Boxing Roundtable: Can Cotto claim top spot in welterweight division?

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1. Miguel Cotto will face Joshua Clottey on June 13 in a welterweight showdown. In your mind, who is No. 1 in the talent rich division?

CHRIS MANNIX: Weight classes have become ambiguous, with natural lightweights like Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez bouncing in and out of them. But if we're talking natural welterweights, I'm going with Shane Mosley. Why? Because Mosley did what few fighters thought possible when he knocked out Antonio Margarito in January. Sure, Mosley dropped a narrow decision to Miguel Cotto last year but I think if that fight had been in a different venue (Madison Square Garden with a pro-Puerto Rican crowd is practically Cotto's home turf) we might have seen a different outcome. And you simply can't discount Mosley's smashing of Margarito, a fighter Cotto lost to and Floyd Mayweather has ducked for years. The top spot in this division is fluid; it can change from fight-to-fight. But for now, Mosley is on top.

RICH O'BRIEN: The first question to answer is just who is in the welterweight division. Do we include Paul Williams (currently holder of a light middleweight title belt), who, despite his 6-foot-1-inch frame, still eyes the 147-pound division? Do we include the suspended Margarito, who even without, well, concrete on his hands, could prove to be an effective campaigner in the division upon his return? What about FloydMayweather Jr. (once he comes out of his shockingly abbreviated retirement)? Or Pacquiao, presently the best 140-pounder in the world (and according to almost everyone, the best fighter in the world)? The division truly is an inspiring nexus of talent right now. Leaving aside the various wild cards (say, could Bernard Hopkins get down to 147?), the choice, as far as I'm concerned, is between Cotto and Mosley. The two fought a close and exciting 12 rounds in November 2007 (narrowly won by Cotto) and -- amazingly, considering Mosley is now 37 and Cotto suffered a brutal, if suspect, KO loss to Margarito -- both have improved since then. In the end, I'd give the nod to Cotto, mostly on the strength of his youth.

That said, I still give the talented and busy Clottey a good chance against him on Saturday.

BRYAN GRAHAM: There's a natural hesitation about picking a guy who's been on the shelf for two years as the alpha dog in boxing's prestige division. But I'll put my Money on Mayweather, a guy who's never looked in trouble in a fight at any weight.

When Mayweather realized he was going to be a bad guy, sometime around the Carlos Baldomir fight, he embraced the role instead of resisting it. He knows everybody wants to see him lose and knows the probability of his defeat only boosts the salability of his first couple of post-retirement fights: He's counting on people forgetting the way he was walking over opponents before he left. Not me. As for second-best at 147, I'll take Cotto, whose lone defeat in 34 pro fights came at the dubious hands of Antonio Margarito. My No. 3 would be Mosley, who won the WBA title from Margarito in January and may hit the Pacquiao jackpot as soon as this month. I'd rate Clottey fourth and Carlos Quintana fifth.

2. Kermit Cintron has said his two losses to Antonio Margarito are tainted. At this point, are any of Margarito's victories above suspicion?

MANNIX: The presumption by most boxing insiders I have talked to is that all of Margarito's wins are tainted. If you get caught cheating, what are your first responses? Denial (which Margarito opened with) and insistence that this is the first time you have done such a thing. Both responses are usually lies. I don't think that the Mosley fight was the first time Margarito tried to lace his gloves; I think it has been going on for years. You can't yank wins away from someone without proof but I think every time Margarito's record is written in a magazine, newspaper or Internet column, it should be followed by an asterisk.

O'BRIEN: Perhaps an episode of CSI: The Sweet Science could determine just when Margarito started loading his gloves, but for now I'm inclined to agree with Cintron: Margarito pretty much negated his entire career when he got caught. By the way, what amazed me about the Cotto fight -- even more than the way Margarito busted up Cotto -- was the number of shots he took from Cotto (a proven banger) with seemingly no effect. Not only was Margarito not hurt, or even shaken, his face remained unmarked and unswollen. Maybe the guy's chin was loaded, too.

GRAHAM: Margarito will learn -- if he hasn't already -- that the court of public opinion can deliver a harsher sentence than any sanctioning body. Fair or otherwise, the deposed welterweight champ has cast doubt over his entire legacy since getting caught with illegal hand wraps. Do I believe Margarito was loading his gloves since his 1994 pro debut? Of course not. But I don't think the Patriots stole signals throughout their three Super Bowl runs either -- and many folks will forever perceive those accomplishments as tainted.

3. With David Haye pulling due to injury, Wladimir Klitschko will face Ruslan Chagaev on June 20. Who would you rather see Klitschko fight, Haye or Chagaev?

MANNIX: I understand Klitschko's frustration over Haye dropping out. When I spoke with Klitschko on Thursday he sounded as upset as I had ever heard. But I just think Chagaev -- medical issues aside -- is a better fight for him. Chagaev brings something to the table. He has an undefeated record, a win over Nikolai Valuev and as the WBA's "Champion in Recess" he theoretically had a hold on the last piece of the heavyweight crown not held by a Klitschko. Could the fight be a dud? Possibly. Part of me thinks the smaller Chagaev might employ the same strategy Sultan Ibragimov used against Klitschko last year, when he played defense for twelve rounds and wound up dropping a lopsided decision. But even if it's a weak fight, if Klitschko wins he will have claimed another victory over a highly rated heavyweight while moving one step closer to completely unifying the titles. To me, that counts for a lot.

O'BRIEN: Sorry, is this a trick question? Yes, I know that Chagaev brings the kind of solid technical skills and undeniable toughness that could prove a real challenge for Klitschko. It's a completely legitimate and worthwhile matchup. But, honestly, I got more entertainment out of the one press conference I saw with voluble Haye than I did out of Chagaev's last four fights. Granted, Haye is essentially untested as a heavyweight, and there's good reason to suspect that the first time Klitschko hits him, the "Hayemaker" will make haste to the canvas. On the other hand, Haye is young, fast, can clearly punch and promises to take the action to Klitschko -- a more compelling prospect than the earnest counterpunching of Chagaev. Whatever the outcome, I see it Klitschko-Haye as the far more engaging bout -- and one that could help jump start the division.

GRAHAM: Many fancied Haye as a sort of Western threat to the Eastern European oligarchy atop the heavyweight division. Yes, the former cruiserweight champion brought swagger, personality and a provocative fashion sense to the table. But marketability alone does not make a contender. This was an enormous step up in competition from Monte Barrett, Haye's lone heavyweight scalp. There's no proof Haye, who chirped his way into a title shot instead of paying his dues against other top heavies, was ready to fight a champion of Klitschko's caliber.

Chagaev, who's never lost in 26 fights, might not boast a star-studded resume. But he's the only man to defeat Valuev, and he's also offed veteran John Ruiz. For the past several years, the "White Tyson" has been recognized as no worse than the fourth-best heavyweight. He's almost certain to be Klitschko's most difficult test since Samuel Peter. Yes, Haye-Klitschko might have been a more colorful promotional tour, but there's no question Chagaev-Klitschko is the more intriguing fight.

4. Andre Berto win over Juan Urango was his second 12-round decision victory over a solid opponent. Is Berto ready for a step up in competition?

MANNIX: Probably not. Berto is a phenomenal talent. His speed and power are absolutely terrifying and, in the last two fights, he has shown he can hang in for 12 rounds and come away with a tough victory. But I still feel like he is missing something, that intangible ingredient that makes great welterweights like Mosley, Mayweather and Cotto what they are. I'd like to see Berto in a rematch against Luis Collazo; Berto faded down the stretch against the crafty veteran and a more convincing win might just be the springboard he needs to a big-money fight.

O'BRIEN: Berto is only 25. He's an undeniably gifted fighter and a smart young man. There is a lot of upside there. I'm just not sure he's getting the development he needs. His trainer, Tony Morgan, and his promoter, LouDiBella, have both said they're in no hurry with Berto. And that makes sense -- to a point. But I see a little of the Jermain Taylor (another DiBella fighter) syndrome in Berto -- that is, a fighter who is moved so carefully that he never becomes as good as he should be. To be fair, I think Berto has a better head and spirit for the game than Taylor ever did. Against Urango, Berto was terrifically efficient, but he's not sitting down on his punches as he once did. Is he ready for Mosley or Cotto? Probably not, but he can't wait that much longer.

GRAHAM: Berto has always looked the part of star-in-waiting -- deep amateur background, Olympic pedigree, good looks, attractive style -- but how much longer must fight fans wait?

He's made three uninspiring welterweight title defenses since flooring Miguel Rodriguez for the vacant WBC belt in June 2008: a coin-flip decision over gatekeeper Collazo and a pair of plodding verdicts over Steve Forbes and Urango, light-hitting opponents who moved up to 147 to fight him. Berto can win fights like these on sheer athleticism but they've revealed ominous limits to his skills: His jab often looked flaccid last Saturday, and his inability to score on the inside was the latest case in a running theme. If he's resorting to running and clinching and general risk-aversion to dispense of the Forbeses and Urangos of the words, what hope does Berto have against Mosley, Cotto, Mayweather , or any of the other recognizable names in boxing's deepest division? So, no, I don't think Berto is ready to fight one of the big names at 147. But five years into his pro career, he'd better be soon enough -- or the questions over the legitimacy of his belt will only intensify.