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. Earlier today — the importance of Pacquiao-Cotto. Tomorrow — keys to the fight, parts I and II.
Soon, I’ll break down how Manny Pacquiao and Miguel Cotto compare in every conceivable area: Speed, power, trainer, and so forth. But there are two questions that would, I think, make any such comparisons useless. They are the questions each man must be able to answer “no” if he is to have any chance whatsoever of winning: “Is Manny Pacquiao too small for Miguel Cotto?” and “Is Miguel Cotto on the downside of his career?”
Both are valid questions. Pacquiao has never fought anyone as big as Cotto is going to be come Nov. 14. Cotto’s grueling fight against Antonio Margarito in 2008 was the kind of battle that takes its toll on the hardest men, especially since questions surround whether Margarito’s gloves were loaded for that bout. Valid though the questions are, both are hard to answer.
Is Manny Pacquiao Too Small?
Going from 106 pounds to 145 pounds over the span of a boxing career and fighting at a world-class level, as Pacquiao will try to do on the back end Saturday, is virtually unprecedented. I’m going to say it IS unprecedented. Maybe I need to brush up on my boxing history, but I can’t think of anything quite the same. Oscar De La Hoya was world class from junior lightweight to middleweight, but that’s less of a weight gain. Roy Jones, Jr. was world class from middleweight to heavyweight, but proportionally, each extra pound matters less with naturally bigger men.
Everybody who moves up in weight will usually find out how high they can go the hard way. De La Hoya, for instance, found out the hard way that middleweight was a step too high when he ended up crumpled in a heap courtesy a Bernard Hopkins liver shot. There are people who think Pacquiao’s about to find out the hard way. Pacquiao walks around at about 150, so he’s getting damn near the point where he’d have to gain weight to move up, and that’s often when a boxer has tapped the limits of his natural physical strength. Cotto, meanwhile, strained tremendously to get down to 140, where Pacquiao last fought, and is a very tank-like welterweight. He’ll be 145 at the weigh-in, I expect, but he’ll tip the scales at closer to 160 on fight night because of rehydration. Pacquiao, meanwhile, might not weigh in at 145 at all and may not gain much more than 145 on fight night. Additionally, if weight wasn’t a worry for Pacquiao’s camp, it wouldn’t have sought the 145 pound catch-weight, and would have just fought the bout at the full welterweight limit.
Those are all perfectly good arguments. But here’s my take.
Pacquiao at 140 pounds wasn’t just barely good enough to be dangerous at the weight. He was borderline lethal. I really was worried after his destruction of Ricky Hatton — the champ of the division who’d held up to big punchers at 140 — that Hatton would die. Now, Hatton had been knocked out by Floyd Mayweather, but that was at 147, where he’d had a history of struggling. This was frightening power Pacquiao demonstrated, even if you buy the notion (I only consider it a “maybe”) that Mayweather left Hatton damaged goods. Furthermore, Pacquiao has already fought at 147, against De La Hoya. Granted, De La Hoya was clearly weight drained, and past his prime. But still. Nobody had demolished De La Hoya like that, ever. And forget what De La Hoya said afterward about Pacquiao not hitting that hard. Late in that fight, De La Hoya was wincing, cowering and retreating under the assault. Who winces when they get hit by somebody who can’t punch? What, was Pacquiao’s body odor offensive? No, Pacquiao can punch at 147. In other words, available evidence suggests that, against a top-10 pound-for-pound level opponent at 140, Pacquiao had an excess of power; and against a top-20 pound-for-pound opponent at 147, he had plenty. Nor are the physical dimensions all that different — Cotto has no significant height or reach advantage.
A different subquestion is whether he can take a shot at the weight. De La Hoya and Hatton never really laid a glove on Pacquiao, because his defense has gotten so much better. Therefore, it’s a bit of a mystery how he’ll hold up if Cotto, who’s more powerful than both De La Hoya and Hatton, connects a bunch.
So here’s my verdict, based on what we know. Is Manny Pacquiao too small for Miguel Cotto? Probably not. That’s a conservative answer, but it’s because we just don’t have all the evidence we need. We won’t know for sure until fight night. But if the answer is that Pacquiao is too small — he can’t hurt Cotto, and Cotto can hurt him — the prospect of Pacquiao winning gets far more daunting.
Is Miguel Cotto On The Downside Of His Career?
One of the most shocking moments of the HBO series “Pacquiao/Cotto 24/7” so far was when Cotto’s father talked about Cotto’s state after the Margarito fight. Cotto, he said, was bleeding from his ears and bleeding tears. It was so shocking I’m still not sure I believe it. Either way, anyone who watched Margarito-Cotto knows Cotto took a frightful, frightful beating. Making matters worse, Margarito’s beating may not have been legal. Margarito was found with loaded gloves prior to his next fight, a knockout loss to Shane Mosley. It’s one thing to take a beating that shortens one’s career when that beating is all natural. Israel Vazquez beat Rafael Marquez in the third bout of their junior featherweight trilogy, but he endured so much punishment that by the time he finally came back this summer, he looked damn near shot. But Billy Collins, who took a beating from Luis Resto when Resto’s gloves had been tampered with, was ruined to a grander degree. Either way, a really bad knockout loss can hurt you physically and mentally.
In his last fight, there are some who saw evidence of Cotto’s decline. Cotto had a comeback fight right after the Margarito bout against no-hoper Michael Jennings, so that didn’t show us anything; it was Cotto’s life-and-death struggle with Joshua Clottey over the summer where the questions got some momentum. Cotto struggled badly with Clottey, and many believe Cotto didn’t deserve the split decision win. During the fight, HBO analyst Emmanuel Steward remarked that Cotto didn’t seem to be fighting with the same fire as he had in the past, that he didn’t seem as sharp as he once did. These are signs exhibited by many fighters whose best days had come and gone. There are some who believe Pacquiao and his team liked what they saw out of Cotto, that he looked vulnerable and ripe for the picking, and that’s why Pacquiao is fighting him now.
Again, all perfectly good arguments. I’ll offer some counters.
Cotto was quite good early against Clottey, then fought the final nine rounds with a cut so bad the fight most definitely should have been stopped, in my opinion and the opinion of many. Cotto simply couldn’t defend himself against Clottey’s right hand because so much blood was rushing into his left eye. Boxing fans complain long and loud about a fighter who gets a cut and it affects him badly, to the point that he falls apart. But guess what: That a boxer falling apart after a cut happens as often as it does is precisely the evidence anyone would need of how difficult it is to fight through a bad gash. It really is only the most gutty fighters — and fighters are a pretty gutty lot already — who are capable of overcoming a really terrible cut. Cotto did just that. Yes, he struggled while he did it. But he still did it.
Furthermore, I don’t know why anyone was confused that Cotto struggled with Clottey at all. This was a fight where a lot of people picked Clottey to win. He wasn’t much of an underdog. Whereas Cotto got beat all to hell by Margarito, Clottey was winning his fight against Margarito rather easily before hurting his hand. Clottey, for all the flaws people picked on him about after the Cotto fight, was a top-3 welterweight, just behind Cotto at #2. Style-wise, everybody knew coming in that Clottey presented real obstacles to Cotto. It strikes me as revisionist history to think that Cotto’s struggles with Clottey, anticipated in advance and exacerbated by the cut, are necessarily an indicator that Cotto’s past his prime at a relatively young 29.
That said, the particular circumstances of Cotto-Clottey make it had to segregate how much Cotto’s knockout loss to Margarito was a factor, too. So here’s my verdict. Is Miguel Cotto on the downside of his career? Probably not. But if he is, even a too-small Pacquiao stands a much better chance of beating Cotto than he would otherwise.