Cotto hopes to cement belief he is best welterweight in world


For us logical types, let's assume the first time Antonio Margarito tried wrapping his hands for a fight with enough plaster to shape a small cast wasn't moments before facing Shane Mosley in January.

Let's assume Margarito's camp had been up to such shenanigans for some time.

It would help explain Miguel Cotto's face that July evening of 2008.

It would explain all the blood.

The white towel was waved from Cotto's corner at 2:05 of the 11th round, and everyone inside the MGM Grand Garden Arena realized why Floyd Mayweather Jr. had turned down millions to fight Margarito and why Oscar De La Hoya also never traveled that welterweight road.

But the damage to Cotto had been done. Whether the hands of Margarito were wrapped in the plaster of Paris discovered by officials before the Mosley fight or not, Cotto has suffered the kind of harm facing nearly 1,000 punches can inflict.

Try ramming your face into a brick wall for 30 minutes or so. Few are the same after such a beating.

Cotto is out to confirm he is.

The fighter skipping rope and sparring solely for technical sake in the Top Rank Gym on Monday looked terrific, a focused, fit, determined Cotto whose Nov. 14 WBO title fight against Manny Pacquiao at 145 pounds at the MGM Grand could prove the year's finest.

Cotto couldn't have weighed more than 151 on Monday. He is cut and ready.

But fighting Pacquiao also will determine one way or the other if the Cotto who was so harshly beaten by Margarito still owns the skill that saw him claim 35 wins before suffering his only loss.

It will establish who Miguel Cotto is today -- the same brilliant boxer who in the past defended a WBA title against the likes of Mosley and Zab Judah or is damaged goods.

"I was most concerned for his health the night of the (Margarito fight)," said the fighter's father, Miguel Sr. "I only wanted to know if he was OK. He doesn't have to prove anything. What he does with his career is always his decision."

Top Rank handled Cotto as you might expect after the Margarito loss. They first matched him against Michael Jennings in February, against a nice British fighter they knew Cotto would beat because Jennings once lost to someone named Young Mutley and, well, what else do you need to know? Cotto dismissed Jennings at 2:36 of the fifth round.

He then faced someone far more dangerous in Joshua Clottey. Cotto suffered a cut from a head butt in the third round and struggled seeing punches late due to blood. The split decision went to Cotto in June, and some of the questions about his ability to withstand punishment and still win were answered.

The rest of those doubts will be put to test Nov. 14.

"I knew Miguel would come back from (the Margarito) fight, no question," Top Rank promoter Bob Arum said. "I just wondered how long it would take. He could have gone to the scorecards after the head butt against Clottey and won but continued to fight. He refused to quit. That was a big victory for him.

"To me, (Cotto) is all the way back now, but he has also never fought someone like Manny Pacquiao. I've been around this business 45 years and haven't seen anyone like Pacquiao, particularly the past few years. He's one of the most extraordinary fighters of all time."

Flip through the pages of boxing history.

Over and over, you will find fighters who were never the same physically or mentally after taking the kind of beating Cotto did against Margarito.

Clottey is one of the top welterweights around, but there is no way to know if Cotto has put July 2008 behind him for good until he meets Pacquiao.

As first impressions go, Cotto is taking the fight as serious as any other one. There is nothing better than a camp big on routine and low on drama, and the only issue surrounding Cotto seems to be if any water was left in the pool at their Tampa, Fla.-based home once best friend and manager Brian Perez executed his final belly-flop before the team headed to Las Vegas.

"In the moment of that night (against Margarito), the only thing you are hoping is that he will physically heal from it," said Phil Landman, strength and conditioning coach for Cotto. "But that's what separates the great from the good. Miguel is one of the greats. He has put it behind him and is at a point right now where I feel he is stronger than where he was going into Margarito.

"The fire is burning inside him. There are a lot of people still doubting him after Margarito. Miguel is ready for this."

The fighter skipping rope in the Top Rank Gym on Monday has the will.

Whether he still has the skill will be decided soon enough.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He also can be heard weeknights from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. on "The Sports Scribes" on KDWN (720 AM) and www.kdwn.com.

 

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