Firepower: Manny Pacquiao vs Miguel Cotto and the crowning of the king


Quick: name the heavyweight champion of the world.

Even if that wasn’t a trick question (there are three of them), odds are, casual fans probably wouldn’t know Vitali Klitschko, Wladimir Klitschko, and David Haye if they wore ten-foot neon signs with their names plastered on them sitting atop their heads.

"The Sweet Science" has sadly descended into a morass of mediocrity thanks to corrupt promoters and a truly ridiculous number of different "championship belts" that make it practically impossible to know who the best is, particularly since many of the so-called champions are reluctant to prove themselves.

Where the heavyweights have failed us, however, a little powerhouse from the Philippines has succeeded. From his appearances on "Jimmy Kimmel Live" to his spectacular duet performance of "Imagine" alongside Will Ferrell, Manny Pacquiao has proven that you don’t have to be huge to be larger than life.

Luckily, he’s much, much more than just a personality, having won eight titles over a 40-pound span.

With mind-blowing speed and power that could best be described as "unfair", Pacquiao has gleefully steamrolled anyone and everyone brave (or stupid) enough to enter the ring with him.

In anticipation of his imminent slugfest with "Sugar" Shane Mosley (which our SB sister site Bad Left Hook has considerable and very entertaining coverage of), I thought it appropriate to take a look at the fight that made him boxing’s first-ever seven-division champion in major organizations: his battle against Miguel Cotto.

November 14, 2009. The distant, uncertain past.

Okay, it’s actually pretty certain. Multi-division phenom Manny Pacquiao has picked up a full head of steam on his quest to become the greatest fighter of all-time, badly outclassing the original "Golden Boy," Oscar De La Hoya, and knocking Ricky Hatton’s head somewhere into the Andromeda Galaxy.

Standing in his way is welterweight standout Miguel Cotto, once-beaten.

Since his decision loss to Mexican great Érik Morales, Pacquiao has been on an absolute rampage, stopping Morales twice in the midst of crushing a long string of Mexican contenders, including Marco Antonio Barrera and longtime rival Juan Manuel Márquez. Recently, he has cemented himself as an absolute destroyer by obliterating Hatton and is hungry to capture his seventh major title.

Having defended various titles more than a dozen times, Puerto Rico’s Miguel Cotto has likewise proven one of the best in the world. His sole loss came at the possibly-loaded hands of Antonio Margarito, and he has won twice since then. With twenty-seven knockouts in thirty-four wins, he is absolutely dangerous to anyone and everyone foolish enough to stand in his way. Alpha-boxers Shane Mosley and Zab Judah have learned this the hard way, and Professor Cotto is out to ensure that Pacquiao is paying strict attention.

Interestingly, this is only Pacquiao’s second fight at welterweight, his first the drubbing of De La Hoya. As has become increasingly obvious, Pacquiao is not one for taking things slow and steady.

Due to the Filipino destroyer’s size, Cotto has agreed to a catchweight of 145 pounds, two pounds below the traditional welterweight limit. What animosity there is is generated by Freddie Roach, as neither Pacquiao nor Cotto seems to feel any sort of disdain for the other. They’re not out to crush one another.

They’re out to see who’s the best.

In the first round, it seems like that’s Cotto, who utilizes an extremely tight shell and piercing jab to sneak through the guard of Pacquiao. While the Puerto Rican’s one-inch height advantage seems paltry as to be immaterial, he is using his size excellently and keeping Pacquiao on the defensive.

As Emanuel Steward and his fellow announcers point out, this is a new animal for Manny to face: a larger man with speed and power to match his own. As the two warriors move to their corners after a clear 10-9 for the champion, their suggestions seem sound

This continues as the second round kicks off, as the first minute belongs to Cotto and his evil jab. Halfway through the round, however, Manny decides to give offense a try, hurling three or four-punch combos.

Cotto begins backing up. The ungodly speed of Pacquiao, which Cotto had said would not trump his own, is beginning to take its toll; though the round looks close, Manny outlands Cotto two-to-one in power shots.

Once Cotto’s advantage began slipping away, Emanuel Steward was quick to begin lauding the eclectic offense of Pacquiao. He is proven right in relatively short order, as an awkward right hook off a vicious combo puts Marquez down.

Looking at it again, it is almost hard to believe; Manny threw the punch while hopping in to close the range.

Cotto didn’t even see it.

Cotto comes back ready to prove that it was nothing but a flash knockdown, again taking the fight to Manny and landing solid combinations, including a jackhammer uppercut that sneaks through the Filipino’s guard. Two judges are sufficiently impressed to call it a 10-9 round despite the knockdown.

The champ grabs his wayward momentum and forcibly drags it back onto the tracks, hitting Manny with that wicked jab and a steady onslaught of hooks and body shots. Manny explodes again halfway through, hurling half a dozen punches at a time, but Cotto bullies through them and forces him onto the ropes. Cotto overcommits to a big shot with under a minute to go and grants Pacquiao room to escape.

He regrets it immediately. The beautiful offense of Manny Pacquiao again shows its face as a tight left hook turns off the lights for a split second and sends his foe to his knees. Though he gets back up, Cotto’s momentum is gone.

And he simply can’t get it back.

As the fight progresses, things take a turn for the one-sided. Pacquiao has tasted Cotto’s power and is simply not afraid, flinging shots from improbable locations with incredible accuracy. As round after round of dominance passes, Cotto’s face becomes increasingly pockmarked and despondent.

The brilliance of Pacquiao’s offense cannot be overstated. When he lets his hands go, he throws combos to every possible place he can. Punches are fired while he’s repositioning himself, blows that seem impossible to put power behind yet are pummeling the rapidly-swelling champion into submission. It almost can’t be followed; punches get from Pacquiao’s chest to Cotto’s head from ridiculous angles.

More and more and more. Steward calls Manny a machine, and nothing could be more accurate. Cotto’s face says everything about the fight.

Mostly, "How the hell do I stop this guy?"

The fight is so one-sided the announcers won’t even entertain the notion of a Cotto comeback and begin calling for the referee to stop the fight in spite of Miguel continuing to hang in there. An insanely lucrative fight with Floyd Mayweather is discussed, so sure are they of Manny’s victory. Most telling?

Cotto’s wife and son leave the arena. They can’t watch him be beaten any longer.

After nine, Cotto’s trainers give him one more round to turn things around. Cotto fights his heart out, taking the round on one of the judge’s scorecards, but this seems more due to Pacquiao taking a breather than it does his own efforts. The eleventh returns to form, Pacquiao shredding a retreating Cotto while the announcers sing his praises.

But Cotto survives, as he has done for thirty minutes. Freddy Roach tells Manny off, telling his charge that he’s being too nice. As he and his fellow cornermen prep him for the end, he gives an ultimatum:

"Manny, please knock this sumbitch out for me."

The numbers pop up near the bottom of the screen and are almost unbelievable; Manny has landed over one hundred and fifty more punches than Cotto.

The beating continues. The announcers wonder whether the stricken welterweight king will ever be great again. The referee stalks the fighters, ready for any excuse to end it; Manny even looks to him, wondering why he sees fit to let it keep going.

In the midst of a Pacquiao flurry, Bayless sees enough. Cotto is on his feet, but so helpless against this juggernaut that the fight is called, giving Manny Pacquiao a TKO in the twelfth.

If it seems like I'm just preaching the greatness of Pacquiao, that's fine because he deserves it. In an era of "champions" running scared and divisions split into so many pieces as to be non-navigable, here is someone who genuinely loves what he does. He boxes because it’s boxing. To watch him is a treat; to see him unload on Cotto was like seeing an artist seated in his studio, channeling his own brilliance to paint something beautiful.

I thank Manny Pacquiao from the bottom of my heart for being what every boxer should be.

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