Cotto readies for 12 rounds

Kevin Iole

Perhaps not since 1981, when Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns, Roberto Duran, Wilfred Benitez and Pipino Cuevas were terrorizing the welterweight division have there been as many quality 147-pounders as there are today.

The Yahoo! Sports pound-for-pound top 10 includes welterweights Paul Williams at No. 4, Shane Mosley at No. 5 and Miguel Cotto at No. 6. Soon it will include former No. 1 Floyd Mayweather Jr., who is ineligible to be ranked because he has been retired for 18 months but will return next month.

You could draw comparisons between Mayweather or Mosley and Leonard, as well as between Williams and Hearns.

But Cotto is the modern-day version of Roberto Duran, and for my money, there was nobody more entertaining to watch than old Hands of Stone.

There are few active men in boxing more enjoyable to watch than Cotto, who on Saturday defends his World Boxing Organization belt at Madison Square Garden against another talented welterweight, Joshua Clottey, in a bout televised nationally by HBO.

Cotto will fight yet again on the eve of New York's popular Puerto Rican Day parade. Top Rank has made a tradition of having Cotto fight in New York on the night before the parade, a move that has paid off handsomely.

The Garden is expected to be sold out on Saturday, and you can bet there aren't going to be many Ghanaians in the building cheering on Clottey.

Cotto is the man they're coming to see.

Promoter Bob Arum would tell you that they're coming because Cotto is Puerto Rican and the Puerto Ricans come out to worship him, much as they did for Felix Trinidad earlier in this decade.

That may be partially true, but I suspect the real reason they come out in the numbers they do is that these are smart and intelligent boxing fans and they recognize there's no surer thing in the game than Miguel Cotto.

Every time out, you know what you're going to get with Cotto. There is no debating strategy. There is no subtlety to be concerned about.

Cotto, like Duran before him, is going to smirk at his opponent and then proceed to begin battering him.

Cotto has power in both hands and so much torque on his body shots that he makes guys wince in agony.

But Cotto is not one to predict knockouts. He's not there to land one big hook, get the knockout, pick up the check and move on to the next one. He's there to batter you for 12 rounds, turning the ring into a torture chamber.

He sneered upon hearing allegations that Clottey predicted a knockout – which Clottey denies having said – and in typical fashion said he never will predict a knockout himself.

"I train for 12 rounds," Cotto said. "I train for the whole fight. He has it in his mind the fight is going to be less than 12 rounds; if he thinks he's going to beat me and if he trained for less than 12 rounds, he's going to get a big surprise."

The good thing about buying a ticket to a Cotto fight is that generally there are no surprises. He provides what the fans come to see, which is why they come out in such big numbers so regularly.

He'll fight on Saturday for the first time since a nasty split with his trainer, his uncle Evangelista Cotto. There had been tension between them for years, and it boiled over inside a tiny gym in Caguas, Puerto Rico, when the harsh feelings between the two became physical.

Cotto fired his uncle and eschewed the suggestions that he hire a big-name trainer like Emanuel Steward, Freddie Roach or Dan Birmingham. Cotto opted to go for the comparatively anonymous Jose Santiago.

He steadfastly has declined to discuss his problems with his uncle but insisted his training camp under Santiago in Tampa, Fla., was highly productive.

"I am just here for training," Cotto said. "To train the way everybody has to do it: train, rest, train, rest. Nothing else. I am here to do my work the best I can, and that's the way to do it. That is the reason we [trained in Tampa]. I am pretty far away from any kind of distractions."

He said he hasn't spoken with his uncle but that he is relaxed.

That has to be bad news for Clottey, because Cotto has been brilliant despite the constant struggles between himself and Evangelista. With the discord over, he has been able to put all of his attention toward improving himself as a fighter.

He's not the fastest welterweight, nor the slickest. He's not going to fill up a reporter's notebook with quips, and he never will appear on "The Tonight Show" after a big win.

But if you want to see an honest-to-goodness, true-life boxer, you'll pick Miguel Cotto.

There are a lot of things that he's not.

There's one thing he is – a fighter.

And that is good enough for me and for thousands of Puerto Ricans who descend on New York each June.