For all the talk we've done here about the November 14 encounter between Manny Pacquiao and Miguel Cotto, I've done my absolute best to stay way away from the "Miguel Cotto is a changed fighter" talk, and certainly haven't touched the "Miguel Cotto is shot" talk. The former may be true in some respects, and I personally feel that the latter is foolish. I've said repeatedly that those underestimating Cotto are way too quick to count out the Puerto Rican warrior, who won a good, hard and close fight against Joshua Clottey in June.
But I will say this, as I've certainly been wrong before and undoubtedly will be again: If Miguel Cotto is a reeling fighter, then Manny Pacquiao is exactly the guy to cement that idea.
After all, Pacquiao has a pretty strong record of putting the finishing touches, so to speak, on great careers. No less than four superstar fighters have essentially been put out to pasture by the Filipino icon this decade.
The first of the four was Mexico's Erik Morales, Pacquiao's second-greatest rival and one of the most gutsy, courageous fighters of his generation. When we say someone "fights like a Mexican," Morales is exactly the type of guy who employed the style we're talking about. He had boxing skills, but he was easily drawn into firefights. In their first bout back in 2005, Morales beat Pacquiao (115-113 across the board) with a phenomenal performance. It was also the last "real" Erik Morales performance we'd ever see.
In his next fight, Morales was stunned by Zahir Raheem, losing a 12-round decision, and then he rematched Pacquiao. This time, it was the younger, stronger Pacquiao that really gut-checked Morales, eventually stopping him in the 10th round. It was a hell of a fight, just as their first bout had been, but it was clear who the better man was, too. They fought once more in November 2006, with Pacquiao completely dominating and overwhelming Morales, winning by third round TKO.
The second man was Morales' greatest rival, Marco Antonio Barrera. Pacquiao fought Barrera in 2003, coming in as a pretty heavy underdog for most, a fairly one-dimensional slugger with good speed and an awkward southpaw style. He was a one-handed fighter at the time. And that night, he tore Barrera to pieces before the Mexican's corner mercifully stopped the bout in the 11th round.
Morales fought once more, moving up to lightweight and losing a competitive scrap to David Diaz. He now intends to come back, but his relevant career is almost certainly finished.
In 2007, Pacquiao and Barrera fought again, and this time Barrera was the heavy underdog. He was coming off of a loss to Juan Manuel Marquez, a fight that was far closer than it was scored, but Pacquiao-Barrera II just never sizzled. It failed to truly captivate the interest of the fans, as the obvious true desire was for Pacquiao-Marquez II. Barrera also announced prior to the fight that it would be his last, and come fight night, he fought like a man simply there to earn one more good paycheck and not get himself embarrassed or knocked out. He lost a wide decision, fighting tentatively until swiping Pacquiao with a blatant cheap shot late in the fight.
Barrera, of course, also came back from retirement, making an ill-advised move to 135 pounds. It has not gone well, and his career, too, is now simply active instead of relevant.
Number three: Oscar de la Hoya. No question Oscar was weight-drained, out of shape, and far past his prime. But Pacquiao did what no one else had ever been able to do: He completely dominated de la Hoya to the point where Oscar had no choice but to swallow his pride, get off his stool, and quit. Even when Bernard Hopkins knocked Oscar out with a wicked body punch years ago, Oscar tried with all he had to get up off the mat and keep going. In that case, he physically couldn't do it. In this case, Pacquiao destroyed him physically and mentally.
Oscar retired from the ring after his loss to Pacquiao.
And then the fourth, obviously, is Ricky Hatton. Hatton is hinting that he's going to fight again, but he's never going to be the same guy. I do think in my gut that Ricky can still compete at a high level against most guys at 140 pounds, but would it shock me if he went out and wound up getting beaten by a much lesser-regarded fighter? No, it wouldn't. Pacquiao definitely took something from Hatton in May.
I'm not saying that Manny Pacquiao is the sole reason these guys retired. Oscar was aged and had done everything he was ever going to do in boxing as an active competitor. Morales and Hatton were both in their prime athletic years, but Morales in particular had already taken a lot of punishment over his legendary career, and Hatton had taken his fair share of lumps, too. Barrera simply seemed to lack any desire.
But in every case, there were two commons: Manny Pacquiao and whispers (sometimes much more) that Manny's opponent simply wasn't the fighter he used to be. Pacquiao's last two fights with Morales, the rematch with Barrera, the mega fights with Oscar and Ricky; every single one of them involved a guy that a good portion of folks thought was toast, or close to it.
Miguel Cotto has heard the same talk since his July 2008 loss to Antonio Margarito. Yes, there's a ton of controversy surrounding that fight now, but it doesn't change the physical effects it may well have had on Cotto, which could still be taking a toll on him. There are also the mental problems it may have introduced. He didn't look trigger-shy at all against a clearly overmatched Michael Jennings, but there are two ways to look at the Clottey fight. The first is he fought smart and with a bad cut that came from a headbutt, winning in a fine performance. That's how I prefer to see it.
But there are also those that really feel Miguel didn't look very good against Clottey and lacked that killer instinct he used to have.
If it's not there for Miguel Cotto the way it used to be, we're going to find out. Clottey may be a bigger, physically stronger guy than Manny, but one thing he doesn't have that Pacquiao does is that killer instinct, that finishing ability. Manny comes to finish fights, and a Cotto that isn't ready for that type of fighter anymore would be a Cotto in very big trouble on November 14.