Cotto’s Career Path and the Suspension of Reality

Miguel CottoBy P.H. Burbridge - Last year Miguel Cotto was a healthy favorite to beat Antonio Margarito for many of the same reasons that Manny Pacquiao is favored to defeat him on November 14th. Cotto was viewed as the faster and more accomplished boxer with excellent power and an undefeated record. He was floating in the upper regions of everyone’s P4P list and there was a kind of silence before a deafening roar that prevailed amongst analysts and aficionados alike. Cotto was one fight away from superstardom. In taking that fight he was also viewed as a fighter who didn’t shy away from a challenge and who wanted to prove to HIMSELF that he was the best. We as a fan base tend to admire a fighter who takes that stance and we respected Miguel Cotto. It’s a staple of a confident and determined champion and its becoming exceedingly rare as the years go by due largely to the financial agenda of modern fighters. You’ll hear many an old timer gripe about today’s “world” champions compared to those of an era gone by asserting that “their” guys were keenly focused on “cleaning out” their division. Well, as we all know that assessment is only partially true. But we certainly can’t dispute the fact that it happened more in past generations than it does now. In today’s world too many champions are defending their belt without ever trying to unify the championship and aside from the Super Six tourney we’re unlikely to know who the TRUE champion is in any given division.. Instead we get a lot of posturing in the press and fighters avoiding the question. We’ll, the Miguel Cotto - Antonio Margarito fight wasn’t going to eliminate that argument but it was the closest thing to a response that we were going to get and we WANTED it. Badly! It was a reminder that modern champions sometimes DO want to prove to themselves that they’re actually #1. They sometimes DO want to prove to their public that they will take the most “dangerous” fights available. At the time it was the best fight that could be made at welterweight and it certainly didn’t disappoint. It was GREAT!

Cotto didn’t win that night but his performance was impressive nonetheless and gave us a glimpse of a multi dimensional fighter capable of making adjustments in the ring.

Margarito was a fighter who many in the boxing establishment believed was the most dangerous man in the sport. Well, Cotto didn’t side step him or try to avoid the confrontation and contrary to popular belief I believe that the Margarito fight long term will add more to Cotto than it took away. He now understands his own threshold for pain and his limitations which will allow him to adjust tactically during fights. Forget about this “ghost of Margarito” business because it’s too simple to be true and young fighters compartmentalize experiences in the ring differently. The popular argument is that Cotto is not the same but so far no one can prove that to me other than to say “when a fighter takes a beating like that he’s never the same”. The one size fits all theory. There is no physical and certainly no mental proof of any such decline to his fistic value. Physically, anyone who tells you that there has been some drop off in his overall punch output or mobility needs to study the Judah fight, the Mosley fight, and the Margarito fight and then compare it to the Clottey fight. If you do then you will come to the same logical conclusion I did. There’s no drop off! He punches and moves as well if not better than he ever has. I’ve spoken to too many people who apply this old boxing fable to a specific individual based on circumstance rather than individual reality. Don’t take my word for it. Watch those fights for yourself. The next false assertion is that Cotto has somehow lost something mentally. Cotto was beaten but because of the questionable circumstances surrounding the hand wraps HE believes that he would have won had the gloves NOT been loaded. It’s a mental trick that all great fighters play on themselves like a quarterback forgetting that he just got picked off. Don’t underestimate a fighter’s ego. As long as he can justify the outcome in his own mind and chalk it up to outside forces he will. When a fighter loses a couple of things generally happen. Either he or his team believes that they can improve on that performance and demand a rematch OR the career track is drastically altered so he’s never in the ring with a monster like that again. Well, Miguel Cotto and his team wanted that rematch which tells you something about his mental make up and he would have gotten it if “Sugar” Shane Mosley hadn’t “humbled” Margarito first. Now, his ultimate goal will just have to wait. As far as his career path is concerned Manny Pacquiao is only the 2nd step in his ultimate plan for career redemption. The 1st step came against Joshua Clottey. He needed to get some measure of credibility back and Clottey was perfect to do just that as he was viewed as one of the top 2 or 3 welterweights in the world. Clottey is a full fledge powerful welterweight / Jr Middleweight size fighter and he has a world class chin. He’s no easy touch and very few fighters want to stare across the ring at him. Now taking on Clottey doesn’t sound like a safe fight if you’re Miguel Cotto and haunted by a ghosts does it? That fight definitely gave Cotto the confidence he needed leading into this fight and will fuel him even further towards his main target of Antonio Margarito. (Side note: This is not only Cotto’s plan but it’s also Bob Arum’s plan B should Miguel emerge from the fight with a “W”. Margarito’s suspension should be up in early 2010 which will give Arum just enough time to sell this fully controlled Top Rank promotion.)

One of the key approaches used by just about everybody with a prediction is the comparison between how Manny looked against De La Hoya and Hatton versus how Cotto looked against Margarito and Clottey. I think if you step back and really examine the circumstances objectively it’s pretty evident who had the tougher assignments. And with assignments like that who could really argue about Miguel Cotto’s results especially when you throw in the possible loaded glove theory?

Let’s look at it another way. What do you think would have happened if Miguel Cotto fought Manny Pacquiao’s last five opponents and vice a versa? Who do you think would be riding the crest of superstardom and how do you think the other guy would be viewed? That would mean Manny versus Mosley, Gomez, Margarito, Jennings and Clottey. For Miguel it means fights with Barrera, Marquez, Diaz, De La Hoya and Hatton. Who would fare better Manny or Miguel? I believe Miguel Cotto would have emerged from those same matches undefeated and Manny Pacquiao would not. It’s hard to understand how so many can ignore this simple exercise while using an almost identical comparative theory based on final results rather than quality of opposition. Granted Gomez and Jennings are wins for Manny but I can’t definitively say the same about the other three Cotto opponents. Remember we’re talking a pre-Mosley Margarito and a version of Shane that was coming down from Jr. Middleweight. Throw in a version of Clottey who had just systematically dismantled Zab Judah and I think you get a better sense of how huge a challenge this would be. For Manny it’s possible but highly unlikely. In the case of Cotto, I doubt even the staunchest Pacquiao supporter would dare to argue that Miguel Cotto would have beaten each one of Manny’s last five opponents handily. Especially when you factor in Oscar’s age and dehydration. Marquez doesn’t have the power or movement to stay safe against Cotto. I can’t see him surviving that fight.

But, based on the latest polls and random predictions many still believe that Cotto is broken and in a place from which he’ll never return. That’s a myth and oddly enough it’s a myth that plays in Cotto’s favor. In reviewing his last five fights and I can tell you that his hand speed has always been good but certainly not overwhelming. BUT, his use of angles and timing has been and continues to be excellent. That one technical asset gives Miguel Cotto the ability to beat anyone in his division including fighters who are faster of foot and hand. There were sequences in the Clottey fight that mirrored early sequences from the Margarito fight as well as from the Mosley fight so in my opinion there is no major difference in the before and after shot of Miguel Cotto. It’s just not there! The “heat” is not on Cotto in this match as it was in the Mosley, Margarito, and Clottey fights. The full heat and public glare is squarely on Team Pacquiao. As the fight approaches there has been a SLIGHT change in the climate and more boxing analyst are now viewing Miguel Cotto in a different light and are giving second thought to the outcome of this fight. No longer prevalent are the rumors of Cotto’s active night life and conduct unbecoming a professional fighter. Those rumors have been replaced by reports that Cotto and his team are tighter and more focused than at any other time in his career. More proof that the team is focused is the early start time afforded to this camp. Cotto and his team wanted to make sure they were completely on track when it came to preparation and intend on making the weight properly without any form of over extension. Cotto’s weight is on schedule per Phil Landman his Strength and Conditioning coach. Landman has stated that the 145 lb catch weight will pose zero problems for Cotto and has indicated that he doesn’t anticipate any decrease in Cotto’s overall strength. He’s punching as hard as ever.

Questions have been raised about Cotto’s young trainer, Joe Santiago but it’s clear that he believes in Santiago and that’s why he dismissed the very public hints dropped by Emanuel Steward regarding a potential one fight arrangement. Emanuel Steward is one boxing expert who believes Cotto has what it takes to beat Pacquiao. Trust me he would not have made himself available if he didn’t. Steward has seen both guys fight live multiple times as an HBO expert analyst and he obviously see’s something. But, for Cotto chemistry and familiarity are key requirements and he has made what he believes is the right decision for him self by sticking with Santiago. He respects Santiago and it’s clear that he didn’t want to make the same mistake Ricky Hatton made by having an unfamiliar voice in his corner. There must be chemistry and respect between fighter and trainer to be successful and those things don’t happen overnight. It certainly wasn’t going to happen in the preparation time allocated for this match. So, Santiago it is. The motivation for Cotto’s new trainer is obviously extremely high because he has an opportunity to tally a win over a great trainer in Freddie Roach. The stakes couldn’t be any higher for everyone in Cotto’s camp and they all know it.

So, how do I see this fight breaking down and what do I think will ultimately drive its outcome? I’ve previously gone on record and said this was a pick em’ fight but with the realization that this camp has been far from where it needed to be from the perspective of Pacquiao I’ve amended my prediction.

Everything in Pacquiao’s camp needed to be absolutely perfect in order for him to stand a chance against Miguel Cotto and it has been anything but from the natural disaster impacting his training schedule to team member discord to a lack of quality sparring. Roach didn’t get the locale he initially wanted and he certainly didn’t get the level of sparring he knew would be necessary for this challenge. Most simply dismiss reports that there is general discord in Pacquiao’s camp by indicating that its business as usual and that these things have happened before. My feeling is that Pacquiao may have been able to overcome those things in the past but that was in preparation for inferior opposition NOT Miguel Cotto.

I’m also concerned about Manny’s speed and wonder how much the extra weight and/or muscle will affect it. I agree that his speed could be the key to his success but also realize that the addition of muscle weight could have enough of a detrimental impact on his speed to tip the balance of favor away him. In other words bulking up a little could diminish his overall speed advantage. Pacquiao would be much better served to come into this fight in the 140-142 weight range. If he comes in close to the 145 lb catch weight and then walks into the ring somewhere in the 150-152 lb range then I’d expect to see a little slower version than we have previously seen.

In terms of power, after reviewing Manny’s entire career set and the caliber of his recent opposition I just don’t see enough physical strength to threaten Miguel Cotto realistically. I certainly don’t believe that Roach believes Manny can KO Cotto. Roach admitted that his recent comment regarding Manny starching Cotto in the first round was a joke.

The reality is that only one style has ever beaten Miguel Cotto and the argument can be made that “something else” impacted the outcome of that fight. Now, can Manny Pacquiao replicate Antonio Margarito’s performance versus Cotto technically? I can’t see that happening because Pacquiao aside form the obvious size deficit is not an all out pressure fighter. For those who assume he’ll be able to apply a similar type of pressure would be asking him to do something that is not in his fighter DNA. This will be more of a boxing match than the title “Fire Power” suggests and I see Miguel Cotto controlling the pace much as he did against Joshua Clottey and Shane Mosley.

If it plays out that way I think Cotto wins this fight in a similar fashion.

Being one of the most controlled, methodical fighters over the last 20 years don’t expect Cotto to bring a full on attack himself. His offensive approach will be calm and measured and it wouldn’t surprise me if he allowed Pacquiao to take on the role of aggressor in spots so he can take advantage of some countering opportunities. He has the boxing pedigree and skill to do that especially against the smaller man.

I see Cotto as the more technically grounded fighter with greater ability to control action with his jab. He kept both Clottey and Mosley at bay with that punch. It makes it very difficult to get any kind of a sustained offense going. If it becomes a jabbing contest which Pacquiao will work hard to avoid then Cotto wins impressively.

If Manny finds himself having trouble getting past Cotto’s jab and is forced to revert back to the style that brought him to our attention in the first place then I see him being knocked out or TKO’d late in this fight.

So there it is.

I see Miguel Cotto stopping Manny Pacquiao somewhere between the 9th and the 11th round and it may take the referee or Manny’s corner to intervene because I don’t think Pacquiao will ever stop trying.

(Please feel free to contact P.H. Burbridge via email at with any comments or feedback.)

Article posted on 29.10.2009

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