Thursday, November 12, 2009

Pacquiao's strengths and weaknesses

SPORTING CHANCE By Joaquin Henson
The Philippine Star

As the world’s No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter, Manny Pacquiao is expected to beat Miguel Cotto in their “Firepower” showdown at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas tomorrow night (Sunday morning, Manila). The odds are 3-1 in Pacquiao’s favor and the betting is the scheduled 12-round bout won’t go the distance.

Although Cotto is bigger, Pacquiao’s trainer Freddie Roach isn’t losing sleep over it.

“I know Cotto’s a big, strong guy and I worry about that at times,” said Roach, quoted by William Dettloff in The Ring Magazine. “But Manny is very strong also at this weight. I think it’s our toughest fight to date and a much tougher test than Oscar (de la Hoya) or (Ricky) Hatton. I don’t look at it as an easy fight whatsoever and I look for Cotto to come out at his best.”

Glyn Leach, writing in Boxing Monthly Magazine (Oct. 2009), said even as Cotto is the defending WBO welterweight champion, the Puerto Rican is playing “second fiddle in what had once been his own orchestra - the Filipino is the leading man, Cotto is just a bit-part player in the big picture.”

Cotto is fighting for respect and recognition while Pacquiao is aiming to make history. If he wins, Pacquiao will become the only fighter ever to capture seven world titles in seven weight divisions.

Pacquiao, 30, has a 49-3-2 record, with 37 KOs. His only losses were to Rustico Torrecampo, Medgeon 3-K Battery and Erik Morales. The draws were with Agapito Sanchez and Juan Manuel Marquez. He has logged 19 more fights than Cotto who turned pro six years after the Filipino icon.

Pacquiao will be a lot fresher than Cotto when they slug it out. Pacquiao has fought only once this year, dispatching Hatton in two rounds. Cotto took five rounds to dismiss patsy Michael Jennings last February and went through the wringer to eke out a split decision over Joshua Clottey last June. The fact that Pacquiao has fought only two rounds this year compared to 17 for Cotto may be an advantage or disadvantage.

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Here are Pacquiao’s strengths.

Speed. There’s no way Cotto can match Pacquiao’s hand-speed and foot-speed. Pacquiao throws combinations with incredible rhythm, sometimes in bunches of three or four. Before his opponents can even think of countering, they’re either down on the floor or Pacquiao is a safe distance away. Foot-speed will be particularly critical because Pacquiao must be quick on his heels to avoid Cotto’s rushes. Cotto will attempt to pin Pacquiao along the ropes and trap him in a corner. Pacquiao won’t let it happen and he’ll use his foot-speed to avoid sticky situations.

Heavy artillery. Pacquiao hits from all angles. Because of Pacquiao’s dizzying hand-speed, it will be difficult for Cotto to read where the punches are coming from. What makes Pacquiao even more formidable is his right is as lethal as his left. He’ll attack Cotto with both fists. Roach said the left will finish off Cotto but the right will set it up.

Hard to hit. Pacquiao’s defense has improved tremendously through eight years of working with Roach. He uses head movement, his arms and footwork to stay clear from bombs. Pacquiao is a moving target in the ring and unless Cotto is able to bring the fight to the ropes or the corners, he won’t be able to land too accurately.

Experience. Pacquiao picked up a lot of lessons from his skirmishes with Morales, Marco Antonio Barrera, Marquez and De la Hoya. He’s learned to fight more methodically. He’s become more patient in creating the openings for his punches. Pacquiao has been a pro for 14 years and Cotto, for eight. In tight situations, experience will go a long way in wiggling veterans out of trouble.

Heart. Pacquiao is a proud warrior with the biggest heart in the business. He fights not only for himself but for his family, his country and the entire Filipino people. When Pacquiao steps onto the ring, he carries the weight of the Filipino nation on his shoulders. The responsibility doesn’t faze him. He thrives under pressure. Pacquiao’s spirit is as inspiring as it is unflappable.

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Here are Pacquiao’s weaknesses.

Focus. If Pacquiao is bothered by distractions that come his way in every fight, he could be in danger against Cotto. Because he is a showbiz celebrity in his own right, Pacquiao is fair game for intrigue and rumors. If he’s affected by all the “star” talk, it could be a problem on fight night. Focus is important for Pacquiao who’s up against a deadly serious and highly motivated opponent.

Size. Pacquiao is smaller and lighter than Cotto who will surely use his bulk to try to overpower the Filipino challenger. Since Cotto is bigger, he has more width and length to cut the ring off and prevent Pacquiao from moving around. Cotto’s ability to fight big or small will be a major headache for Pacquiao.

Overconfidence. If Pacquiao is looking beyond Cotto and conjuring visions of a megabuck showdown with Floyd Mayweather Jr. or a third meeting with Marquez, he should wake up to present reality. He can’t afford to take Cotto lightly, no matter if his entourage continues to belittle the Puerto Rican for being a bleeder, slow and easy to hit. What Pacquiao shouldn’t do is to give Cotto some momentum in the fight. Pacquiao should dictate tempo from the start and take away Cotto’s confidence.

Questionable power. The jury is still out on whether Pacquiao’s punches will be as potent against bigger opponents. He wasn’t able to floor De la Hoya - possibly an indication that a bigger opponent, like Cotto, may be able to take his power. If Pacquiao’s punches don’t kick in, Cotto will attack relentlessly and put extreme pressure on the Filipino. If Pacquiao’s punches kick in, it could be a short night for the Puerto Rican.

Unfamiliarity. Pacquiao will face a versatile opponent who switch-hits, comes forward or strikes from a distance. If Pacquiao fights on reaction, meaning he doesn’t assert himself, Cotto will set the pace. Cotto could be the toughest opponent ever for Pacquiao who must be ready to make quick adjustments in the ring because the Puerto Rican is a clever operator.

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In Sunday’s column, we’ll list the 15 factors of consequence in the fight and rate how the protagonists fare in each. We’ll also make a fearless forecast of the outcome.

Incidentally, you can still listen to philstar.com’s inaugural podcast - a 77-minute in-depth primer of the Pacquiao-Cotto fight. Access the website in the internet, locate the podcast microsite and click the icon. After 2 1/2 days since the podcast was imbedded in philstar.com at midnight last Monday, it has generated 12,623 hits and 3,661 downloads - incredible figures.

“Hits mean the users listen to the podcast directly from philstar.com,” explained The STAR’s Dino Maragay. “Downloads mean that users actually download and save the podcast into their computer hard drives and listen to the files on their own devices like an ipod for example. This option is available via clicking on the ‘get podcast’ button on the audio player. By downloading the podcast files and saving, users can listen to them anytime. Even on the go. That makes podcasts a great form of delivering audio content. Ten years from now, I could still listen to the Pacquiao-Cotto primer on my music device.”

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