Saturday, November 14, 2009

Pacquiao-Cotto Las Vegas Notebook

LAS VEGAS - Lots of activity here in the city in the run-up to the Manny Pacquiao vs. Miguel Cotto title fight that will happen tonight.

What is clear is that Miguel Cotto is clearly playing second fiddle in this big fight. The talk around here is all about Manny Pacquiao. He is in the newspapers, the newscasters are talking about him on on television and the disc-jockeys love him on the radio. While there is no scientific evidence to support the number of people that have come here to see the fight – it appears most that are milling about are here to see Manny.

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery – then Pacquiao must be a happy man. There was a Manny Pacquiao impostor walking around the MGM Grand immediately after the weigh-in and he looks remarkably like Pacquiao. He was a close enough representation of the real thing to fool fans and one television network from the Philippines. He even fooled me for a second. Uncanny.

Pacquiao didn't have any problem making weight on Friday afternoon. He was ripped and ready at 144 pounds and he looked very healthy. His skin had a healthy glow to it and he was energetic and pumped. I was only a few feet from him and he looks very, very strong. I was surprised at how easygoing he is. He doesn't appear to be suffering from any case of the jitters.

Here's a tidbit of information for you regarding how easy it was for Manny to make weight: On Wednesday night, two days before the weigh-in, the Las Vegas Review-Journal newspaper reported that Pacquiao was at the Picasso restaurant the Bellagio and he was eating like a king. Dining with camp members he put away a large lobster, some Kobe beef and a host of vegetables as well as an entrée. Clearly, there was no concern whatsoever that he was not going to make the 145-pound weigh limit.

Pacquiao and Cotto are fit and ready to go for tonight's big fight in Sin City.

Rumors abound in the days leading up to a big fight here. The one bit of information that continues to make whispers around the MGM Grand is that Miguel Cotto has had to strain quite a bit to make the 145-pound catch-weight. Cotto weighed in on the button.

I was witness to his weigh-ins against both Zab Judah and Joshua Clottey and to me, Cotto looks a bit washed out. Just a bit, nothing drastic, but he does not have the same muscle tone and mass that Pacquiao did, which is surprising considering he is universally regarded as the bigger man. I would say he dried out to make the weight and when he spoke afterwards his voice sounded somewhat forced.

Pacquiao trainer Freddie Roach and Cotto trainer Joe Santiago nearly came to blows at the weigh-in. Santiago looked at Roach and said, “145-pounds, asshole” which was in reference Cotto making the weight. A fight very nearly ensued as the two trainers appeared very close to exchanging punches. My money would have been on Roach in that one.

In terms of the betting odds around town, Pacquiao is the favorite no matter which sports book you decide to visit. He opened as the favorite when the fight was first announced and he is still the favorite – overwhelmingly so for a fight that is believed to be a competitive one.

At the MGM he is a minus 330 favorite which means that you would have to risk $3.30 to win $1 with a bet on Manny. Cotto is listed as a plus 250 underdog. There are other lines around town that offer slightly better odds for Cotto. The over/under will-go/won't/go is 9 1/2 rounds.

Shane Mosley who will fight Andre Berto here on Jan. 30 at Mandalay Bay said Friday morning that of all the weight divisions he has fought in “that 147 pounds is perfect for me, just with my height and everything. '54 is too big for me.”

In terms of tonight's big fight, Mosley is going against the grain and picking the Puerto Rican destroyer to upset Pacquiao.

“I think Cotto is the bigger person, the bigger welterweight and I think he'll give Pacquiao a lot of trouble. I think Cotto is going to be a little bit too big for him and walk him down and probably beat him.”

Mosley also gave his thoughts on the Wednesday incident involving Mike Tyson at LAX airport in which Tyson was arrested after being involved in a minor skirmish with a photographer.

“Mike is a real good person,” said Shane who has known the former heavyweight champion for a number of years. “I think lot of times paparazzi and people with the camera mess with him a little bit. It's hard for him to walk away, you know, being where he's from and what he's been through. I've known him and he's not vicious or aggressive. It's usually the people with the camera trying to get something out of him or get a reaction out of him. He feels disrespected and feels as though he has to respond. Mike does a lot for a lot of people, with charity.”

The line of fans to witness the weigh-in at the MGM Grand began forming Friday morning just after 6:00am, which was nine hours before Pacquiao and Cotto hit the scales.

I spoke to an MGM security guard who was flustered at the mass of people.

“Something has to be done here,” he said. “This is crazy and this is going to get out of hand. There's too many people and they're all going to be fighting for a place in line. It's crazy is what it is. And the rest of the security doesn't show up until noon-time.”

I spoke to Zab Judah's father, Yoel on Friday morning and asked him for his opinion on who was going to win on Saturday. Remember that Zab fought Cotto in June 2007 at Madison Square Garden in New York and that he put up a strong performance before ultimately being knocked in the 11th.

Roach, Pacquio and Arum pictured at the annual Boxing Writers Association of America dinner this past June in New York City.

“I think that Pacquiao will look real good early in the fight,” said Yoel, who was wearing a T-shirt with Zab's picture on it. “But I think Cotto is going to come on late and stop Pacquiao. He's too big, he's too strong and he punches too hard.”

Alfonso Gomez was posing for pictures with fans outside the MGM Grand Garden Arena on Friday morning. Gomez will face Jesus Soto-Karass as the opening bout on the pay-per-view undercard tonight . Gomez looks to be in phenomenal physical condition at 145 ½ pounds and he has really boiled himself down to fighting trim. He looks very light, chiseled and ready to go.

In the main lobby of the MGM Grand Hotel they have a ring set-up with a gold plated lion parked right in the middle. Next to that is a booth that is hawking all kinds of Pacquiao-Cotto fight memorabilia and trinkets. Everything from key chains to T-shirts to posters to gloves with the likeness of each fighter painted on them. I asked one of the ladies working at the booth how sales were going.

“It's as busy as all the other big fights,” she claimed. She has worked the booth for other fights. They began selling the merchandise on Tuesday and things have changed since then.

“At first it was all Manny Pacquiao stuff,” she said. “But now there's a lot more Cotto stuff that is moving and selling. It's as busy as it has been for other big fights – maybe busier,” she said.

How big a star is Bob Arum? Well, Arum showed up at the MGM media room on Friday morning and as he walked by fans waiting in line for the weigh-in he was swarmed with picture and autograph requests from Pacquiao fans.

Earlier in the week, the two fighters displayed the hardware they will be fighting for.

“Oh my God! It's my birthday!” shrieked one young lady as she rushed to get her arm around Arum so her friends could snap a picture. Then more fans began to swarm and crowd around the 77-year-old idol. Security eventually had to usher Arum to a side door to avoid the crush.

An informal poll of sportswriters and others that are here to cover the fight reveals that most are picking Pacquiao to win. However, most are guarded in their predictions and can see things going for Cotto, too.

For my money, I'll say Pacquiao by decision. Most of the talk here has already begun to center around a Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather, Jr. fight for next year. There is too much money and too much to be lost if a close decision goes to Cotto. I don't think Pacquiao can hit hard enough to knock Cotto out and I think Cotto is too far past his best to put Manny away. I think Pacquiao can win enough early rounds to come out ahead in the end. But it will be close.

Inside the press room at the MGM also saw Arum and HBO shot-caller Ross Greenburg gazing over recent Pacquiao-Cotto fight coverage in The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times print editions.

Arum and Greenburg were positively glowing that The New York Times finally found it's way to cover a big fight in their pages. I sat beside The Times Sports Editor Tom Jolly at the weigh-in and he seemed to be enjoying himself. As Arum and Greenberg looked at the paper they looked like two kids who had just opened a package that contained what they always wanted for Christmas - or Hanukkah.

November 2009

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