The other man in the ring

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT -

LAS VE­GAS: Miguel Cotto didn’t need to be re­minded what his role is sup­posed to be against Manny Pac­quiao.

Not af­ter sign­ing for half the money Pac­quiao is get­ting paid. Not af­ter hav­ing to agree to fight nearly a kilo un­der his nor­mal weight just to get the chance to fight.

Not af­ter spending months train­ing for a fight, a lot of peo­ple in box­ing don’t re­ally be­lieve he has much chance of winning.

Pro­moter Bob Arum took time at the fi­nal pre­fight press con­fer­ence to re­mind him any­way. “Psy­cho­log­i­cally he knows it and I know it,” Arum said. “In this fight he is not the star of the show.”

No, the star of the show is box­ing’s lat­est sen­sa­tion, a mild man­nered Filipino who gave Os­car De La Hoya such a beat­ing he quit on the stool and de­stroyed Ricky Hat­ton with a sin­gle punch. Pac­quiao is the face of this event, the boxer who brings the Philip­pines to a vir­tual stand­still ev­ery time he steps into the ring.

But Cotto has a coun­try be­hind him, too. Puerto Rico has long been a breed­ing ground of top fight­ers, and this fight is prob­a­bly the most an­tic­i­pated in his coun­try since Felix Trinidad won a dis­puted de­ci­sion over De La Hoya a decade ago.

Al­most lost in the Manny ma­nia that has made this per­haps the most an­tic­i­pated fight of the year is that Cotto has some se­ri­ous cre­den­tials of his own.

“I don’t want to be Manny Pac­quiao,” Cotto said. “I just want to be Miguel Cotto.”

For a long time that was good enough. Cotto was a ris­ing star him­self, a re­lent­less puncher who won two ti­tles, knocked al­most every­one in front of him out, and had no trou­ble sell­ing out Madi­son Square Gar­den.

But along came An­to­nio Mar­gar­ito and Cotto found him­self on the re­ceiv­ing end of the kind of beat­ing he usu­ally handed out. He fought valiantly be­fore fi­nally be­ing stopped in the 11th round of a bru­tal slugfest, a dev­as­tat­ing loss tem­pered later only by the sus­pi­cion that Mar­gar­ito had plas­ter in­side his gloves like he did in his next fight against Shane Mosley.

“When things about Mar­gar­ito came out af­ter the fight it made me feel bet­ter about the sit­u­a­tion,” Cotto said.

He came back to win a tuneup fight, then had to rally to beat Joshua Clottey by split de­ci­sion in the Gar­den in June.

Pac­quiao was there to watch a blood­ied Cotto barely pull off a win to re­tain his piece of the wel­ter­weight ti­tle, and it wasn’t long be­fore ne­go­ti­a­tions for their fight be­gan.

Though Pac­quiao is care­ful not to say so, his trainer, Fred­die Roach, be­lieves Cotto is not the fighter he once was. “I’ve stud­ied the tapes of Cotto be­fore and af­ter the Mar­gar­ito fight and he’s not the same per­son,” Roach said.

“It’s a good time to fight Miguel Cotto.” – Sapa-AP

MAK­ING A FIST OF IT: Miguel Cotto poses for the cam­eras.

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