to have to save Cotto. Pacquiao will fight intelligently early, but put on more and more punishment the easier he finds it to get his damage done. Nobody in boxing finds his punching range as quickly as Pacquiao, but Pacquiao will need to be smart and wary against Cotto. I don’t think the knockout will come early, but I didn’t think Pacquiao would knock out Hatton early, either. Still, Cotto’s a bigger man, so I expect it’ll take a while to beat him. I’ll say the ninth round.
I think it’ll be an excellent performance by Pacquiao and therefore an exciting fight, but if I’m wrong and Cotto gives Pacquiao some static, watch out. We could be heading for classic territory.
If I’m wrong about who wins, there’ll be a major shakeup in the sport. Everyone is focusing their attention in this fight on Pacquiao, because he’s the #1 man, he’s the guy who’s beat the mainstream names, he’s the one who’s “known.” Cotto beating Pacquiao doesn’t diminish Pacquiao much, but it certainly takes some steam out of the biggest possible fight in the sport, a Pacquiao bout with Floyd Mayweather. It puts Cotto, potentially, on that big-time level, or at least near it. If it happens, good for him. Cotto is as admirable a boxer as there is in the sport, right up there with good guys like, well, Pacquiao.
If I’m right, the Pacquiao legend grows. We’re talking about a fighter who’s one of the 25 best who ever laced ’em up, and beating Cotto moves him up yet more still. Pacquiao gets better in every fight, and there’s a chance he’ll be better Saturday than ever. That Pacquiao is as good as he is now — that good — is why I think he’ll win Saturday night.