Miguel Cotto has never been one to use five words when two words would suffice. But even by Cotto's minimalist standards, this was unusual.
Cotto did little more than grunt his way through a series of interviews on Tuesday, four days before the biggest fight of his life, when he defends his WBA welterweight title against three-division former world champion Shane Mosley in an HBO pay-per-view bout at Madison Square Garden in New York. Cotto had the snarl, but the question that was left unanswered is whether it signifies he's ready to tear into Mosley or whether the enormity of the moment is finally catching up to him.
Mosley is the best opponent Cotto has faced, by far. And Cotto, who has professed confidence throughout the buildup, reacted Tuesday in many ways like a condemned man none too eager to make the long, final walk to the gallows. He said on a conference call last week that Zab Judah, whom he stopped in the 11th round of a sensational bout in June in New York, was more dangerous than Mosley.
That seemed a stretch, since no one with any boxing sense would look at the resumes of Judah and Mosley and choose Judah. Asked what he had seen in Mosley that made him say that, a very curt Cotto said abruptly Tuesday, "Judah is more dangerous." Did he notice something in watching video that made him feel that way? I wish I knew, but the answer is locked inside Cotto's mind. Pushed for more of an explanation, he grunted, "Judah is more dangerous. That's all."
It's easy to read too much into that, but it's worth noting that Cotto is almost always more cordial and willing to cooperate, even as late as the weigh-in before he fights. He's never been a great interview, but nor has he ever been as surly and uncooperative as he was Tuesday when his promoters hauled him around New York.
If he's concerned about Mosley, it's not without reason. Mosley is both the fastest man he's faced as well as the hardest-hitting. Mosley has won world titles at 135, 147 and 154 pounds and has a pair of wins over Oscar De La Hoya on his ledger. That has to concern even someone like Cotto, who is 30 for 30 as a pro with 25 knockouts.
But Cotto, who outside the ring is one of the sport's classiest men, has never reacted like he did on Tuesday.
Miguel Diaz, Cotto's cutman, said Cotto has had a terrific camp and hasn't shown one iota of concern. Diaz said he'd be shocked if Cotto does not perform at the highest level on Saturday.
"The last three weeks of camp, unbelievable," Diaz said. "As good as you can get. He was unbelievable."
And Diaz said that, despite appearances to reporters, Cotto is hardly on edge.
"Very relaxed, very calm, just the way he always is," said Diaz, who escorted Cotto on numerous promotional and business stops on Tuesday.
Bruce Trampler, the Top Rank matchmaker who has helped guide Cotto's career since he turned professional after the 2000 Olympics, said it would not be a stretch if Cotto was getting nervous.
Trampler said Cotto is aware of the significance of the bout, but said it would be a mistake to try to use his demeanor with reporters as a barometer of how he'll fight.
"I haven't heard him that way before, but that doesn't mean anything," Trampler said. "My reaction, upon hearing that and based on seeing a lot of fighters in big fights, is that it might be that he's feeling the pressure. But it just could be something as simple as that he's getting his game face on and that he's answered all the questions and he's just done talking to people.
"Don't necessarily interpret what you hear from him in any particular way, because you don't know what's going on in his head. Boxers tend to get mean and tough before their fights. Who knows what it is? Maybe he had a fight with a girlfriend, or with his father or his uncle, and that put him in a bad mood. It could be nothing or it could be a million different stupid things."
I suspect Cotto will do as he always does and move forward, slowly, relentlessly pursuing Mosley on Saturday.
Whether he wins will be determined by whether he can A) cope with Mosley's superior quickness and B) whether his chin is sturdy enough to withstand the inevitable chopping right.
Cotto said he hasn't watched recent tapes of Mosley and has professed to seeing only a few rounds of the Sugarman in action throughout his splendid career.
"I don't worry about my opponents," Cotto snorted. "I worry about me."
Cotto insisted he's not nervous and said, "Why should I be nervous? About what?"
He will be, he promised, ready as always to deliver.
But Mosley had perhaps the most telling insight. He turned pro when Cotto was 13 and he won his first world title just after Cotto was legally old enough to drive.
He has heard dozens of fighters say what they're going to do to him and then watched most of them fail miserably.
"Talking doesn't mean anything," Mosley said. "Anyone can talk. Let's see how big you talk when you climb into that ring. None of the other stuff matters, because if you don't have to get into that ring, you can say anything you want."
And in Cotto's case, he doesn't have to say anything he doesn't want.
He just has to deliver when the bell rings.