There should be no controversy about this, and no question: Manny Pacquiao fought the best version of Miguel Cotto Saturday night, as Cotto showed by fighting on equal terms with Pacquiao for five rounds, even with a pair of knockdowns. But Pacquiao, as I expected, was the truly transcendent fighter to Cotto’s ultra-elite, and that, in the end was the difference. Pacquiao delivered a frightening beating on Cotto from the 6th round on, before the referee belatedly stepped in Pacquiao’s way in the 12th to save Cotto from nastier punishment.
Fight after fight, Pacquiao just leaves your mouth agape, making you wonder if you’ll ever see the likes of this in the boxing ring again during your lifetime. And I don’t think I’m overstating the case here — there’s nobody in the sport’s history who has moved up so vastly in weight over his career and been this powerful, this fast, this great. He is without compare. We should be getting used to him doing this kind of thing, but I’m still not.
The most remarkable thing to me was that Pacquiao took Cotto’s power extremely well, and Cotto is a very hard-hitting welterweight. Cotto showed his boxing skills early, putting his jab on Pacquiao with ease and landing flush shots on Pacquiao’s head, unlike any fight we’ve seen from Pacquiao since his rematch with Juan Manuel Marquez in early 2008. In the meantime, though, Pacquiao was standing his ground and firing back, scoring knockdowns in the 3rd and 4th, each worse than the other. It was the uppercut that hurt Cotto so badly in the 4th, a shot I thought he was wide open for, and even though he bounced back to win the 5th round, it was on pure guts. He soon began retreating and trying to counter, but Pacquiao was still having his way, and ignoring what shots Cotto landed. Pacquiao landed from every conceivable angle, and Cotto said what made this fight so difficult is he never knew where the punches were coming from. By the 10th, Cotto was just trying to survive, rather than trying to counter, and the fight really should have been stopped at the end of the 9th. Cotto running away for the next few rounds was made sense, given the damage he’d endured, but he shouldn’t have had to endure so much of it — that he was able to speaks to the kind of cojones the guy has.
I wish Pacquiao would have called out Floyd Mayweather after the fight, but Freddie Roach, his trainer, did it for him. “I want Mayweather,” he said, bluntly. I have no idea if that fight will ever happen. It’s the fight that SHOULD happen, but Mayweather, as we’ve discussed here endlessly, doesn’t seem interested in challenging himself; he wants easy money. Make no mistake: Pacquiao would challenge Mayweather like he’s never been challenged before. Pacquiao clearly can contend with real welterweights. I wonder how much money it would take for Mayweather to say, “Screw easy money, I’m cashing in here win or lose.” Because the pile of money is massive.
I’ll have more to say tomorrow, when, as usual for achievements of this scope, things will have soaked in somewhat and I can try to put it in perspective. Pacquiao was already a top-25 fighter in my book. Beating one of today’s top-5 pound-for-pound boxers, in a higher weight class, and one who wasn’t by my eye shot or weight-drained (as some feared Cotto might be)… I definitely think he cracks the top 20, maybe even the top 15, but I look at the people who didn’t crack ESPN’s top 10 a couple years ago, like a Sugar Ray Leonard, and say that’s not where Pacquiao is yet. If he beats Mayweather? Now we’re talking. Let’s hope, for our sake as fans and for the sake of the sport, we get to see it.