Cotto/Margarito: Who has the mental edge?

By David “Math” Matthew: As the Cotto/Margarito super-fight of the summer closes in, most of us do not need any extra incentive to be glued to our television come this Saturday, July 26th. But as one takes a deeper look into the respective camps (thanks to HBO's excellent "Countdown to Cotto/Margarito" series) of Cotto and Margarito, it is clear that this fight has all the makings of supreme boxing drama..

Before I even saw the HBO special - I felt Margarito's size and pressure-fighting style (5'11" with a 73" reach) would give Cotto (5'7" height and 67" reach) problems. However - after reviewing both fighter's styles - I felt that Cotto's inside body punching and proficiency at throwing short punches could equalize the length disadvantage - especially when one considers how Margarito likes to fight on the inside and rush fighters as opposed to presenting a more measured/distanced stance and approach.

Shane Mosley gave Cotto some problems when he shifted his strategy in their bout and decided to pressure Cotto in the later rounds. While Cotto was fighting effectively going backwards and showcasing his counter-punching and boxing ability - it seemed that Cotto wasn't quite as comfortable in that predicament as he was stalking and going forward in the earlier rounds. I do not see Margarito being bullied around by *any* welterweight - so Cotto will need to prepare himself for the sure pressure that is coming his way. Cotto has supreme determination and counter-punching ability - so Margarito will have to pressure with relative caution - but it could very well be a match-of-wills on the inside where the hungriest/toughest man prevails. Cotto has been in life or death situations in the ring before - and this will serve him well against Margarito - but I just sense Margarito will bring more desperation and determination than Mosley or perhaps any opponent that Cotto has faced.

These were foreseen challenges for Cotto. HBO's 'Countdown to Cotto/Margarito' exposed some unforeseen challenges that could haunt Team Cotto as they move forward. Most notably - his strained relationship with his trainer and uncle, Angelisa Cotto, is shaky at best. As a Cotto-camp insider says, "The relationship between Miguel and Angelista is very...cold. They don't talk too much. I've seen Angelista in the gym, but he doesn't talk to his nephew. It seems he's just there to see how things are going." Angelista Cotto shrugs off the concern by saying "I think the press has changed focus from what they should be concentrating on" - but clearly there is a rift in the Cotto camp which should always be addressed before such a huge fight. The relationship between fighter and trainer in boxing is one of the most intimate relationships there is in sports. One can't help but to wonder how much of the trust has been damaged between Angelista and Miguel as they continue to disagree and distance themselves from each other during training camp.

On the contrary, when we look at camp Margarito, there is nothing but love, passion, and a mutually invested work-ethic which binds Antonio Margarito with his trainer Javier Capetillo. Whereas Angelista Cotto can go a whole training session without saying one word to Miguel Cotto, Capetillo's high intensity approach to training Margarito includes him barking military-like orders when giving punching instructions, running alongside Margarito with constant fire-brand words of encouragement in his ear, and bringing out the absolute best in Margarito's physical conditioning with militant-like training so that his stamina will not be a factor should the fight go into the later rounds. Their relationship transcends the gym and Margarito even considers Capetillo a father-figure. This dualistic relationship can only bolster the trust between fighter and trainer. In those moments of adversity that visits every fighter in the ring, to know that your trainer is invested in you as both a fighter and a human being will only elevate the sense of trust which is so crucial in instilling confidence as a fighter prepares for war.

In addition to the close relationship between Margarito and Capetillo, Margarito also shares an all-inclusive relationship with his wife, Michelle, who often accompanies Margarito during his training sessions. As Margarito puts it, "She's the one that makes me stronger. I'm always happy to have her here (in training) with me." This side of the "Tijuana Tornado" is perhaps a surprise to those of us who only see the terrorizing force that intimidates and mercilessly beats up opponents in the ring, knocking them down and daring them to get up and take more punishment. But as one takes a deeper look into Margarito's life, it is perhaps the close relationships he enjoys that supply him with the added motivation to perform at such a high level.

As Miguel Cotto continues to ascend, he is as Jim Lampley puts it - "on the verge of becoming the kind of superstar that the general public recognizes." While Cotto has succeeded against prime competition of late, I dare say that this will be his toughest fight to date. The physical dynamics Margarito brings to the ring along with the luke-warm relationship Cotto has with his trainer could prove to be huge obstacles if Cotto isn't supremely focused. In addition, with all the rumors and whispering amongst boxing aficionados who fantasize about a Cotto/Mayweather super-bout in 2009, this could be a distraction that should be the last thing on Cotto's mind. To underestimate Margarito would be a fatal mistake, for this opportunity has been a long-time coming for Margarito who will plausibly be the hungriest, most dangerous fighter Cotto has ever faced. The added intensity of the Mexico/Puerto Rico famed boxing rivalry will only accentuate the drama and raise the stakes.

For those who criticize fighters for being too measured and technical, this is the fight for you. Both fighters throw punches with purpose and the intent to damage as opposed to simply scoring points. It is unlikely that either fighter will take a round off, and both fighters bring a machismo-like bravado into the ring that urges them to out-gun their opponent in toe-toe, center-of-the-ring punching exchanges. If there were ever a fight worth the Pay-Per-View fee, this is it. For as Javier Capetillo puts it - "There's no playing around here --- No sir, this is fighting!" Indeed - and refreshingly - the fighter who walks away victorious in this bout will legitimately have earned it the hard way - by defeating the very best competition out there in the stacked welterweight division.

Article posted on 22.07.2008

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