The fight this Saturday, November 14, between World Boxing Organization (WBO) Welterweight Champion Miguel Cotto of Puerto Rico and Manny Pacquiao of the Philippines is one of the most anticipated in recent years. Unlike Pacquiao’s last fight against overrated and mismatched Englishman Ricky Hatton, this challenge to become the only man to win world championships in seven different weight classes could prove for him a bridge too far. Victory’s not a given for either man, though, and both can cause extensive damage to the other in a fight pitting skill and power of equal quality in different forms on either side. In conversation with world class trainer Dennis Presley, I was enlightened by his technical analysis while reaffirmed in my own inclinations about who will emerge victorious, even though they are in disagreement with his expert opinion.
“In the short and the small of it,” Presley asserted, “it’s going to come down to the power of Cotto verses the hand speed of Manny Pacquiao.”
“Now, the thing I would remind folks if you’re a Pacquiao fan,” Presley explained, “is that if he can get Cotto turning and keep him out of going into that left handed stance, then he’s gonna already in the fight be one up because Cotto is the kind of fighter who’s gonna want to get in front of ya and bang the body. And if he can move him around so after Manny throws combinations he can just walk away from him and make him walk to him, Cotto’s gonna find himself in a little bit of trouble because the hand speed is all on the side of Manny Pacquiao.”
What Presley is talking about is to one degree the brute strength of Cotto and his ability to use it to set up power punches. But Cotto doesn’t do that like a Hatton, who is basically a slugger. He works his jab and sets his combinations up strategically. He will throw that right hook (or, more accurately, a variation of the right uppercut) to the body from the southpaw stance, and he will throw the left hand down the middle and the right hook up top. He’ll do the same thing with the lead left hand and the right down the middle from the right handed stance. My question, both as one who has not witnessed as many Cotto fights as I have Pacquiao fights and as one who knows through experience about a fighter’s vulnerability when squaring his body up against an opponent, is how susceptible Cotto will make himself to punches down the middle when he pulls the stance switch. Presley’s belief is that Cotto must make that switch when Pacquiao is on the ropes.
Another point we discussed is the availability for either one of them to get hit over or inside the lead hand with the other man’s hook. After all, to beat a left hander the right hander has to be able to hit him with the hook, and to do that he has to hit him with the right hand, but once one punch can be landed so can the other one. The same is true with the opposite hands for the left hander against the right hander. Each man can be hit by that hook because when southpaws and right handers fight each other the one who sets himself in range from the correct angle can land the hook. So the observation that Pacquiao must keep turning Cotto, particularly stepping outside his lead foot to move him in that direction—to the right of the left foot when Cotto fights right handed and the left of the right foot when he fights left handed—forcing him to defend against punches coming at him that he might not see, will be key for Pacquiao.
In his final analysis, Presley told me he believes Pacquiao can’t knock Cotto out and that if he wins it will be by decision. He also accepts the obvious ability of Pacquiao to win the fight. But he insists that if the fight ends by stoppage it will be a Cotto victory, and he does believe that whatever happens Cotto will win. I find this prediction very interesting, and as I said in my last article, I am always nervous when I disagree with a Presley prediction. But I do disagree with it, and that puts me at odds with many others I’ve spoken with.
My original coach, the 89-year-old elder of Minnesota Boxing Emmett Yanez who taught me as a child at the Mexican American Boxing Club in St. Paul, told me he believes Cotto will win. He just doesn’t see Pacquiao defeating the bigger stronger man. IBA Americas Super Featherweight Champion Wilton Hilario of St. Louis Park, MN also told me Cotto will win. He too asserts Cotto is too strong and powerful for Pacquiao. Interestingly enough, one trait Hilario shares with Cotto is the habit of habitually switching up between right handed and southpaw stances. He does it in a much different manner, though. And finally, one of Hilario’s trainers, Jacques Davis, chooses Cotto for the same reasons. On the evening of November 12 the sports book odds in Las Vegas favored Pacquiao. I lean towards Pacquiao with a couple of caveats, and I’ll explain why.
What makes this fight so much more difficult to predict is that Pacquiao dragged Roach to training camp in the Philippines instead of Roach’s preference of Vancouver. The training was interrupted by horrible tropical storms, and Roach left back for the U.S. before Pacquiao did. I have no idea to what degree these distractions will affect Pacquiao. I don’t know enough details about how much deviation from training actually occurred, and I would not advise anyone to bet on the fight either way. However, until I know for a fact that Manny Pacquiao is not in his normally superb physical condition and that he is psychologically distracted to the point of self doubt, I have to choose him to win based on superior boxing ability, including his balance, speed, accuracy, conditioning and heart, and yes, even his pure punching power. I also believe that even the establishment of a 145 pound catch-weight works to his advantage, and I will make one final comment regarding that issue.