Manny Pacquiao – Miguel Cotto: Keys To The Fight, Part I

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. Yesterday – the importance of Pacquiao-Cotto, and the two key questions for each man. Later today – keys to the fight, part II.

Boxing is part mental and tactical, part physical. It won’t be any different for Miguel Cotto and Manny Pacquiao when they step into the ring this weekend to do battle. Let’s take a look at the physical aspects of their match-up first.

Size. We explored some of this yesterday, but I think it warrants some elaboration. I don’t think there’s any doubt that Cotto is the naturally bigger man here. When Cotto weighs in on fight night, he’ll have gone from 145 pounds to probably about 160. Pacquiao may not even go to the weigh-in at 145, and probably won’t weigh more than 150. Pacquaio’s first weigh-in when he started his career was 106 pounds; in 2008, he fought at the beginning of the year at 130, and just this year won the junior welterweight championship. Cotto was such a massive 140-pounder, where he fought from the start of his career until 2006, that the act of making weight diminished his punch resistance, and he’s a full-blown welterweight who has extraordinary strength compared to his peers. Height and length wise, Cotto is only a half inch taller at 5’7″ and they have an identical 67″ reach, but you get the impression looking at them that Cotto is the bigger man. So the question isn’t whether Cotto will have a size advantage — it’s how much it will matter.

If Pacquiao can’t hurt Cotto, he’ll be in big trouble. Floyd Mayweather beat Juan Manuel Marquez for plenty of reasons other than his far superior size, but Marquez’ inability to hurt Mayweather took away virtually any chance he had. Mayweather is a good enough fighter that if you can’t hurt him, he’ll just toy with you. Cotto is a good enough fighter that if your punches mean nothing to him, he will ignore your fast feet and your fast hands and hunt you down and beat you senseless. If Cotto can maul you and wrestle you, he’ll hurt your stamina, too. It’s my view that won’t happen here. It’s my view that the size difference is such that Pacquiao is at a disadvantage, but not a vast one.

There is one aspect where Pacquiao will have a slight size advantage, in the other direction. The 145-pound limit was designed to neutralize some of Cotto’s size advantage. Cotto has been in a really long training camp, and there were some observers who watched today’s news conference and thought it looked like Cotto was withdrawn. Now, Cotto weighed 146 for his last fight on the day of the weigh-in, so it’s not like one more pound is a huge difference. But if that one pound didn’t have a chance of mattering, believe me, Pacquiao’s camp wouldn’t have asked for it. Cotto’s team insists he’s had no trouble making weight. I don’t expect it to be a major factor, but it could be a minor one. Advantage: Cotto.

Speed. If you were making a list of boxing’s speed demons, you’d probably put Pacquiao at #1 or #2, with Mayweather the other contender. I would put him at #1. People say things like, “His individual punches aren’t as fast as some other boxers’, but his combinations are the fastest.” I actually think Pacquiao’s like a pitcher — he’ll throw a change-up, so that when the fastball comes (or, in reverse order of that) you don’t see it coming, it’s so much faster. His feet are ultra-quick, too. He uses them to pounce in and out of range and fire punches from different angles, and it’s a vital part of his attack.

Cotto isn’t slow, but nor would you call him fast. Shane Mosley and Zab Judah both troubled him with their hand speed. Cotto’s jab was exceptionally quick during his fight with Mosley, and he obviously was leagues faster than Antonio Margarito, but on the whole, I think you’d have to say he’s about average in speed. On his feet, he’s a little bit plodding, although he’s shown he can be quite mobile when he gets on his bicycle and counterpunches. It’s not the most natural-looking bicycle. It’s kind of like when Shaq decides to dribble in the open court — it works, somehow, but it’s not something he probably ought to do all that often. Ultimately, he gets by on pretty good timing and focus when it comes to issues of speed. But this category — it isn’t even close. And it’s the most pronounced edge Pacquiao has over Cotto, the physical attribute that gives him his best chance of winning. Advantage: Pacquiao.

Power. There can be no disputing that Pacquiao is a freakish athlete, one of the best — if not the best — mixtures of speed and power in boxing today. There’s no reason Pacquiao should have carried his pop as high as he has from the lower weight classes, and it’s all amplified by his speed, which turns his power to a Spinal Tap-like 11 on the dial. You think he’s showing signs of that power diminishing at times, like when he put a huge beating on David Diaz at lightweight before finally knocking him out, but then he turns around and shocks Ricky Hatton at junior welterweight with three knockdowns, and the final one a knockout for the ages. That he hits from strange angles gives him more power yet, because it’s always the punch you don’t see that hurts you most.

Cotto is more of a wear-you-down puncher, but make no mistake, he has massive power himself. In one fight, he forced his opponent, Gianluca Branco, to quit because of a shoulder injury that occurred mainly because Cotto was punching him in it. He messes up your facial features, breaks your jaw, and, especially, hits you so hard in your ribs that you don’t have much left late in fights. He has 27 knockouts in 34 wins to 37 knockouts in 49 wins for Pacquiao, or a 79 percent versus a 76 percent KO ratio — and Cotto’s all have come against bigger men.

I think Pacquiao’s power is going to be quite legit in this fight, even moving up to welterweight. But I think Cotto’s going to have the edge. Here’s why: If Cotto had hit Oscar De La Hoya as many times as Pacquiao did, do you think De La Hoya would have lasted eight rounds? I don’t. Granted, Cotto probably wouldn’t have hit De La Hoya as many times as Pacquiao did. But all I’m talking about is power here. And Cotto hits harder per punch than Pacquiao. This could be determinative: There are some who think Pacquiao wins if his power hurts Cotto early, but if Pacquiao can’t knock him out, Cotto’s power will take over late. Advantage: Cotto.

Stamina. I don’t want to imply that Cotto isn’t a world-class athlete, or that he can’t dig deep to find reserves of energy that most humans couldn’t begin to comprehend. But he has, at times, shown a tendency to fade late. He certainly did it against Margarito, and maybe with good reason, since Margarito got busted with loaded gloves in the fight after, and because plaster hardens as fights wear on. But Cotto also faded a bit late against Mosley, and while he pulled the fight out in the end against Joshua Clottey, there were stretches late in the bout where he looked a little worse for wear. There are other fights where he’s been the stronger man late, like against Judah, but it’s usually because he got a lot of body work done. In other words, his stamina wasn’t at issue — it was what he was doing to the other guy’s. And if the extra pound from fighting at 145 hurts him anywhere, it hurts him in this category.

Pacquiao has never given me a glimpse of anything less than stellar stamina. He punches just as hard late in fights as he does early. Like I said — freakish athlete. I suppose there have been stretches of tough fights where he looked like he slowed down, but there have usually been extenuating circumstances, like a bad cut. In the 12th round, Pacquiao’s not going to be tired. His reputation as a training maniac is almost unparalleled. Genes and work ethic are a pretty good combination for having great stamina. If Pacquiao can’t knock out Cotto in the first half of the fight, he better hope his stamina is at its usual tip-top heights, because the second half is when Cotto sometimes gets people. Advantage: Pacquiao.

Chin. Cotto gets rocked at times. But in every fight but one, he’s found a way to survive. Most of his problems came at junior welterweight, where, as I mentioned, he was chronically weight-drained. Ricardo Torres knocked him down, and the relatively light-hitting DeMarcus Corley hurt him, too. At welterweight, he’s fared better, but he got stunned a few times by Judah, and Margarito knocked him out. It is an open question whether Cotto has recovered from that knockout loss physically, the topic I weighed in on yesterday. But if the beating did affect him physically, it will leave him with a chin that is very vulnerable to being hit by someone like Pacquiao, even if Pacquiao’s power isn’t quite as considerable at welterweight. If Cotto is damaged goods as a result of the Margarito defeat — and I don’t think he is, but I don’t know for sure — then he’s basically a cooked goose in this category.

Pacquiao’s been rocked before, too, but it’s a much rarer event. The two knockout losses on his record are from long ago, when he was a weight-drained kid. Since, he’s been pretty steady. Nemesis Juan Manuel Marquez wobbled him pretty badly early in their rematch, but that was the last time it happened — De La Hoya never really hurt him, nor did Hatton. Some of that was because they didn’t hit him very cleanly very often, but he held up just fine to what landed. I think there are question marks on whether Pacquiao’s chin can hold up to clean punches from the biggest man and biggest puncher he’s ever faced, and there’s a feeling in the Cotto camp that Pacquiao doesn’t like body punches. I think the question mark is fair and valid, but I haven’t seen Pacquiao dislike body shots more than anyone else. Nobody likes ’em. Still, the history suggests that if anybody is going to have problems in this category, it’s Cotto. Advantage: Pacquaio.

About Ben Koo

Owner and editor of @AwfulAnnouncing. Recovering Silicon Valley startup guy. Fan of Buckeyes, A's, dogs, naps, tacos. and the old AOL dialup sounds