[PHOTO AT LEFT - Manny Pacquiao and Miguel Cotto display their well-defined muscles after Friday's weigh-in for their much-awaited WBO welterweight championship fight today in Las Vegas, Nevada. AP | LAS VEGAS]

LAS VEGAS, NOVEMBER 15, 2009 (STAR) By Abac Cordero - Manny Pacquiao goes for a knockout and an even more hallowed place in boxing history Saturday evening (Sunday morning Manila time) at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, and standing in his way is Miguel Cotto, the wide-bodied, heavy-handed WBO welterweight champion from Puerto Rico.

And while the 30-year-old Pacquiao is tipped to win the 12-round contest pegged at 145 lbs., ring experts believe that this would be the toughest fight yet in his checkered career, one that would or should define the Filipino superstar as the greatest boxer of his generation.

His chief trainer Freddie Roach said they would win by a knockout.

“A hundred percent,” said Roach who, by chance, hooked up with Pacquiao in 2001, and has formed a great partnership that can only be likened to the ones that Angelo Dundee, the trainer, enjoyed with ring legends like Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard.

When they started training for the Cotto fight up in the cold mountains of Baguio two months ago, Roach believed that the only way Pacquiao could beat Cotto was via a decision. But now he’s calling for a knockout, and sounds very sure he could get it.

“I respect Miguel Cotto but he’s gonna get knocked out here,” said Roach, who has guided Pacquiao to 10 straight victories since they lost to Erik Morales at the MGM Grand in March 2005. Most of those 10 wins came against the best fighters out there.

Roach said Pacquiao’s speed will be the key to victory, and in their daily workouts at the gym, from Baguio to Los Angeles to Las Vegas, they worked on ways to utilize that speed and leave Cotto getting tagged and looking over his left shoulder all night.

“Timing is most important. But speed will be the key because if you have speed, you have power, too,” Pacquiao said on his last day at the IBA Gym here Thursday.

He refused to make any prediction on how the fight would end. He said he would take the fight to Cotto, as Roach wants him to, and added that a knockout, if and when it comes, is only a bonus.

“I’m hoping for my victory. I will do my best,” said Pacquiao, who should silence any of the critics left out there or any of the boxers who claim to be the real pound-for-pound champion with a victory over Cotto, the younger, bigger and stronger fighter.

On the eve of the fight - tickets for which were sold out as soon as they were put on the market - Pacquiao was holed up in his $15,000-a-night suite at THE Hotel of Mandalay Bay, letting in a steady stream of visitors including family members, friends from politics and showbiz, and just about anybody who knew somebody from within.

“But we had to ask them to go out. Manny was having dinner and they all wanted to be right beside him. And Manny had to talk to them with his mouth full,” said a member of Team Pacquiao security, a Filipino officer with the Los Angeles Police Department.

Pacquiao looked so relaxed inside his suite that he was talking about his mini-concert, the after-fight party, at Mandalay Bay.

Saturday morning he goes out for a walk, then the traditional Mass will be celebrated inside his suite at around 8 a.m.

It wasn’t certain if Pacquiao was informed that his fellow boxer, Z Gorres from Cebu, was fighting for his life, undergoing surgery to remove a blood clot in his brain, after winning his fight just hours earlier but collapsing afterwards at the House of Blues of Mandalay Bay.

Gorres was rushed to the UMC Hospital in Las Vegas and is said to be in a coma. (See related story on A-30)

The poor boy who grew up to become the richest Filipino athlete ever assured everyone that he will give it his best shot, as he had done in his recent victories over Ricky Hatton, Oscar de la Hoya, David Diaz and Juan Manuel Marquez.

“Just relax,” Pacquiao would say. He remained the favorite as of Friday, even if the odds favoring him had gone down to -270 (you need $270 to win $100) from as high as -350 last Monday. Cotto is at +220 from as low as +270.

On Friday afternoon, Pacquiao showed up for the official weigh-in at the MGM smiling and blowing kisses to the crowd, who could have asked him to sing right then and there, and he would have. He tipped the scales at a comfortable 144 lbs., a pound off the limit.

He’s never had any problems with his weight since moving up to 135 lbs. against Diaz, 147 against De la Hoya and 140 against Hatton - and winning them all via stoppage. At 145 for this fight, he ate as much and trained as hard as he could all camp long.

Cotto was said to have had difficulty making the weight, but by tipping the scales at 145 he made sure the fight was on, and that he wouldn’t be fined $1 million for every pound in excess of the catch weight limit.

Cotto showed a great body but hardly smiled, and no one, except himself and his team members and family, knew if he had trouble making the weight. He looked drained though and as he got off the scales he was handed a tall glass of protein shake.

But he insisted he was fine.

“I ate pretty well for this fight. And I’m happy that my strength is there for this fight,” he said.

“I believe this is my moment,” added Cotto, who fights at the MGM Grand for the first time since his terrible loss to Antonio Margarito in June 2008. It was the first loss of his career and many thought he’d never be the same again.

“People insist on talking about the Margarito fight, you know. But I’ve already read this chapter in my career. It’s a past chapter in my book. Now, I have a new chapter next Saturday against Manny Pacquiao,” he said.

Cotto, armed with a killer left hook, has gone 3-0 in championship fights against southpaws, knocking out DeMarcus Corley and Carlos Quintana in five rounds, and Zab Judah in 11 rounds.

But none of them are Manny Pacquiao, and on Saturday (Sunday in Manila), Cotto should find out what the difference is.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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