War before the Parade

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The Puerto Rican Day parade in New York City is now less than a week away and, thanks to Top Rank Promotions' shrewd marketing, it has become synonymous with boxing. Particularly it's synonymous with Puerto Rican star Miguel Cotto.

I, like many boxing fans, regardless of background, have been eagerly waiting to see who Cotto will fight on the eve of the festivities. When the news broke that the opponent would indeed be Joshua "The Hitter" Clottey, the tough-as-nails Ghanaian former IBF champion, I was like a kid on Christmas day. Or better yet, on the day of Puerto Rican Day Parade.

Cotto vs. Clottey is a boxing fan's dream come true.

It's no secret that boxing has always capitalized on regionalism and nationalism to promote itself (see Joe Louis vs. Max Schmeling). Hell, I'd be remiss to not include that, frequently, race plays a major part in promoting a fight. (Recall Larry Holmes vs. Jerry Cooney).

That aspect of boxing promoting is, in this day in age, somewhat unseemly. However, it sells.

An argument could even be made that the pitting of one nationality against another is a form of the aforementioned, but it does fall short and it also is conducive to an electric atmosphere. It's a part of the business -- always has been and, more than likely, always will be.

Several years ago, Cotto fought PaulieMalignaggi, the brash Italian Brooklynite, in the first promotion of a major fight on the eve of the Parade. It was a masterstroke of brilliance for Top Rank. A pugilistic celebration of ethnicity had occurred and a new Puerto Rican national hero had emerged.

As for the "Campeon Grande del Puerto Rico," there's a lot more at stake than national pride with this fight against the rugged Clottey. Redemption is in the offing.

Late last June, Cotto suffered the first loss of his career against the oft-avoided Antonio Margarito. It was a brutal affair, to say the least. I was in attendance for that fight and, though I didn't have a favorite, it was hard not to get caught up in the ebb and flow of the crowd, let alone the fight itself. Cotto controlled the entire first half of the fight. He out-boxed, out-smarted and out-slugged the Mexican hero for all of the first six rounds.

Then something peculiar started to happen: Margarito wore Cotto down and eventually made him quit. Cotto looked far wearier than expected and far more battered about the face.

Then something even more peculiar happened: Margarito and his corner were caught cheating, having illegally wrapped his gloves before his subsequent fight with Shane Mosley. The California State Athletic Commission revoked Margarito's license for a year, effectively banning the Mexican boxer from fighting in the U.S.

Despite the controversy, Mosley dominated and eventually knocked out Margarito. Margarito was cleared of any wrongdoing in his fight with Cotto, but suspicion still lurks.

Cotto's next opponent, Clottey, didn't sign up to be the sacrificial lamb for the fiesta. He's there to win and has a better-than-average chance of doing so.

Clottey is as tough as they come. Though he toes the line of of a dirty fighter, calling him one would be a disservice to his skill and tenacity in the ring. His head and elbows often get involved. He's rough and is best fighting on the inside and to my knowledge, has never been hurt.

I haven't even seen Clottey buzzed.

Clottey's been in with serious fighters. He only has two losses, one of which came via disqualification against Carlos Baldomir, in a fight in which Cotto was clearly winning, and the other against Margarito.

The fight with Margarito was very telling. Clottey controlled the fight and looked to be dominating Margarito until he broke his hand.

Though Margarito earned a unanimous-decision victory, the scoring was close, but Clottey wasn't close to being hurt, save for the hand that he'd hurt on Margarito's head.

Saturday's fight should be an all-out war. Cotto is by far the more polished boxer, but both guys are willing to stand in the middle of the ring -- forehead to forehead -- and chop each other down. Both are proficient when in close and landing short, chopping uppercuts and hooks, especially to the body.

Cotto may be the better boxer, but in Madison Square Garden, with his countrymen cheering him on, it's questionable whether he'll fight or box. The smart money is on him fighting, and that's exactly what Clottey wants.

Clottey wants to pummel Cotto into submission in front of the partisan crowd. Clottey covets the acclaim that Cotto has garnered.

Expect nothing less than blood, a knock-down and ruthless war on the eve of the Puerto Rican Day parade in New York. Expect the fight of the year.

The winner? Too close to call.

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