(STAR) SPORTING CHANCE By Joaquin M. Henson - Defending WBO welterweight champion Miguel Cotto of Puerto Rico steps into the big-time when he battles the world’s No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter Manny Pacquiao in what is expected to be a furious clash for ring supremacy at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas this morning (Manila time).

There is high anticipation for the scheduled 12-round bout. For Pacquiao, a win will establish his claim to immortality, virtually confirming his Hall of Fame status with a record seventh title in seven weight divisions – a feat never accomplished in boxing history. For Cotto, a win will catapult him into a level of greatness he probably never imagined as a pro.

Although Cotto is the defending titleholder and Pacquiao the “worthy” challenger, the Filipino is the crowd drawer, the hottest ticket in the fight game today. Pacquiao is pay-per-view’s human gold mine. When all the accounting is done, he’s tipped to bankroll as much as $20 Million, including his fight purse of $7.5 million. Cotto’s take-home will be considerably less but he’s thinking beyond Pacquiao as for sure, a victory will pave the way for much bigger paydays ahead.

Here are the 15 factors of consequence in the fight:

• Hard to hit. Pacquiao is never a standing target, making it difficult for Cotto to land consistently. If Cotto’s plan is to wear down Pacquiao with body shots and power left jabs, he’s got to pressure the Filipino into standing still. Cotto likes to use the peek-a-boo style, reminiscent of Floyd Patterson and Jose Torres, with hands held up high to cover the vulnerable spots – chin and jaw. Because he’s slower, Cotto will be an easier target than Pacquiao. Edge: Pacquiao.

• Intelligence. Both fighters are smart with Pacquiao enjoying an advantage in experience as a 14-year veteran. But Cotto is known for his ring smarts. Even trainer Freddie Roach acknowledged that the Puerto Rican is a clever operator. Cotto is resilient and isn’t easily fazed. He has the ability to outsmart an opponent because he’s versatile. Edge: Cotto.

• Chin strength. Cotto was floored by Ricardo Torres and decked twice by Antonio Margarito. He was staggered by DeMarcus Corley, an experienced southpaw like Pacquiao. In contrast, Pacquiao has never been severely hurt. He was knocked out early in his career by Rustico Torrecampo but that’s a forgotten episode in his life. Pacquiao was also stopped by Medgeon 3-K Battery in 1999 or 10 years ago. That, however, must be discounted because Pacquiao was in no condition to fight, having lost the WBC flyweight crown on the scales the day before. Edge: Pacquiao.

• Knockout punch. Against opponents of somewhat equal size, Pacquiao was awesome with one-punch knockout power. He used just one left hook to send Ricky Hatton to dreamland last May. But Cotto is much bigger than Hatton and probably, Oscar de la Hoya who never went down in surrendering to Pacquiao on his stool. With his size, Cotto potentially packs the one wallop that could knock out an opponent. He’s a legitimate welterweight, after all. Edge: Cotto.

• Speed. No question, Pacquiao is faster than Cotto, both in hand-speed and foot-speed. He’ll use his quickness to avoid Cotto’s rushes and to find the angles for his punches. Pacquiao will likely enter the ring weighing 149 pounds or less. Both Roach and conditioning coach Alex Ariza are confident the added weight won’t diminish Pacquiao’s quickness. Cotto had to scale down to make the catchweight limit so he’ll even be slower than usual. Edge: Pacquiao.

• Adaptability. Cotto will try to confuse Pacquiao by switch-hitting, counter-punching, moving forward and boxing from a distance. He’ll do everything and anything to keep Pacquiao off-balance. Cotto has also been known to resort to “tricks” in stymieing an opponent’s momentum. The objectives are to take the initiative, beat the other to the punch and dictate tempo. Edge: Cotto.

• Durability. In Cotto’s fight against Joshua Clottey last June, he showed signs of slowing down in the late rounds. It’s possible the gruelling grind of a long, hard career has taken a heavy toll on the Puerto Rican who has figured in 13 fights since 2005 compared to 11 for Pacquiao. Cotto nearly didn’t go the distance with Clottey, his face transformed into a crimson mask, and would’ve capitulated if only the Ghanaian were more persistent in attacking. Edge: Pacquiao.

• Defense. Pacquiao’s reflexes are extremely sharp – the result of Ariza’s training regimen that focuses on fast-twitch muscles. He uses head movement, arms to parry blows and footwork to avoid rushes. Since hooking up with Roach eight years ago, Pacquiao has become an expert in defense. While he was once careless particularly in moving forward, Pacquiao isn’t anymore. Cotto’s defense might hold up against an opponent who’ll fight him head-on. But Pacquiao isn’t inclined to make that mistake. Edge: Pacquiao.

• Cornerwork. Roach isn’t the only legend in Pacquiao’s corner. He’s also got Argentina’s Miguel Diaz who has worked with 33 world champions in various capacities as trainer, cutman and even manager. Diaz will be Pacquiao’s cutman. Curiously, he used to work in Cotto’s corner. Pacquiao’s former cutman Joe Chavez is now with Cotto and did a superb job of controlling the blood flow from a cut on the left eyebrow in the Clottey bout. Cotto’s trainer is Joe Santiago, a nutritionist who was promoted to head trainer when the fighter had a squabble with his uncle Evangelista. It was Evangelista who had trained Cotto since he was a boy. Edge: Pacquiao.

• Killer’s instinct. The eyes have it. When Pacquiao senses his opponent is ready to go, he won’t hold back – unless his prey is a legend like De la Hoya. Pacquiao’s eyes turn red and there’s no stopping him from going for the knockout. He’s relentless on the attack. What makes Pacquiao even more dangerous is he’s a volume puncher with quality attached to quantity. Edge: Pacquiao.

• Wear and tear. Cotto has been through a lot more wars lately than Pacquiao. He went through hell surviving Torres and Corley. He didn’t survive Margarito and although it is suspected that the Mexican used a hardening substance in his handwraps, the damage was frighteningly inflicted. Cotto also battled hard to beat Sugar Shane Mosley and Zab Judah. Pacquiao hasn’t been pushed to the limit too much the last few years. He feasted on David Diaz, De la Hoya and Hatton and this year, has fought only once, going two rounds with the British Hitman. Edge: Pacquiao.

• Facial fragility. Pacquiao was cut in the first Erik Morales fight but he’s been relatively unmarked in his recent outings. The Filipino encountered rough sailing in the Juan Manuel Marquez rematch but was never in danger of going down. Cotto’s face is heavily scarred. Margarito tore up his left eyebrow which was again ripped open by Clottey. Cotto needed 20 stitches to sew up the wound inflicted by Clottey’s headbutt. Cotto has a reputation as a bleeder and Pacquiao won’t forget it. It’s possible that Cotto may not go down in the fight because he’s bigger but his face will be torn to shreds just the same until referee Kenny Bayless finally decides to stop the carnage. Edge: Pacquiao.

• Mental toughness. There’s no fighter in the world today with a heart bigger than Pacquiao’s. The Filipino has confidence in his ability to win. He’s not intimidated by a bigger opponent. Cotto, on the other hand, has a lot of baggage on his mind. The brutal beating he absorbed from Margarito will definitely impact on his confidence. Cotto is in his eighth year as a pro. He’s at the point in his career where he’s thinking about how much more pain he can take before hanging up his gloves and retiring with his faculties intact to enjoy the rest of his life. Edge: Pacquiao.

• Recuperative powers. Cotto showed a lot of guts in shaking off heavy artillery to stop Corley and Torres. Like Pacquiao, he’s a proud warrior. Pacquiao’s power may not be as potent against Cotto because of the Puerto Rican’s size. Even if Cotto gets hurt, he’ll able to come back. Veteran trainer Al Certo once said, “Cotto’s got very fast recuperative powers, that’s a plus – and he always comes back firing, the way he hits to the body is great, that’s his biggest punch.” Edge: Cotto.

• Will to win. In terms of what’s at stake, Cotto is clearly the hungrier fighter. Pacquiao has tasted fame and fortune. He’s on top of the world. Cotto covets Pacquiao’s lifestyle and marquee status. The Puerto Rican has everything to gain in beating Pacquiao and only the WBO belt to lose. Edge: Cotto.

Of the 15 factors, Pacquiao has the edge in nine with Cotto taking the nod in six. My fearless forecast is Pacquiao will stop Cotto on cuts in the ninth round. Pacquiao will seize the initiative from the start, spearing Cotto from long range and moving away before the Puerto Rican can counter. He’ll repeatedly beat Cotto to the punch, raking his face with right crosses and left hooks. Cotto will be able to take Pacquiao’s power. He’ll be staggered and wobbled but he won’t go down. With Cotto’s face badly cut up, Bayless will step in and declare Pacquiao the winner by technical knockout in the ninth.

'He'll be big, win or lose' (The Philippine Star) Updated November 15, 2009 12:00 AM

[PHOTO AT LEFT - Larry Merchant LAS VEGAS]

LAS VEGAS -  Larry Merchant believes that win or lose, Manny Pacquiao will have a lot to look forward to next year.

The HBO commentator who just tells it as it is was at Friday’s official weigh-in, and inside the vast media center of the MGM Grand he gave scribes his thoughts on the boxing icon from the Philippines.

He said even if Pacquiao loses to Cotto, understandably the bigger, stronger and younger boxer, it won’t make much of a difference.

“Manny will still be big win or lose,” said Merchant.

“And depending on what happens (against Cotto) a third fight with (Juan Manuel) Marquez will always be there as a fallback fight – if he should lose,” said Merchant, almost always at ringside working each of Pacquiao’s recent fights here in the United States.

Marquez has a draw and a loss against Pacquiao, and in both fights there were questions left unanswered. Pacquiao’s trainer, Freddie Roach, is open to fighting the Mexican counterpuncher a third time “so we can knock him out and silence him for good.”

Then there’s Floyd Mayweather Jr. who should land a fight against Pacquiao because it’s what the world wants to see.

“Even if he doesn’t win it could happen but it will be a difficult negotiation. But if Manny wins there’ll be so much money on the table. So, there are other possibilities out there,” he said. – Abac Cordero

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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