Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Cotto Takes it One Fight at a Time

He breaks eye sockets, noses and shoulders when his bone hammers land, so maybe that's why the only fight anybody ever talks about for Miguel Cotto is against one Floyd Mayweather, Jr.

When reporters poke their microphones in front of the stone-faced king of the World Boxing Association's welterweights, they don't ask him many questions about Alfonso Gomez, whom he will meet at Atlantic City's Boardwalk Hall on April 12th.

No, the questions that pound the Puerto Rican like the steady waves on the beaches of San Juan, are about what he thinks of "Pretty Boy" Floyd Mayweather, Jr.

Mayweather, of course, is the undefeated champion of trash talk and flash as well as the WBC's version of welterweight royalty. He is everything that Miguel Cotto is not. Want bling? He's got it in rivulets. Want cash? "Money" is his new middle name. He hangs with rappers late into the Las Vegas night and has his own personal cadre that keep back the crowds. He told an interviewer last week that, "I will make $170 million this year."

Did we mention that he's also the top pound-for-pound boxer on the planet and in the past year or so he's beaten Oscar De La Hoya, danced with the stars, knocked out Ricky Hatton, played in the NBA celebrity All Star Game and just the other night he donned a set of brass knuckles and beat the 441-pound "Big Show" in Wrestlemania XXIV?

But Miguel Cotto, he of the quiet confidence and a blank expression, figures he can take him.

"I'm pretty sure of it", says Cotto when asked if he thinks he can beat Mayweather. "He's quick...he's fast....but when you put pressure on him, he closes his mind, you know?"

Cotto doesn't seem as though he's losing any sleep over Floyd Mayweather, Jr. and you get the sense that if nobody ever asked him about Floyd that he'd never bring up the name.

Right now, however, Cotto is in the thick of training camp and he's busy honing his skills to a fine point in order to slice up former "The Contender" reality show participant Alfonso Gomez. Cotto claims that he's "more than one hundred percent focused" on making sure that Gomez doesn't get in the way of his future or a fight with Mayweather at some juncture down the road.

But the questions about Mayweather persist. Cotto doesn't seem particularly bothered by the inquisitors and he answers all of their questions about Floyd in a slow but sure and matter of fact way.

When he's asked why he thinks Mayweather shows little interest in facing him and denigrates his skills and drawing power, Cotto just shrugs.

"That's the thing he has done his whole career, you know? He runs from the really good boxers," says the 27 year-old Puerto Rican destroyer who sports a record of 31-0 (25)KO's. "He chose others and I don't know how the people that know boxing can put him in first place, pound-for-pound. If you want to be the best, you have to fight the best."

Cotto is most often a man of few words, but as he has learned English and become a favorite son of the New York City fight crowd he will sometimes let his guard down and talk about himself and every now and then he'll even crack a smile. But he'd best be characterized as the strong, silent type who is all business - and he fights the same way.

Should he get by Gomez next Saturday, and most see it as a foregone conclusion, "the company" as Cotto calls his promoter, Bob Arum's Top Rank, may match him against the winner of the fight between Antonio Margarito and Kermit Cintron who will face off for the IBF belt just before he steps through the ropes against Gomez.

Arum, who has nurtured Cotto to his pristine record, titles in two weight divisions and a sell out of Madison Square Garden last summer against Zab Judah, says that Cotto will become one of the greats.

"To see Miguel Cotto fight is really a privilege," barks the gravelly voiced Arum, who shows little sign of slowing down at 76 years old. "His performances in the ring exemplifies what boxing is all about - the complete package is what he is. If you want to be entertained, if you want to see excitement, if you want to see skill. Whatever you want to see in boxing - Miguel Cotto provides."

Arum also claims that Floyd Mayweather, Jr., whom he used to promote and is currently involved in litigation against, "will never fight Cotto." Arum turns up his nose at the mention of Mayweather and says that Floyd "only wants to engage in businessman fights" which is what he terms Floyd's rematch with Oscar De La Hoya that will likely take place sometime in September.

It was Arum, after all, that helped launch Mayweather into the stratosphere where he currently soars. Arum also buffed "The Golden Boy" - Oscar De La Hoya to glowing brilliance, but both abandoned him in search of a larger slice of the money pie.

While you can never say "never" in boxing, it would appear that for now a Mayweather versus Cotto fight is dead in the water and off the table as Arum is steering Cotto in a different direction.

Besides, Mayweather's boxing career appears as though it is only headed forward on a fight-to-fight basis and it's unclear if he even plans to fight after he meets De La Hoya again. Should he decide to keep lacing them up after September, a Cotto fight, if it could be pieced together at all, probably wouldn't happen until mid-2009 at the earliest. It's a long time to wait and a lot of things could happen in the meantime to derail what is this generation's version of Leonard vs. Hearns, WBC vs. WBA for the bragging rights at 147 pounds.

But if it never happens, one doesn't get the sense that it will affect Miguel Cotto much. He seems unimpressed with Mayweather and when asked what he thought of Floyd's resounding knockout win over England's Ricky Hatton back in December, he simply replied, "I think Hatton was overrated."

When asked then who he wants to fight, Cotto is non-committal. He seems content to plot his career course carefully. He's in no rush to get to a Mayweather fight but it would seem that in order for Cotto to get to the next level he will have to fight and beat a marquee opponent with a big name.

After all, Roberto Duran was well known, but he didn't hit the big time until he upset Ray Leonard in Montreal just as Joe Frazier became a household name after conquering Muhammad Ali. It would seem that Cotto is in a similar predicament where he needs the Mayweather fight to help him become known to a wider audience. His wins last year over Zab Judah and Shane Mosley was a start, but Cotto, now ranked in the second half of the pound-for-pound ratings, still has a ways to go before he's a crossover star like Mayweather or De La Hoya.

Whatever the case, Cotto doesn't seem bothered by the notion that a mega-fight with Mayweather could dry up and never happen.

When asked who he really wants to fight you get an answer that tells you that he feels that all roads leads to him and that he doesn't have to chase any fighter or any particular fight.

"I don't want anybody, you know? The guy who Miguel Cotto wants to fight? All the big names, I want to fight with them," he says with no expression.

You see, Miguel Cotto is never rushed and never in a hurry. He just takes it one fight at a time.

April 2008

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