Wednesday March 2nd, 2011

During a recent conference call to promote his upcoming junior middleweight title fight with Miguel Cotto, Ricardo Mayorga broke out the trash-talking playbook. Responding to no question in particular, Mayorga labeled Cotto and his Hall of Fame trainer, Emanuel Steward, "failures," called them both "clowns" and suggested an alternate occupation for Cotto after the fight.

"After I retire him from boxing, I have spoken to Ricky Martin's camp and they say they have an opening for him," Mayorga said.

It was vintage Mayorga, whose bark has always been worse than his bite. Just as typical was the response from Cotto: measured, without the slightest hint of emotion.

"I don't care what he [Mayorga] is saying about me," Cotto said. "He's always going to be talking but, as everyone knows, the fight starts when you enter the ring and that's where I'm going to win."

On paper, Cotto-Mayorga -- scheduled for March 12 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas -- is a startling mismatch. Cotto, 30, is in his prime. He has rebounded from brutal beatings at the hands of Antonio Margarito and Manny Pacquiao and blossomed under the tutelage of Steward, who has corrected Cotto's stance and made him more of a tactician than a brawler. Mayorga, 37, is a shell of the fighter who shocked the late Vernon Forrest twice in 2003. He hasn't won a meaningful fight since beating Forrest and has a knack for getting knocked out (see De La Hoya, Oscar; Mosley, Shane) in big fights.

Cotto doesn't want to hear any of that. He says he and Steward have put in the work in the gym and in the film room and are prepared for anything the unpredictable Mayorga will throw at them.

"I'm going everywhere," Cotto said. "I'm going to the body. I'm going upstairs. We are preparing for whatever type of Mayorga we see this night. I'm going to capitalize on any type of mistake he makes."

Said Steward: "With Mayorga, you have to have two or three plans. Whenever you fight a kamikaze fighter like him, it's always dangerous. He's always going for the home run, so you never know when you'll be fortunate enough to land a punch. So you have to respect that and have to be prepared to out-box him and not let him start bullying you. You may have to change up.

"I think the key to victory, though, will be short punches, whether it be jabs, or left hooks or right hands. The final round of his fights with both Oscar De La Hoya and Shane Mosley was basically where he was knocked out with short punches and not with long punches."

Cotto recognizes that he is on the cusp of regaining the status he lost against Margarito. He already has a title (the WBA version of the 154-pound crown), and a win over Mayorga would set up a summer rematch with Margarito and give Cotto the opportunity to avenge a loss many believe was a result of Margarito's loading his gloves.

"I feel like I've had a great career," Cotto said. "It's been very productive. I know it's near the end of it, but I feel like it's the beginning. I feel great and I feel like I have a lot left in me before I go."

Now, on to your e-mails and tweets ...

I just read your article on Kelly Pavlik and I'm sad to say that it's very disheartening. It saddens me that he doesn't go to meetings, and he doesn't say he will never drink again. As a 23-year-old who is an active member of a 12-step program, I can tell you, you don't end up in rehab for no reason. Maybe he captures a title again, but I believe in my heart he will continue to have problems with drinking and this is not the last time we hear this story about him. --Mike, Cleveland

Well-done article on Kelly. Being a South Side Youngstown guy myself, I have followed this young man's career for many years. His family exemplifies the blue-collar roots of our community and everyone who knows him wishes him life's best both in and out of the ring. --Jim, Youngstown, Ohio

The response to last month's story on Pavlik's comeback has been consistent: most wish Pavlik the best, most are unsure if he has truly kicked his problems with alcohol. I spent several days in Youngstown with Pavlik and I can honestly say I'm not sure, either. I think Kelly thinks he is fine. But the fact that he still gets defensive when it's suggested he has a drinking problem and has not maintained any recovery program since leaving The Ranch Recovery Center in Desert Hot Springs, Calif., in November raises red flags.

When I saw Pavlik, he was focused on his upcoming fight and on getting back what he lost in the ring. The question is, where does he shift his focus to once the fight is over? Does he stay sober? Or does all the down time in Youngstown -- a city that lines up bars like bowling pins -- eventually bring him back to old habits? I think the best course of action, which I brought up several times, would be to move out of Youngstown. I doubt he will, but there are certainly people in his life (specifically his father, Mike) who are trying to push him in that direction.

Where do you think the Berto/Ortiz fight ends up? --@bennetthipp

I asked Andre Berto's promoter, Lou DiBella, the very same question Tuesday night. He said he had narrowed down the possible locations to three -- Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Atlanta -- and will make a decision by the end of the week. The problem in selecting a venue has been that neither Berto nor Victor Ortiz is a big draw anywhere. But whatever city gets the April 16 fight will get a good one. Berto and Ortiz are offensive-oriented fighters who are taking big steps up in class. The winner of this fight will have a real case to be the next opponent for Manny Pacquiao.

Do you think Juan Manuel Marquez won't re-sign with Golden Boy Promotions to get a shot with Pac Man? I think that's d only way we can get Pac Man-Marquez 3. --@ramnavs

Golden Boy has been telling people it has matching rights to Marquez for one year after his contract runs out, which would essentially enable the company to retain control over Marquez for the foreseeable future. But even if Marquez has the option to leave and sign with Top Rank, should he? Golden Boy has done a very good job helping turn Marquez into a star late in his career. It also has control over several of the top 140-pounders, including Amir Khan, Marcos Maidana and Victor Ortiz, all of whom could be potential opponents for Marquez down the road.

Besides, even if Marquez stays with Golden Boy, he could still get a shot at Pacquiao. If Pacquiao wipes the mat with Shane Mosley -- as most expect he will do -- and Floyd Mayweather is still unwilling or unable to fight him, Marquez is the only logical opponent. And after watching Pacquiao destroy stablemates Josh Clottey, Antonio Margarito and, presumably, Mosley, the public will be clamoring for the pound-for-pound king to accept a meaningful fight.

Are there ANY heavyweight prospects with potential for greatness in next 3-5 yrs? I miss the days when heavyweight champ mattered. --@shinehart

Short answer? No. Former Michigan State linebacker Seth Mitchell is developing into a nice fighter and 2008 Olympic bronze medalist Deontay Wilder has some good raw skills, but they don't qualify as can't-miss prospects. Truth is, the heavyweight division is going to be dominated by the Klitschkos as long as the brothers decide they want to keep fighting. There just isn't a young prospect in the pipeline who could potentially challenge their supremacy.

What's next for Nonito Donaire? --@AlaineAMiranda

Donaire's swift (and stunning) work in the win over Fernando Montiel last month has his promoters eyeing a quick return. There has been some talk of bringing Donaire back in May, and he and Top Rank are interested in a unification fight with Anselmo Moreno. The real fight for Donaire is down the road against the winner of Showtime's bantamweight tournament final between Abner Mares and Joseph Agbeko. Donaire passed on the tournament -- it needed him more than he needed it -- but now should push to take on its champion. It won't be easy; Mares is promoted by archrival Golden Boy, Agbeko by Thompson Boxing. But Donaire can't truly stake his claim to being the best 118-pounder in the world until he fights the winner.

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