Photos by Sumio Yamada
MIGUEL COTTO vs JOSHUA CLOTTEY
Sometimes a brutal beatdown can take a lot out of a fighter. Miguel Cotto suffered such a defeat when he was overwhelmed in 11 rounds by Antonio Margarito last July in Las Vegas. If there are any psychological or physical after effects, the answer should be revealed on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden when Cotto defends his welterweight title against the durable Joshua Clottey, with HBO televising.
Cotto was hammered by Margarito, and no mistake. Yet there exists the very real possibility that Margarito went into that fight with hard plaster pads inside his hand wraps, having been caught when something similar was attempted before his bout with Shane Mosley in a well-documented incident. The state of Cottos face after last Julys 11th-round loss reminded me a little of the way Irish Billy Collins Jr. looked after the famous glove tampering fight with Luis Resto 26 years ago that led to the suspension of his opponent and Restos trainer, Panama Lewis.
In his only appearance since the Margarito fight, Cotto looked strong and sharp when running over Britains Michael Jennings in five rounds.
Although Jennings did not have anything like the punching power to keep his much more powerful opponent at bay, it was nonetheless an impressive job of work by Cotto. He looked probably as good as he has ever done, which makes me think that no lasting harm was done in the Margarito fight. Indeed, after all the fuss over Margaritos illegal hand wraps, Cotto could be forgiven for thinking that he was unfairly defeated last July.
I was impressed with Cottos speed and precision in the win over Jennings. The tall, rangy British boxer did his best to be elusive but it seemed that no matter which way he went, there was Cotto, right with him.
On Saturday, Cotto will not have to go looking for Clottey the fighter from Ghana will be coming right at him. So, instead of being the pursuer, as he was against Jennings, in this fight I think we will see Cotto use the excellent counter punching and boxing skills that he exhibited against Shane Mosley and, for the first half of the fight, against Margarito.
Cotto will have the clamorous support of New Yorks Puerto Rican fans and the next day he is due to take part in the citys annual Puerto Rican Day parade. It will be Cottos fourth Garden fight to have taken place on the eve of the parade, and in his previous appearances he enhanced the celebratory mood with wins over Mohamad Abdulaev, Paulie Malignaggi and Zab Judah.
Clottey will naturally be doing his best to spoil the party, and I know that many people in the boxing industry are giving him a great shot or even picking him to win.
One who is picking Cotto, though, is his old opponent, Michael Jennings. I think Cotto will win I think he could even stop Clottey from round nine onwards, Jennings said in an interview on Steve Bunces Boxing Hour on Setanta Sports this week.
Hes so deceiving, Jennings said. He does everything right. I was jabbing in there, thinking Id jab, [then] move straight away, but before I knew it he was countering me straight away.
I thought I was out of distance and he took that inch step in and caught me. Its just the footwork, its something that you dont regard Cotto as doing, you dont think: â€˜Oh, hes a good mover and all this on his feet, but he is, its just the little inches that gets him into distance and gets him back out of distance when he needs to be.
Clottey is known to put on a lot of weight between the weigh-in and the fight, but then, so does Cotto.
On the actual day of the weigh-in everyone was saying how much bigger I looked than him; on the night of the fight everyone was saying how much bigger he looked than me, Jennings told Bunce.
So, while Clottey is a strong 147-pounder, he might not be able to impose his size and strength on Cotto the way he has on other opponents.
Clottey is a very effective fighter in a basic way, moving in behind a turtle-like defence and unloading punches in bursts, and he has excellent hand speed.
Cotto, though, seems to have more dimensions. He can press forward and do damage with his thudding jabs and hooks, or he can be quick and clever on the outside, and he also switches effortlessly to a southpaw stance and fights extremely well in this position.
Some will say that Cotto wilted under pressure against Margarito, whereas Clottey, despite suffering from a broken hand, stuck it out for 12 rounds with the Mexican fighter. This is, broadly speaking, fair comment. However, the Margarito who faced Clottey was not at his best an ankle injury had disrupted his training, and he said that he hurt his wrist during the fight, too. When Margarito fought Cotto, though, he was in fantastic physical condition and intensely motivated, and he was punching very hard that night (possibly with a bit of a boost in the hand wraps area).
Even though Cotto was being broken down, however, he was still doing some classy scoring and inflicting punishment until quite late in the fight. The blows he landed that night might have stopped many welterweights. People wonder how much Margarito took out of Cotto I am wondering whether Cotto might have drained more out of Margarito than anyone suspects.
Clottey seems to have an iron chin, and of course he has never been stopped, but I am not sure he will be prepared to keep taking the fight to Cotto if he finds himself getting countered severely. He might decide to stay behind his defensive shield a bit longer with each passing round, doing enough to keep in the fight but perhaps not enough to win rounds.
I know that Clottey can be a handful for anyone, but he hasnt always been impressive. He had a bit of a struggle with the ordinary Richard Gutierrez and he wasnt nearly as dominant as I thought he would be against the southpaw Shamone Alvarez, while Zab Judah was fighting him almost neck-and-neck until a cut over Judahs eye ended the fight in the ninth round and I do feel that Judah has gone back since the night he was knocked out by Cotto.
Cotto, for me, should win on Saturday. I think he is faster, more talented, more versatile and the bigger puncher Clottey tends to slap a bit, perhaps because of past problems with his hands.
I would be surprised if Cotto stops Clottey if he does, it will surely be late in the fight but I do think he will be able to outpoint him, and rather clearly at that.