Michael Rosenthal

Cotto is Pacquiao’s first real challenge since Marquez

Miguel Cotto, his cut on display here against Joshua Clottey, has the ability to give Manny Pacquiao bloody hell on Nov. 14 in Las Vegas. Photo / FightWireImages.com

Manny Pacquiao’s accomplishments mustn’t be diminished. In the past year, he has dismantled three world-class opponents in three weight divisions to earn comparisons to the great Henry Armstrong. He deserves the windfall of accolades he has received.

At the same time, whether anyone likes it or not, we can look at those three opponents and find significant flaws.

David Diaz is tough and well-schooled but not an elite fighter. Oscar De La Hoya, once one of the best, was a zombie the night he met Pacquiao because of weight loss and natural deterioration. And Ricky Hatton, when it came down to it, was good but overrated.

This is one reason the announcement that Pacquiao will face Miguel Cotto on Nov. 14 is so exciting: You can’t find a comparable flaw in the Puerto Rican. He is relatively young (28), a gifted boxer, naturally bigger than Pacquiao and will be fighting only two pounds out of his natural weight class.

Thus, this will be Pacquiao’s biggest challenge since he outpointed Juan Manuel Marquez in March of last year and might go further than any other fight in determining just how good the Filipino icon really is.

Some have suggested that Cotto is in decline after the tremendous beating he took from Antonio Margarito in July of last year. They point to his narrow victory over rugged, but limited Joshua Clottey as evidence.

I didn’t see it that way. I saw a tough guy fight gallantly through a gruesome cut –- when others might’ve quit –- and find a way to beat a very strong, proven veteran who was fit and determined to win. I thought it was an outstanding performance by Cotto.

If he can find a way to beat Pacquiao, which is a distinct possibility, talk of his demise beforehand will seem foolish.

Several knowledgeable observers have suggested that Cotto struggles only when his opponent backs him up, as Margarito did. And Pacquiao doesn’t fight like Margarito. Moving forward, Cotto can be a dominating fighter.

And many still wonder what will happen when Pacquiao takes a big punch from a real welterweight, as Cotto is. The guess here is that his chin will be tested as never before.

Bottom line: Cotto is big enough, experienced enough and good enough to beat the most-celebrated fighter in the world, a fact that Pacquaio’s many fans will find hard to swallow. It’s true, though; it can happen.

But it won’t.

In the end, I think Pacquiao will win the fight for one overriding reason: talent.

Cotto was and remains an elite fighter. Anyone who beats Shane Mosley and compiles a record like his (34-1, 27 knockouts) is among the best at his craft. However, he’s no Pacquiao, whose natural gifts and refinement under trainer Freddie Roach are rare.

Cotto is a very good boxer, Pacquaio a great boxer. And when very good meets great, great wins.

Pacquiao might not be able to move Cotto backward as Margarito did but he presents many other problems. He might have the fastest hands in the world. He has learned to use his quick feet to get in (to do damage) and out (to avoid it) before his opponents can react. And he demonstrated in chilling fashion against Hatton that he can knock out a bigger man.

The point of this is that it won’t be easy for Pacquiao, as the Diaz, De La Hoya and Hatton fights were. He’ll take punches from Cotto. He’ll find him difficult to hit at times. He’ll even lose rounds, which somehow seems unfathomable in light of his recent performances.

Then, when he wins, it’ll mean that much more. He will have beaten a fighter who belongs on the pound-for-pound list and who was at his best at the time they fought. And afterward, no one will be able to say, “Yeah, Pacquaio won but …”

Michael Rosenthal’s column appears Wednesday’s. He can be reached at RingTVeditor@yahoo.com

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