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Big Fight #2: Cotto vs. Margarito

Here's a closer look at this summer's potential clash between Miguel Cotto and Antonio Margarito:

Both of these guys fought on the same card last month:  Margarito barely defended his WBO welterweight title against Joshua Clottey, and Cotto scored an impressive 5th round KO over Carlos Quintana to win the vacant WBA belt.  Cotto, who was the headliner, was by far the more impressive fighter that night.

Cotto and Margarito are promoted by Bob Arum, who is planning on pitting them against each other on the eve of the Puerto Rican Day parade at Madison Square Garden this summer.  In order for this to be a unification bout, Cotto has to get past mandatory challenger Oktay Urkal.  And, in order to keep his own title, Margarito has to beat Paul "The Punisher" Williams, who is 6-1 and has an 82-inch reach.  Williams, with all due respect (I don't want him to come after me), is a freak of nature at 147.  Anyone who's seen him fight knows he's a force to be reckoned with, and many people would probably favor him over Margarito.

We know that Cotto will be fighting Urkal for sure.  That fight is already scheduled to take place on March 3rd in Puerto Rico, and it will be broadcast on either HBO or Showtime.  What remains to be seen is whether Margarito will fight Paul Williams, or whether he will simply vacate his title and wait to fight for Cotto's WBA belt this summer.  Personally, I think it would be ridiculous for Margarito--after talking so much about being the most feared and avoided champion in boxing--to avoid the Williams fight.  I mean, here's a guy who has claimed throughout his career that no one wants to fight him.  How ironic would it be for him to vacate his title in order to avoid Williams now?  

In my humble opinion, Cotto needs this fight.  And it would mean so much more if Margarito actually defeated Williams and brought his title with him to Madison Square Garden on June 9th.  It's no secret that Miguel Cotto is my favorite fighter.  We're from the same place, but not only is it a matter of pride:  I love his style, his patience and attitude inside the ring.  More than anything, I honestly think he has what it takes to be a Hall of Famer one day, to eventually be considered one of the top Puerto Rican champions of all time, alongside Wilfredo Benitez, Wilfredo Gomez, Tito Trinidad and John Ruiz (Ha!  Just kidding about that last one).  But seriously, I think Cotto has what it takes.  Nonetheless, I'm still hesitant to rank him among my top-10 Pound-for-Pound fighters.  I don't think he's done enough yet.  Though he's defeated a number of strong opponents, including three former champions (Corley, Bailey and Bazan), two guys who went on to become champions after losing to him (Torres and Maussa) and two outstanding previously-unbeaten prospects (Malignaggi and Quintana), Cotto has never beat a reigning champ.  Both of the titles he's won were vacant prior to him winning them.  His handlers and promoters have done a great job of bringing him up carefully.  Such a great job, in fact, that they've turned Miguel Cotto into a superstar without having really taken any major risks up to this point.  Well, I think those days are over. It's time to let the kid loose.  If Cotto is going to be a top Pound-for-Pound fighter, he needs to win a marquee fight against a big-name opponent.  If you think back to 2004, the three big prospects we were all talking about were Cotto, Ricky Hatton and Jermain Taylor. Hatton had his coming out party against Kosta Tszyu.  Taylor had his against Bernard Hopkins. Cotto never really had one. Margarito could provide that opportunity.

This fight, similar to Hatton vs. Castillo, is bound to be a slugfest.  The difference, I think, is that Cotto has superior boxing skills than both Hatton and Margarito, so I would expect him to use them in order to neutralize Margarito's punch output.  Many people were impressed by the way Cotto switched to southpaw against Quintana and completely mesmerized him.  Well, that's something he can do.  As for Margarito, it was evident from the Clottey fight that his defensive skills are lacking.  However, I would not expect the same Margarito who showed for Clottey to show up against Cotto.  He's been waiting for a big fight throughout his entire career, and this would be it.  He may not be the quickest man out there, but Margarito might just be the hardest puncher in the welterweight division. And let's not forget that Cotto has been previously hurt in the ring.  Corley staggered him and Ricardo Torres knocked him out and looked to be on the verge of defeating him by knockout.  But Cotto, even if he wasn't the hardest puncher in the ring that night, kept going to the body and eventually wore Torres out.  And now he's at his natural weight, so he doesn't have to conserve as much energy.  

As for my pick, I would expect Cotto's relentless body attack to wear Margarito down in the later rounds.  Unless Cotto gets careless--like Castillo did in his first fight with Corrales--I think he could be the first man to stop Margarito.  That depends, of course, on how many risks he's willing to take.  He may have better boxing skills than Margarito, but still, that doesn't make him a boxer.  He likes to come forward.  The Tijuana Tornado will have the puncher's chance and, like I said, Cotto will have the boxing skills.  If the fight goes the distance, I think Cotto wins by unanimous decision.

The funny thing is: if both Cotto and Margarito get by their mandatories, I bet this fight will do more PPV buys than both Mayweather-Baldomir and Mayweather-Judah.  And should Cotto come out on top, he will be the man to beat at welterweight, setting himself up for fights with the likes of Cintron, Mosley, Hatton and perhaps even the winner of Mayweather-DLH.

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