November 11, 2009

This article appears in the November 16, 2009 issue of Sports Illustrated.

Try as they might, the duo of Manny Pacquiao and Miguel Cotto cannot generate the sound -- let alone the fury -- of just one Floyd Mayweather. As they crisscrossed the country together to promote Saturday's long-awaited WBO welterweight title bout in Las Vegas, Pacquiao, 30, and Cotto, 29, only confirmed their mutual p.r. scouting report: low-key on the podium, gradually improving at English (Pacquiao is from General Santos City, Philippines, and Cotto from Caguas, Puerto Rico) and, perhaps most maddening for Top Rank Inc., which promotes both boxers, utterly uninterested in verbal conflict, preferring friendly grins and nods instead. In fact, thanks to an apparently spontaneous drop-in by Shane Mosley, there was more fire in Mayweather's interview after he dominated Juan Manuel Márquez in September than there was in weeks of Pacquiao-Cotto barnstorming.

Which completely misses the point, of course. Despite the proud oral traditions of Ali, Tyson, Hopkins et al., boxers fight within a ring, not on a dais. And in the minds of the otherwise peaceable Pacquiao (49-3-2, 37 KOs) and Cotto (34-1, 27), each a beloved hero in his homeland and each the toughest opponent of the other's career, there is nothing better than some old-fashioned violence between the ropes. "They fight from the beginning, and anything can happen," says Top Rank chief Bob Arum. "Miguel can knock Manny out in the first round, and Manny can knock Miguel out in the first round."

Indeed. Whereas Mayweather and Márquez are brilliant defensive specialists (and drew an impressive one million pay-per-view buys), this weekend's matchup is the biggest boxing event of the year because both Pacquiao and Cotto have slugged their way to the top. Before Mayweather's unretirement, Pacquiao was the undisputed best pound-for-pound fighter in the world, a former flyweight who lays claim to six titles in six weight divisions. Cotto, on the other hand, was the king of the welterweights -- these days the hottest division in boxing -- whose lone defeat came by TKO in 11 bloody rounds against AntonioMargarito in July 2008.

Both men must answer significant questions: Did Margarito's victory -- thought by many to have been the product of loaded gloves, which he was caught trying to use six months later against Mosley -- permanently soften Cotto? Did Pacquiao's drubbings of Oscar De La Hoya (eighth-round TKO in 2008) and Ricky Hatton (second-round KO in May) prove him to be truly dominant above 140 pounds or merely expose his opponents as past their prime? Can Cotto, who two years ago used expert timing to nullify Mosley's quickness, slow down the fastest southpaw on earth?

Having pored over film for days, Pacquiao's trainer, Freddie Roach, has devised a plan -- as evidenced by the padded suit Roach dusted off in training camp -- to hammer the body of the bigger, thicker Cotto, something Pacquiao does not usually have to do. While the 5-foot-6 1/2-inch Filipino is only a half-inch shorter than Cotto, he will be fighting, more than ever, out of his natural depth. "I respect Miguel Cotto," Pacquiao says in what passes for smack talk. "I just pray for a good fight." Inside the ring, notably, that has never been a problem for either fighter.

You May Like

Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)