Everything you need to know about this weekend's big fight.
Pound-for-pound champ Manny Pacquiao is gunning for Miguel Cotto's welterweight belt. (Getty Images)
Filipino southpaw Manny Pacquiao, widely considered the best pound-for-pound fighter today and the current recognized champion at junior welterweight, is making yet another divisional climb to challenge WBO welterweight titlist Miguel Cotto of Puerto Rico at a catchweight of 145 pounds on Saturday at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas (9 p.m. ET, HBO PPV).
Cotto's title is on the line despite the agreed-upon contract weight, which is two pounds beneath the welterweight limit.
Saturday's showdown is a meeting between two of the sport's most beloved and crowd-pleasing fighters, modern-day folk heroes in their respective fatherlands who inspire passionate, jingoistic followings wherever they compete.
The 30-year-old Pacquiao, an international superstar and one of the world's 100 most influential people according to Time magazine, has already cemented a place in fistic lore with six world championships in six weight classes from 112 to 140 pounds. Now he'll try for an unprecedented seventh title in a seventh division -- a singular achievement that could thrust his name into legitimate Greatest of All-Time discussions.
For Cotto, there's the opportunity to enhance his own standing in the history books and, more importantly, exorcise the demons from the Antonio Margarito nightmare once and for all. Cotto's lone defeat in 35 pro outings came in July 2008 against Margarito, who was caught with loaded gloves in his subsequent fight with Shane Mosley. For this reason, many consider Cotto a still-undefeated fighter.
*Exact weights to be announced at Friday's official weigh-in (6 p.m. ET, The 101 Network/HBO.com)
Pacquiao enters Saturday's fight in the unfamiliar position of favorite. He's fresh off a three-pack of soul-stirring victories against larger opponents: a ninth-round TKO of David Diaz for the lightweight title in June 2008, an emphatic ninth-round stoppage of Oscar De La Hoya in December that sent the Golden Boy into retirement and, of course, an awesome second-round starching of Ricky Hatton for the junior welterweight crown in May. With each fight, the Filipino seems to be getting better and better.
On the flip side, the questions surrounding Cotto's recent form have made many observers pessimistic about his chances. Whether Margarito fought Cotto with loaded gloves is inconsequential: What matters is whether Margarito took something from Cotto in that violent stoppage that Cotto can never get back. He's fought twice since, winning the vacant WBO belt against an overmatched mandatory contender named Michael Jennings and surviving a hairy battle with Josh Clottey thanks to a disputed decision.
Saturday won't be the first time Pacquiao, who turned pro at 108 pounds, has moved up on the scales. Few have expressed concern with the weight difference, because he's brought his punch up with him every other time. The more important question is whether Cotto can handle Pacquiao's speed. Yes, Cotto has enjoyed success against some of the sport's fastest welterweights in Zab Judah and Shane Mosley, but he's never faced an opponent with Pacquiao's oppressive, slashing style. If Pacquiao can make Cotto look as slow as De La Hoya and Hatton did against him, it could be a short night.
But even Pacquiao's trainer, the inimitable Freddie Roach, concedes Cotto is the physically stronger fighter. With respect to De La Hoya, Manny has never felt a real welterweight's punch, much less Cotto's devastating left hook. The Puerto Rican packs the power to hurt Pacquiao, but only if he catches him.
Intangibly, you have to wonder about Pacquiao's edge, and whether the confidence from his string of recent victories can slip toward hubris. Distractions have been everywhere. Pacquiao's political aspirations are well-known, and many expect he'll take part in the April elections. There's the interminable speculation on a potential megafight with Floyd Mayweather Jr., which Manny felt compelled to address to the Associated Press. He began shooting Wapakman, a comedy/sci-fi superhero movie, in July, shortly before humanitarian work in the typhoon-torn Philippines compromised his training schedule. All the while, the underestimated Cotto has quietly trained in typical workmanlike fashion for what may be his last and best shot at moving from elite prizefighter to household name.
Oddsmaker William Hill lists Pacquiao as a 4-to-11 favorite, with Cotto as a 2-to-1 underdog.
Cotto comes out aggressive, trying to neutralize Pacquiao's speed by fighting inside. Pacquiao is more than willing to trade, but lacks the power to kayo a true welter like Cotto (who may weigh as much as 160 pounds in the ring). After weathering the initial fireworks, Pacquiao proves too fast and too busy for Cotto to press his natural power advantage. The Puerto Rican reverts to counter-punching, and Pacquiao's hand speed and volume punching help secure a difficult but comfortable verdict for the Filipino -- say, eight rounds to four. Pacquiao by unanimous decision.
What The Champs Think
"I think Cotto will win because he's a little bit bigger and is a real welterweight. His power may be enough to overcome Pacquiao's speed. I think Cotto wins in a decision." --Shane Mosley, current WBA welterweight champion
"I pick Manny Pacquiao by knockout. I think he will knock him out in 7 or 8. Manny just has too much for Cotto." --Mike Tyson, former two-time heavyweight champion
"Manny is a big puncher and a good boxer, but he has never faced a natural welterweight like Miguel. Cotto is the most dangerous fight of Pacquiao's career. On the night of the fight, Pacquiao will still not be a full welterweight. And Cotto is very strong. As the fight plays out -- around Rounds 7, 8, 9 -- that's when Cotto starts taking over. I think Cotto will win be decision, but he might even get a knockout. With all of my heart I think Miguel Cotto will win." --Felix Trinidad, former welterweight, junior middleweight and middleweight champion
"I think Manny Pacquiao is going to be too quick for Cotto. I was ringside when Cotto fought Clottey. He seemed to struggle a bit in that fight, and it is hard to say what he will do against a faster, quicker Pacquiao. I know people say Cotto is the bigger guy, but I still think Pacquiao beats him in a decision." --Joe Calzaghe, former super middleweight and light heavyweight champion
"Pacquiao is going to chop Cotto up. Out of respect, Cotto will get some rounds, but Manny is the Bruce Lee of boxing. His basketball and martial arts background give him that speed agility. You can't tell where his shots are coming from. Unlike Rocky, Bruce Lee was a real dude and so is Manny." --Bernard Hopkins, former middleweight and light heavyweight champion
"I think Cotto wins in a 12-round decision. Pacquiao has been riding high and has beaten some of the best in the world. And it leaves you kind of complacent when you're winning. And even if you don't want it to, sometimes you can't get up for a big fight. And that's a plus for Cotto. ... When you're riding high you think you're going to walk through your opponent. You get overconfident. People in your camp tell you you're going to win. And you have your spies in camp, telling you about the other guy. When I faced Ali, Frazier and Norton both had beaten Ali, and I had knocked them out pretty easily. So when I faced Ali, I had that confidence, and you think, 'I surely can beat this guy.' So I know the feeling, and I think that will happen to Pacquiao." --George Foreman, former two-time heavyweight champion
Manny Pacquiao trains with Freddie Roach during a workout at the Wild Card Boxing Gym in L.A. (AP)
The Tweet Beat
You can join the conversation about Pacquiao-Cotto on Twitter. Track the hashtag #firepower to see who's tweeting what about Saturday's fight.
· HBO's Jim Lampley, Larry Merchant, Emanuel Steward and Harold Lederman will be ringside for the main event and undercard.
· The final episode of 24/7 Pacquiao/Cotto debuts Friday (9:30 p.m. ET, HBO). If you missed the first three installments, they're airing back-to-back starting at 8. The series is also available on HBO On Demand.
· Cable systems around the country are presenting a number of free On Demand programs on the fight. The half-hour weigh-in show, which airs live Friday (6 p.m. ET, The 101 Network/HBO.com), will be available free On Demand beginning Saturday. You can also watch free replays of Pacquiao-De La Hoya and Cotto-Clottey throughout the week.
· Two one-hour biographies on the fighters -- Miguel Cotto: A Champion on a Mission and Manny Pacquiao: Rise to Greatness -- are available free at iN DEMAND.