/ 12 November 2009

Reputations on the line in Cotto-Pacquiao bout

When Miguel Cotto was 11 years old and 156 pounds he figured the best way to lose weight was to follow in the footsteps of his two older brothers and take up boxing.

Not only did he lose the weight but he developed a passion for the sport and that journey that began as an awkward adolescent continues on Saturday when he steps into the ring to defend his World Boxing Organisation welterweight title against Filipino Manny Pacquiao.

”I started in the Gym Bairoa in Caguas,” Cotto said. ”I lost weight, but I started to feel something for boxing. In the beginning it was just a game, but then I started to love boxing.”

If his training sessions are an accurate measuring stick then Cotto thinks he has what it takes to score an upset over boxing’s pound-for pound king.

Cotto (34-1, 27 KOs) knows the odds are stacked against him with people saying he lacks the confidence and doesn’t have the hand speed to prevail over Pacquiao.

But Cotto, already a workaholic in the gym, says he has put more time into sparring and sitting in front of a film projector than for any other fight in his career.

”I feel confident,” said Cotto at Wednesday’s news conference at the MGM Grand Hotel’s Hollywood Theatre. ”I trained like never before for a fight. We have created our game plan for the fight.”

The 29-year-old Cotto says the only pressure he feels is then pressure he puts on himself.

”I don’t get mad about whether people want me to win this fight or not. I just work for the win. That is what is going to happen on Saturday.”

This will be Cotto’s first fight in Las Vegas since his loss to Antonio Margarito in July of last year. It was the first time Cotto had lost a bout after 33 straight victories and while he landed some thundering shots to Margarito he also took his share of heavy blows.

Pacquiao’s trainer Freddie Roach said at Wednesday’s news conference that he has watched enough film of Cotto in the past few months to see that he isn’t the same fighter he was before getting beat by Margarito.

”I can go by my own experience,” said Roach, who fought as a lightweight in the 1980s. ”I won 27 fights before I got knocked out and it changed my life.

”I was never quite as confident and I wasn’t invincible anymore.

”At one time nobody could hurt me.

”If you go from being a world champion and having that ego and being undefeated when you lose for the first time it definitely affects you and the punishment he [Cotto] took in that fight was severe and sometimes you never come back from a beating like that.

”He is on the road to a comeback but he is still not the same.”

Pacquiao, who turns 31 next month, is coming off a second-round knockout of Briton Ricky Hatton in May which he calls the most satisfying win of his career. But the bar has been raised for Cotto as this will be the first time Pacquiao will fight as a welterweight.

”I tell you this fight is the most important of my career,” said Pacquiao, who weighed just 106 pounds for his first fight in 1995.

”If I win it is another piece of history for Filipino boxing. It would be a big honour to my country, family and myself.

”We have studied my opponent’s style. I respect Miguel’s team.

”On Saturday may the best man win and there will be no more reasons not to fight well.”

Pacquiao, a southpaw, said he doesn’t agree with Roach’s assessment that Cotto has lost his lustre in the ring.

”I saw his last fight and he’s still a very good fighter,” Pacquiao said.

Pacquiao lost for the first time in 1996 when he was knocked out in the third round. He said he didn’t train hard enough for that fight and it took him a long time for him to get over that first defeat.

”After that loss I wanted to quit boxing. I was overweight and I felt the sport didn’t like me,” Pacquiao said. ”But then I realised that this could be something that can motivate me to get better and focus more on boxing.” — Sapa-AFP