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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Cotto faces test of size, sizzle

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In boxing, the attributes of a fighter’s physical strength and his knockout power are not necessarily one and the same.

Thomas Hearns, for instance, remains the prototype of a boxer who possessed one-punch knockout power yet often lacked the formidable body strength of his more muscle-bound opponents. Think of the electrifying knockouts he recorded against Pipino Cuevas and Roberto Duran — and by contrast, later in his career, the way Hearns was bullied on the inside on the way to losing a 12-round decision to Iran Barkley.

Other boxers from the same mold were, in reverse chronological order, the light heavyweight great Bob Foster and the hall-of-fame flyweight Jimmy Wilde.

The quintessential boxer with exceptional physical strength but modest knockout power against top-level opposition was probably Randall “Tex” Cobb, as illustrated by his inability to finish off an exhausted Earnie Shavers in 1980 (on the undercard of Hearns-Cuevas, coincidentally).

Also in this category were Evander Holyfield and fellow heavyweight Larry Holmes, who famously said: “I didn’t have the hardest punch in the world, but my punches were sharp and they were crisp — and if you took too many of them, you would be knocked out.”

In the most hotly anticipated fight of 2009, welterweight Miguel Cotto likely will have to synthesize those two qualities — strength and knockout ability — to score an upset victory against Manny Pacquiao on Nov. 14 at the MGM Grand.

Cotto, comfortable among the sport’s elite at 147 pounds for the past couple of years, steps down slightly to a “catch weight” of 145 for the bout. Cotto’s best hope is that his natural size advantage could neutralize the firepower of Pacquiao, who made his name in the sport’s lighter weight divisions before moving up to face bigger opponents such as Oscar De La Hoya and Ricky Hatton.

Dominant victories against those two men solidified Pacquiao’s reputation as perhaps the most crowd-pleasing and talented fighter in the sport.

Top Rank chairman Bob Arum has hyped the Nov. 14 showdown as potentially the No. 1 fight of the year (this is accurate) and even of the decade (well, it’s a good fight, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves).

For the ninth consecutive fight, Cotto is working with strength and conditioning coach Phil Landman, a fitness and nutrition expert from South Africa. Cotto began working with Landman when he moved up from the junior welterweight division to fight Carlos Quintana in 2006.

Cotto and Landman are preparing for the bout in Tampa, Fla., under head trainer Joe Santiago.

Landman is confident Cotto can put all of his skills together against Pacquiao.

“The best things with Miguel are with his strength and his speed, and the work we have done has shown, especially since he came up to the welterweight division,” Landman said. “We work on things in the gym to improve on his overall power and overall strength, and toward the end of the camp we will focus more on functional stuff, which is funneling that power and speed to work for him in that fight.

“That, along with conditioning, which I think will contribute to all of those things coming together to create a better puncher as well as a better boxer.”

Cotto, who owns the WBO welterweight belt, is coming off a split-decision victory against Joshua Clottey in June at Madison Square Garden. It was a brutal fight in which Cotto dropped Clottey in the first round, sustained a bad cut by his left eye via a head butt in Round 3, and weathered a furious rally by Clottey in the later rounds.

Team Cotto has dismissed concerns that the Clottey bout and his 2008 loss to Antonio Margarito, another savage fight, have taken a toll on Cotto.

“I commend him for coming in and fighting a tough guy like Clottey,” Landman said. “Getting a cut like he did in the third round, he never thought about quitting and he toughed it out for 12 rounds and he won the fight. I think you have to look at it from that perspective and give him credit for it.”

Arum used the opportunity to introduce another wrinkle to the buildup to Cotto-Pacquiao, which when it’s all said and done will feature more subplots than a Trollope novel: The fight could serve as a sort of acid test of Clottey’s abilities.

A tough welterweight, Clottey, who fights Quintana on Dec. 5 in Atlantic City, has yet to establish a foothold among boxing’s most respected world champions. If Cotto does beat Pacquiao, Clottey’s stock would surely rise.

“I would like to say that Clottey is one of the best welterweights out there,” Arum said. “For Miguel to come back after suffering that cut and to come back and pull out a victory, I think it shows that Miguel is back, but it also shows an absolutely brilliant performance.”

Source: http://www.lasvegassun.com/news/2009/oct/22/cotto-faces-test-size-sizzle/

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