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The Case For Cotto

They are perfect opposites, Miguel Cotto and Shane Mosley are. That is why their confrontation on Nov. 10 at Madison Square Garden is so widely anticipated. It is a clash of styles but also a test of temperaments. It is more than power vs. speed. It is also heat vs. cool.

Speed is the most revered gift in boxing because speed means something more than power. In fact, speed is power but when used to its fullest, speed is also the father of confusion. Zab Judah showed the danger that kind of speed can pose for a fighter like Cotto - who is far more about relentlessness than he is classical boxing stylist - when he rocked the WBA welterweight champion several times and forced him to show his tenacity far more obviously last June than his handlers would have preferred. Eventually, Cotto finally stopped a battered and broken Judah in the 11th round in the same ring where he will face Mosley but that victory did not come without some painful moments for Cotto.

While power is feared almost as much as speed, relentlessness is often underrated because it usually comes swathed inside a bloody patina. This is especially true when it is also wrapped inside a flawed package like Cotto's, which is why so many look at him and wonder how he will cope with Mosley's speed of mind, hand and foot if Judah, who some might argue is a less formidable and less focused version of Mosley, could cause him so many difficulties before finally succumbing.

Speed, you see, is so obvious a gift that it often blinds those outside the ring to the fact it can be negated by someone who has a willingness to pay whatever price he's asked to defeat it. This is particularly true when it is combined with the facile mind of a guy like Mosley, whose adept use of angles and fast hands has made him a world champion in three weight classes (135, 147, 154) and a fighter still rated among boxing's Top 10 pound for pound fighters despite his advancing years.

At 36, Mosley surely has slowed some but not enough that anyone but Cotto's most ardent supporters feel totally safe picking against him. Enough people are that Cotto remains a slight betting favorite in Las Vegas but nearly every analysis hedges that bet because, after all, Cotto cannot match Mosley in the two areas most important to a fighter's survival - speed and strength of mandible.

Cotto has been asked chin questions before and, at times, has not fully had the answer. He has been down and he has been badly wobbled. He has been bloodied and he has been bruised. He seemed on the edge of total destruction from a right hand thrown by DeMarcus Corley and he endured a slugfest with Jose Torres in which he seemed ordinary until he found a way to win that night. And then there was the damage Judah did to him, damage that seemed to echo to his critics what is to come from Mosley.

Yet through all those trials Miguel Cotto has remained undefeated (30-0, 25 KO) because his answer to the problems he has faced is always the same - a tenacious obsession with fighting back. That is a skill in itself, a combination of emotional and psychological strength that is more difficult to see than speed or punching power but, when strongly held, is no less significant a talent.

Perhaps most importantly in the case of Cotto is the way he has fought back, attacking that place where speed can most readily be negated - the body - with aq single-minded purpose not seen much these days.

Cotto doesn't just beat on opponent's body, he brutalizes it. He attacks the ribs the way a shark does, ripping at them with nasty hooks that have broken down his opponents in a way from which they do not quickly recover. Because of Cotto's body punching and Mosley's reliance on speed and athleticism, it is possible then that we have already seen what this night could become and if it does this will be more than a fight. It will be a classic for it could be a replay of what Meldrick Taylor and Julio Cesar Chavez did to each other 17 years ago.

2007 11 10 feature case for cotto

Cotto attacks with the same kind of relentless body punching that Chavez once did. Like the great Mexican champion, Cotto is willing to accept pain and punishment for the chance to break down your body in half from the inside out before ultimately blasting you out.

Mosley, on the other hand, is a smooth jazz man, a fighter who will also go to the body with some authority but whose real gifts are flashing hands and so deft a use of angles he could have been a pool player.

This is not to suggest Cotto ever will be Chavez because he doesn't seem to have the chin for that, nor can one compare a 36-year-old Mosley in slow decline with what Taylor was that night, a 23-year-old Philadelphia fighter in his prime. But stylistically they have enough similarities to Chavez and Taylor to make the comparison relevant.

The key difference is that there is an air of vulnerability that swirls around the edge of Cotto because he has been dropped and hurt and bloodied in a way Chavez never was until late in his career. But vulnerability is as attractive in its own way as it is dangerous and it is that sense of not knowing exactly what trouble Cotto might get himself into - and then fight his way out of - that is part of the popular Puerto Rican's attraction.

Part of the love affair Puerto Rican fight fans have with Cotto is his obvious concession to his weak points. He knows he can be hit, knows in fact that he will be hit by someone like Mosley. He accepts it as the price of going about his business. He accepts it and then finds ways to negate its effects with a tenacity that reminds many old boxing hands of guys like Tony Zale or Carmen Basilio, who both won many fights in the same way Cotto does - by refusing to concede an inch of ring real estate to the painful cost of winning control of it.

Cotto cares not a wit about the cost of victory. His only concern is that, at the end, his hand is raised. More than likely, at some point Mosley will expose those vulnerabilities unless his skills suddenly erode in the middle of the fight, as can happen at a 36-year-old boxer when he's put under the kind of unending pressure Cotto is all about.

Mosley seems sure to offer Cotto some difficult moments but, in the end, the WBA champion's strength of will, his punching power on the inside and his proven ability to get off the floor and make you pay for having put him there will combine to show him a way to win out over a man nine years his elder.

It may be bloody and it will surely be confrontational but if there is one thing Miguel Cotto has shown it is that he's always looking for a fight. When he finds one on Nov. 10, he'll also find a way to win it.

"I am not the most skilled boxer in the world," Cotto said, "but with hard work I always reach my goals. I will do the same for this fight.

"Everybody knows what type of fighter Mosley is, but everyone knows about my capabilities. For this fight I've been training 100 per cent. I'm going to train 200 per cent. I'll be ready for whatever Mosley is going to bring into the ring. He was a great fighter but it's my moment now."

For that to be true, Cotto must do to the best and fastest opponent he has ever faced what he did to Zab Judah in June and to nearly all of his 30 previous victims. He must push him hard, forcing him out of his comfort zone with the power of his body attack and the sheer volume of the punches he throws. When Cotto goes to the body it is like an Artic wind slamming against you as you try to keep your feet and get to the bus stop in a February storm. You may make it or you may not but either way you won't enjoy the trip.

He is not terribly graceful at times but he is a methodically forward-moving mayhem machine, a guy who comes into the ring to damage you in any way he can. He is not, to be frank, averse to skirting the rules either if he feels it necessary, including striking an opponent well below boxing's recognized demiliterized zone if necessary to slow him down.

While his chin remains a question, he dismisses such talk by pointing out that 30 people have asked questions of it and most of them ended up painfully reminded that it was better than their's, in the end.

"The question is if Shane Mosley can take a good punch from Miguel Cotto," Cotto said. "I'm a boxer. I'm supposed to take punches. I try to work every boxer in the body because when you work the body your opponent gets tired quickly. I'll try to do the same in this fight. The question is does he have the capacity to stand up and stay in the fight (once he feels the Cotto's body attack)?"

That's a question even Mosley concedes Cotto will be asking for as long as this fight lasts. How he answers it will determine if Mosley can do what no one else has yet - which is survive a relentless man who will come at him with bad intentions from the first bell to the fight's final moment…whenever that comes.

"He's difficult to fight because he's coming at you and he's coming to attack you," Mosley (44-4, 37 KO) admitted, "but it's not unusual for me to see that kind of fighter. I know what to expect when a guy is pressuring me for the whole 12 rounds.

"I've been in there with a lot of Mexican warriors that hit very hard to the body. I can't say Cotto will be the hardest body puncher I've faced. He does seem to be the hardest body puncher of this day and era but I've got a thick coat. I can take a pounding to the body or to the arms or wherever and keep fighting for the whole 12 rounds."

Miguel Cotto intends to give Shane Mosley a stage to prove that. He intends to attack his body, fully accepting that with it will come, for a time at least, a storm of leather he will have to walk through. Like everyone who lives on a tropical island, Miguel Cotto is ready for the storm and feels safe in the knowledge that bright sunshine always follows the rain, even if it is a rain is of leather as it will be in New York.

Cotto has basked in that light following 30 straight storms and he believes fervently that Nov. 10 will be no different.

"My power and his experience, that's the great ingredient in this fight," Cotto said. "I'm going to climb into the ring the stronger fighter. The hungrier fighter. I put pressure on everyone I've fought. After this fight the people will see what I'm made of."

What they will see, if Miguel Cotto has his way, is a welterweight champion no one can ignore and perhaps one Floyd Mayweather, Jr. will be forced to deal with sooner than he might like.

At 36, Mosley surely has slowed some but not enough that anyone but Cotto's most ardent supporters feel totally safe picking against him. Enough people are that Cotto remains a slight betting favorite in Las Vegas but nearly every analysis hedges that bet because, after all, Cotto cannot match Mosley in the two areas most important to a fighter's survival - speed and strength of mandible.

Miguel Cotto vs. Shane Mosley

HBO PPV - Nov. 10, 2007

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