Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Rise & Fall of Manny Pacquiao and Miguel Cotto

Jeff Pryor previews the upcoming mega-fight between Manny Pacquiao and Miguel Cotto.

On a recent trip to Puerto Rico, at a time when Manny's personal minions were to be seen prowling about the streets of San Juan, bedecked in "Team Pacquiao" track suits, biding time until the press conference scheduled later that week and eating mofongo's at any number of quaint eateries before strolling back to their accommodations among the resort laden streets, I had the chance to talk to a few Puerto Rican's about the upcoming bout between their beloved boxer and the Filipino phenom.

One such islander, a taxi driver I got to chatting with, told me "Of course I want Cotto to win. I have great pride in my country. So of course I want Cotto to win... but... I like Pacquiao, he's my favorite." The man told me this with a sheepish, apologetic grin that seemed to plead please don't mention this to anyone.

It's eye opening that Pacquiao's ubiquitous appeal is so strong that a Puerto Rican who, so he told me, has never left the island, would be rooting for the Filipino outright if not for a patriotic sense of duty to his country.

On the flip side of that, I've seen Puerto Rican's born and raised in one of the five boroughs of New York, out of their minds and raucous at Madison Square Garden shrieking in reverie for a man from a land they've never been.

Both men are worthy of such adulation and both men are torch bearers for their profession. The torch, however, slips from everyone's hands at some point.

One senses that Miguel Cotto and Manny Pacquiao are both at precarious positions within their careers.

On the Puerto Rican pugilists side, a string of less than scintillating outings has triggered whispers that Cotto's brutalizing loss at the hands (augmented or otherwise) of Antonio Margarito in the summer of 2008 may have permanently changed his mentality and longevity within the sport.

Over that same time period, the Filipino fighter has continually tempted the scales, fighting well above what was thought to be his prime weight, taking on increasingly larger men and running the risk of hubris that could dethrone him from the pinnacle of the sport at which he now resides.

When they stare at one another from across the ring, awaiting the bell to sound and set off the fury that will ensue, one of their career paths will be on the teetering precipice of veering in an entirely different and less acclaimed path.

Over the course of that thirty six minutes of action (or less), both men's stature... profitability... and legacy will be altered. How, and by how much, is why we watch.

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Miguel Cotto has mutated. From a stalking brawler, to a boxer puncher, and now, some would claim, a pot-shotting runner.

The truth is, Miguel is a little of all those things, and his opponent indictates which one we'll see. In the case of his matchup with Pacquiao, Cotto should be the naturally bigger, more rugged man. Obviously it would be to his advantage to make it a rough and tumble affair where he forces the action.

What Cotto has had trouble with of late are bigger men, who he cannot hurt. Margarito was the epitome of that mold, up until Shane Mosley punished and stopped the Tijuana Tornado early this year. Clottey, had the same toughness, though lacked the relentlessness that Margarito had been so successful with. Both men caused Cotto to shift from an excellent boxer-puncher to more of a hit and run artist.

It would seem that as physically arduous as the Margarito fight was for Cotto, it may have equally damaged his psyche to some extent.

The good news for Cotto is that in Manny Pacquiao, he is not facing a bigger, unhurt-able punishment sponge, but a smaller, more vulnerable pugilist. That alone is a key factor for, not only Miguel Cotto's chances at sustaining a successful fight plan, but also for plugging any lingering mental fissures that have appeared in his confidence.

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Manny Pacquiao has mutated. From a raw, all destroying dynamo, to a half controlled burgeoning boxer, and now to a well rounded precision power puncher.

Pacquiao's rise up the weight charts has coincided with a dampening of his reliance on natural ability and more emphasis on learned skills and technique.

His dominant wins against De La Hoya and Hatton seem to suggest that he is capable of fighting at these weights with great success, but perhaps what has been hidden by the sheen of their impressive names is the actual quality of those two fighters at the time Pacquiao got them in the ring.

Without meaning to take anything away from these terrific wins, one could still make a legitimate case that Pacquiao's impressiveness was at least partially bolstered by the inefficiencies of his two foes.

Stated plainly, Pacquiao still has something to prove at weights in excess of 135 pounds. In facing Cotto he will be squaring off against his first elite fighter, still in his prime, since abandoning the lower weights.

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Let's quickly tick off the advantages and disadvantages for each.

Size favors Cotto, though by a slimmer margin than might be expected, at least on paper. They stand within an inch of one another and reach is the same.

The catchweight may affect Cotto who used to suffer to make 140lbs. At 145lbs. he will be forced to drain off an extra bit for this fight. It could be the difference in a gruelling bout, but in my estimation it will be a minor factor. Cotto will likely outweigh Pacquiao after rehydrating leading up to the fight. Regardless of height, reach and weighing in the same, Cotto will be bigger and fight bigger when the opening round begins.

The counterpoint of that is that Pacquiao will be faster. How much faster may determine the outcome of the fight. Ripping a page from Cotto's own recent playbook, Manny may look to potshot and counter for large portions of the round. It's not his traditional style, but he showed a fleet footed finesse against Hatton that would suggest he could employ a highly effective gorilla warfare mode of attack; strike and manoeuvre out before any retaliation can find you.

His dynamic speed and dexterity may overwhelm Miguel, who at times, though he was able to match Mosley's speed, can be plodding and measured with a penchant for admiring his work.

If Cotto finds himself chasing Pacquiao across the ring, trying to corral the Filipino for prolonged stretches, it could be a long night for the Puerto Rican. Cotto will have to employ his underrated jab to keep Pacquiao occupied while he works to get close to Manny. But if he can't lay gloves on him, it may lead to frustration and even fouling which Cotto has not been above before.

For Pacquiao's part, he'd be well served to stay off the ropes and keep Cotto from getting set to rip shots to his body.

It's those shots that bring us to the next factor, power. Cotto will undoubtedly be the heaviest handed opponent that Pacquiao has faced. While Margarito and Clottey were able to withstand extreme amounts of battery, they are two exceptions in the division... perhaps in the entire sport.

It might be easy to forget that before facing those titanium headed titans, Cotto was considered pound for pound one of the more devastating punchers in the sport.

His punching prowess made Gianluca Branco quit after a crushing punch... to the shoulder. It left Quintana sucking wind on the canvas debilitated and nursing a severely battered liver. And Paulie Malignaggi's face grossly distorted, a bone in his face busted and deformed.

It can even be argued that the punishment he foisted on Margarito over the course of their brutal showdown, likewise, took something out of the controversial Tijuana fighter and in short softened him up for his ultimate collapse against Mosely.

Pacquiao's own power seems to have carried up with him admirably, his explosive knockout of Ricky Hatton being the most illustrative example. However one wonders if Cotto had fought the De La Hoya that Pacquiao did, would the Golden Boy have been left to call it a career on his stool, or would he have been splayed on the canvas, perhaps pounding it futilely from a body shot like the one Hopkins delivered?

The salient point however is whether Pacquiao will have enough firepower to hurt Cotto, and I believe he does. Cotto holds the edge, but Pacquiao holds his own.

The overriding equation is as follows; is Cotto's speed close enough to Pacquaio's to let him land and is Pacquiao's power close enough to Cotto's to make his punches punish? The reality ratio of those two factors are the crux of this fight’s outcome.

While you can question Cotto's durability at this point, you cannot question his heart. He is a warrior through and through. And while you may question the true value of Pacquiao's most recent conquerings, you cannot question his bravery. In facing down bigger, highly respected opponents he has proven to truly be with 'No Fear", a statement his trunks are often emblazoned with.

The combination of these fighters, facing off in a ballet of brutality should be enough to set off any fight fans excellence detector, for when these men, two of the sports prized practitioners, meet up on the 14th it should be an electrifying showdown that sends one of them rocketing into the stratosphere and the other drifting back to earth.

source: theboxingbulletin.blogspot.com

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