[PHOTO AT LEFT - Filipino superstar Manny Pacquiao is mobbed by fans and media men upon his arrival at MGM Grand. Abac Cordero |LAS VEGAS]

LAS VEGAS, NOVEMBER 10, 2009 (STAR) By Abac Cordero - He was 30 minutes behind schedule, late as usual, but the moment Manny Pacquiao stepped into the main lobby of the MGM Grand on Tuesday the place went crazy.

The crowd that packed the lobby of the grand hotel here in Sin City chanted his name ‘Manny, Manny’ and clicked away with their cameras as the 30-year-old Filipino superstar inched his way to a makeshift ring that was put up days before.

Once in, Pacquiao, very casual in jeans, running shoes and an army-green jacket, raised his arms and acknowledged the cheers from his fans. He faced all sides of the ring, and looked more like a leading presidential candidate.

It was a grand welcome ceremony for Pacquiao who takes on the new pride of Puerto Rico, WBO welterweight champion Miguel Cotto, at the hotel’s Grand Garden Arena on Saturday for what should be the biggest fight of the year.

Promoter Bob Arum of Top Rank said it could even be more than that, even more than being the fight of the decade, saying it could go down in history as one of the great classics ever. He may be wrong but he may be right.

Pacquiao, whose popularity has grown 10 times with each win over the last couple of years, is well-loved not only in the Philippines but in every corner of the world, including the United States, Mexico or, sad for Cotto, even Puerto Rico.

The kind of reception he got Tuesday was a very clear sign.

“Floyd Mayweather never had it like this,” said Top Rank publicist Fred Sternburg as he chased Pacquiao out of the ring. Of course, he referred to the undefeated American who, after a long layoff and a recent win over a smaller foe, still claims to be the best.

Pacquiao smiled all the way, and couldn’t control his laughter at times, as he fielded questions from the media, which should come in full force for Wednesday’s final press conference. There he will face more questions, and should be ready with longer answers.

He faced the media and fielded questions on top of the ring, but it was so crowded, so noisy you could barely hear him two feet away.

But the kind-hearted fighter who can easily knock out an opponent with one punch was heard saying the coming fight is “nothing personal” between him and Cotto, and should be “nothing personal” between their trainers as well.

Freddie Roach, Pacquiao’s trainer for eight years now, is on a shooting spree, having said some nasty things against the other camp, including his counterpart, Joe Santiago, who “has never fought and doesn’t really know how it is being inside the ring.”

Again, Pacquiao said it shouldn’t get as personal as this.

The Pinoy pound-for-pound champion was scheduled to come in at 11 a.m. but jumped out of his customized bus that took him from his hotel, the Mandalay Bay, which is just five minutes away, 30 minutes behind.

But no one really cared.

“I’m happy. I am focused on the fight, and I believe in myself. I don’t want to say anything before the fight. I will wait. But I’m ready now. I’m ready to go,” said Pacquiao.

He left after 15 minutes, taking the backdoor. An hour later Cotto came in. That’s a different story.

Cotto doesn't mind being the underdog (The Philippine Star) Updated November 12, 2009 12:00 AM

[PHOTO AT LEFT - Miguel Cotto. Abac Cordero LAS VEGAS]

LAS VEGAS - Miguel Cotto is the underdog. And he doesn’t mind at all.

“I expected it to be like this,” said the wide-bodied champion from Caguas in Puerto Rico during Tuesday’s welcome ceremony at the MGM Grand, just three days before his head-on collision with superstar Manny Pacquiao.

Cotto, who turned 29 just days ago, was welcomed an hour after Pacquiao left and took with him more than half of the crowd, of course, predominantly Filipino, that packed the hotel’s main lobby as early as 10 in the morning.

After Pacquiao left, the excitement died down a bit, but Cotto just felt fine with it. He had his own following, his own pack of fans that shouted his name and waved the Puerto Rican flag, but not as boisterous as that of Pacquiao’s.

It’s understandable, Cotto being the underdog.

“Everything that Manny has, he has earned,” said Cotto of Pacquiao’s immense popularity, and not to mention the Filipino’s fat bank account.

Cotto came in wearing a tracksuit, and looked so serious as if the actual fight was to start in a few minutes. With cheekbones a little more prominent that a week ago, he said he’s ready to fight.

“I’m prepared for the speed of Manny. I have equal hand speed and prepared well with my sparring partners. I’m prepared for anything,” said Cotto, who stakes his WBO welterweight (147 lb) crown at a catchweight two pounds less.

Again, he brushed off reports that he’s starving himself to death, just to make the weight, and avoid being fined $1 million for each pound in excess of 145.

“I’m eating well and I’m not worried about my weight,” he insisted before the media that crowded him in one corner of the ring.

Cotto must have been told that just a while ago, the hotel’s main lobby was jumping like crazy with Pacquiao. Again, he said he didn’t mind, because on the night of the fight, the battle turns one-on-one.

“It’s going to be just Manny and me and the referee. There’s nobody else. And we have the key to the fight. Our camp will make the difference.”

All he wants now is the last laugh. – Abac Cordero

Cotto's strengths and weaknesses SPORTING CHANCE By Joaquin Henson (The Philippine Star) Updated November 12, 2009 12:00 AM

WBO welterweight champion Miguel Cotto could be the toughest opponent ever for Manny Pacquiao whose quest for an unprecedented seventh world title will end either glowingly or uneventfully in Las Vegas this Saturday night (Sunday morning, Manila).

Cotto, 29, has a 34-1 record, with 27 KOs, compared to Pacquiao’s 49-3-2, with 37 KOs. Even as the Filipino icon turned pro in 1995 and Cotto six years later, the less experienced Puerto Rican has been a lot more active lately. Since 2005, Cotto has figured in 13 fights and Pacquiao, 11. Overall, Cotto has averaged 4.4 fights a year to Pacquiao’s 3.8.

Pacquiao has logged 19 more total fights but saw action only once, going two rounds against Ricky Hatton, this year. Cotto, in contrast, went five rounds with Michael Jennings and 12 with Joshua Clottey since February.

“While we’ve been waiting to see exactly where Cotto belonged among boxing’s elite, we may have forgotten the punishment he’s been taking,” wrote Don Stradley of The Ring Magazine. “Starting with his bouts against DeMarcus Corley and Ricardo Torres, where he was rocked, wobbled and dropped, through his bouts with Zab Judah, Sugar Shane Mosley, Antonio Margarito and Clottey, he has been through a hellacious few years. Perhaps like other Puerto Rican stars Wilfred Benitez and Felix Trinidad, Cotto may be feeling the sport’s effects at an earlier age than he would like. His eyebrows are fleshy masses waiting to be torn open and if he was down to 95 percent against Clottey, he may be down to 92 percent now.”

* * *

Here are Cotto’s strengths:

• Versatility. Cotto is a natural left-hander who fights orthodox and has the ability to switch-hit. He adapts to situations easily, can come forward or strike from a distance. Cotto can either fight big (using his size to overpower an opponent) or small (moving in and out). When Cotto outpointed Mosley in 2007, he was hailed as a skilful boxer with a “rediscovered jab...that may hold the key to solving styles that pressure and power-punching alone would never crack,” according to The Ring editor Nigel Collins. As a power puncher, Cotto has established a fearsome reputation, too, with 27 KOs in 34 wins or nearly an 80 percent rate which is higher than Pacquiao’s.

• Size. Cotto is definitely bigger than Pacquiao. As a legitimate welterweight, he will try to wear out Pacquiao by leaning on him, pushing him around and overpowering him. Because he’s bigger, Cotto might be able to take Pacquiao’s power more than smaller fighters like Hatton and David Diaz. Note that Pacquiao wasn’t able to floor Oscar de la Hoya whose weight will probably be close to Cotto’s on fight night.

• Power jab. This was the weapon that led to Mosley’s defeat. Cotto matched Sugar Shane’s blinding hand-speed and outworked him for an impressive win on points. Judges Glenn Feldman and Pete Trematerra saw it 115-113 and judge Wynn Kintz, 116-113. “Miguel is very strong,” said Mosley. “Not only was he powerful with pressure but he can also box. He really mixed it up and did a great job out there.”

• Body puncher. Cotto likes to “tenderize” his opponents with vicious shots to the side of the body, midsection and kidneys. No doubt, he’ll attack Pacquiao’s body early to slow him down. Fans still remember Cotto’s vicious body shot that brought down Carlos Quintana in the eighth round as the Puerto Rican captured the vacant WBA welterweight crown in 2006.

• Hunger. This is Cotto’s golden chance for fame and fortune. He’s got everything to gain by beating Pacquiao who’s the world’s No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter today and the sport’s hottest ticket seller. Cotto wants the three Rs that Pacquiao has – respect, recognition and riches. He’ll be highly motivated to win. Cotto’s hungry – like the words in the popular Queen song, he wants it all and he wants it now.

* * *

Here are Cotto’s weaknesses:

• Bleeder. Cotto is easily cut. The scar tissue above both eyes makes him susceptible to bleeding. He was badly wounded by Margarito and Clottey. Because Pacquiao is a volume puncher with quality attached to quantity, you can be sure Cotto will get hit. Blood will flow. With Pacquiao’s deadly accuracy, Cotto’s face could be transformed into a crimson mask.

• Wear and tear. Even if Cotto has fought less than Pacquiao in terms of bouts and years in the ring, he’s a lot more battered. Pacquiao has paced his career intelligently while Cotto is a young man in a hurry. Cotto has been involved in more gruelling wars than Pacquiao the last few years and it’s taken a heavy toll on his body.

• Easy to hit. Since Cotto is slower, he’ll be an easy target for Pacquiao whose hand-speed is dizzying. Pacquiao won’t find it difficult to connect because Cotto will be right in front of him. Even if Cotto moves more than usual, he’ll still be slower than Pacquiao. Cotto won’t be able to hide from Pacquiao who’ll hunt him down wherever he goes. There won’t be a safe haven for Cotto in the ring.

• Vulnerable to right. Pacquiao’s right will penetrate Cotto’s high-handed defense more easily than the left. In 2005, Cotto went up against Corley, an experienced southpaw like Pacquiao, and was repeatedly pummelled by a counter right hand. Corley, in fact, had Cotto in trouble before he was halted in the fifth round. It could be that Pacquiao’s right will soften up Cotto for the kill then the left will finish him off.

• Distractions. Cotto split ways with his uncle and long-time trainer Evangelista after the Jennings fight last February. The separation was bitter. Cotto sent Evangelista to the hospital with a broken nose and busted ribs. Evangelista threw a concrete brick that shattered Cotto’s 2009 Jaguar. Their squabble eventually reached the courts where Evangelista has filed a $7.5 million case for breach of contract. Without Evangelista in his corner and untested nutritionist Joe Santiago assuming the trainer’s role, Cotto almost lost to Clottey. Santiago will be back in Cotto’s corner for Pacquiao who happens to be an exponentially superior fighter than Clottey. Cotto’s mental toughness is also under question as it’s not known how far-reaching are the negative effects of his brutal knockout setback to Margarito.

Tomorrow, we’ll discuss Pacquiao’s strengths and weaknesses.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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