Monday, November 16, 2009

Fight analysis: Mind over matter

MANILA, Philippines - It took a lot of guts to do what Manny Pacquiao did in beating Miguel Cotto for his seventh world boxing championship in seven different weight divisions at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas last Saturday night (yesterday morning, Manila).

Pacquiao, a 3-1 favorite, realized from the onset that Cotto’s power left jab – the same weapon he used in scoring a unanimous 12-round decision over Sugar Shane Mosley in 2007 – would be a huge problem.

Cotto pumped double left jabs to keep Pacquiao off-balance in taking the first round of their WBO welterweight title bout. Fighting from a distance, Cotto had the advantage of dictating tempo because of his jarring left jab.

Pacquiao knew that his chances of winning hinged on getting Cotto to come forward so he could use his hand-speed and foot-speed to frustrate the Puerto Rican. But if Cotto continued to throw the left jab, it would be a long night for the Filipino icon.

Pacquiao made instant adjustments to offset Cotto’s edge but it meant taking a huge risk. Abandoning his plan to stick and run, Pacquiao held his ground, inviting Cotto to engage. He even did a version of Muhammad Ali’s rope-a-dope, leaning against the ropes without hitting back to lure Cotto inside. Pacquiao’s gamble was to raise Cotto’s level of confidence so he would forget about jabbing from a distance and instead, move in to unload power shots.

In the third round, a right put Cotto down for a mandatory eight-count but it hardly made the Puerto Rican think twice about moving in. Cotto wasn’t badly hurt and in fact, was on the attack before the round ended.

Pacquiao’s adjustment was evident in the fourth as he allowed Cotto space to lean on him against the ropes. It was a dangerous strategy as Pacquiao exposed the side of his body to Cotto’s murderous left hooks. But Pacquiao figured it was the only way to get Cotto out of his jabbing mode and make him an easier target.

What happened late the fourth round was exactly how Pacquiao planned it. Cotto became comfortable throwing short-range bombs and got caught with a vicious left hook to the jaw. It was a brutal blow. Cotto dropped to his knees and looked wobbly as he stood up. The bell rang shortly after to save the Puerto Rican from another fall.

Clearly, Cotto couldn’t figure out what Pacquiao was up to and walked into the Filipino’s trap. In the sixth round, Pacquiao staggered Cotto once more, methodically turning the contest into a one-sided massacre. Cotto’s face was a mask of lumps, bruises and cuts. He looked like a beaten man before the bell sounded to open the seventh round.

With his will to win slowly eroded by Pacquiao’s unforgiving pressure, Cotto decided to do the unthinkable for a defending champion – he began to run. At that point, all he wanted to do was to survive the fight on his feet. He got on an imaginary bicycle and took off, leaving Pacquiao in hot pursuit. Cotto’s aggressiveness was gone, a thing of the past, and he transformed into a shadow of his old self, running scared instead of standing up to fight.

If you think about it, Cotto would’ve probably stolen some rounds from Pacquiao using the power jab to stymie the Filipino’s momentum. That would’ve kept Pacquiao at bay. But Pacquiao had Cotto all figured out. He knew if Cotto continued to dictate with the jab, he wouldn’t be able to get untracked. The danger of losing on points loomed.

Cotto’s adjustment to box starting the seventh round threw off Pacquiao momentarily. Cotto might have even taken the eighth canto using the stick-and-move routine as the Filipino tried to chase down his prey. But the change in tactics proved futile. Inevitably, Pacquiao caught up with Cotto who progressively grew slower as the fight wore on.

Referee Kenny Bayless mercifully stepped in to halt the carnage at 0:55 of the 12th round. He could’ve allowed Cotto to finish the distance as it didn’t seem like he was in any danger of going down. But Cotto didn’t deserve the reprieve. Down the stretch, he fought like a mouse running away from a cat – it was no way for a champion to go. You would expect a defending titlist to go down fighting, not to go down running.

Bayless did the right thing to stop it and award Pacquiao the satisfaction of winning inside the distance. Cotto no longer fought back anyway and in fact, Bayless would’ve been justified to stop it even a few rounds earlier.

For Pacquiao, the five elements that sealed the victory were:

• Speed. Clearly, Cotto had no antidote to negate Pacquiao’s hand-speed and foot-speed. The boxing adage of “speed kills in the ring” was obvious in the fight.

• Stamina. Pacquiao was in excellent physical condition. He still looked fresh in the 12th round and probably could’ve gone a few more. The Filipino was stung occasionally but never took a step back.

• Adjustments. Pacquiao didn’t take long to make adjustments. He took away Cotto’s power left jab by drawing him close then as the Puerto Rican got comfortable inside, the Filipino whirled around to throw his bombs. Pacquiao fought intelligently. Cotto wasn’t smart enough to blunt Pacquiao’s edge.

• Two-fisted attack. Pacquiao rained punches from all angles. Cotto didn’t know where the blows came from. Pacquiao decked Cotto with a right in the third and a left in the fourth.

• Heart. Pacquiao took a big gamble by leaning against the ropes to invite Cotto to whale away. Only a gutsy and fearless fighter would do it. Pacquiao once more showed how big his heart is and when you come down to it, that was the margin of difference.


credit this news to Joaquin Henson (Philstar News Service, www.philstar.com)




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