LAS VEGAS (AP) - 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 2 pounds under his normal weight just to get the fight.
Not after spending months training for a fight a lot 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 fighter singing on "Jimmy Kimmel Live," and the boxer who brings his native 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 at ringside 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."
Oddsmakers think so, too, making Pacquiao a 2½-1 favorite in a
fight that will be held at a catch weight of 145 pounds, something Cotto had to agree to if he was going to get the fight. Pacquiao wanted the weight concession because he is the smaller fighter, having made his way up from 105 pounds, and fought Hatton at 140 pounds.
Cotto insists he has put the Margarito fight behind him and is
even better than he was before, but there are not only questions
about his confidence, but his conditioning. He parted ways with his longtime trainer earlier this year and has been using 32-year-old Joe Santiago, who has no experience in big fights, for the biggest fight of his career.
Pacquiao, whose marathon sparring sessions are legendary,
believes that his preparation and his corner will both be factors
in the scheduled 12-round bout.
"It's a big help to have a great trainer in your corner," he said.
There aren't as many questions about Pacquiao on the eve of the fight, though there are those in boxing who say he may be getting too much credit for his last two fights because De La Hoya was clearly past his prime and Hatton may have never been ready for prime time.
But the body of his work - six titles in six weight classes over
the years - and the fact that Roach has managed to turn his right
hand into as big a factor as his left hook make Pacquiao dangerous to anyone in front of him. He not only seems to have carried his speed with him as he moved up in weight, but the punch is there too, as evidenced by the tremendous left hook that floored Hatton in the second round of his last fight.
"We believe we have the advantage in both speed and power,"
Pacquiao said. "My speed is still there and if you have speed you can create power."
Cotto has power of his own - 27 knockouts in 36 fights attests to that - and neither fighter thinks much about defense. The promise of a lot of action led to a quick sellout in the arena and
promoters believe they will do strong business on pay-per-view at
$54.95 a pop.
The promise of at least $6.5 million helped sell Cotto on the
fight. But the promise of greatness should he win means even more.
Because he knows that a win against Pacquiao might just make him boxing's next big star.
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