Saturday, May 5, 2012 | 2 a.m.
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Tonight, once all the talking is done, the entrance music is cut off and everybody is adequately ready to rumble, two men will stand in an enclosed space intent on hurting each other.
There will be men and women at home, at theaters or bars and in MGM Grand Garden Arena cheering passionately for either Floyd Mayweather Jr. (42-0) or Miguel Cotto (37-2). There will also be a larger group, which includes members of both cheering parties and casual fans everywhere, just desperate for a good fight.
“We want and we need a great fight, regardless of who wins,” said Oscar De La Hoya, whose Golden Boy Promotions is representing Cotto in this fight.
No knockouts when one of the fighters is apologizing. No decisions that reek of favoritism. More than anything, people want to walk away from this fight feeling they got their money’s worth, which is more than you can say for the majority of the major bouts in recent years.
For that to happen, it’s going to take substantial work on the part of Cotto, who’s the heavy underdog despite defending his WBA Super Welterweight title.
Mayweather is a -750 favorite most places, which means you would have to bet $750 to win $100. Cotto is +500 — $100 would win $500 — and he’s making at least a career-best $8 million for the fight, which seems like a lot until you see that Mayweather is hauling in a record-setting $32 million.
The best single-fight purse before this was Mike Tyson’s $30 million guaranteed for the infamous ear-biting heavyweight title fight in 1997 against Evander Holyfield.
With money like that, the casual observer will expect even more out of the fighters, an unreasonable expectation considered they will make their money no matter what happens. And it’s not like they weren’t going to try to win before the figures came out.
“You will see a victorious Miguel Cotto, a new Miguel Cotto,” said Cotto’s trainer, Pedro Diaz, with De La Hoya translating.
Considering Mayweather’s renowned defensive and technical skills, the onus is really on the underdog to make this fight live up to the hype. The problem is, Cotto isn’t likely to fall into that trap and overattack.
“Miguel Cotto is a fighter who doesn’t really mind if people boo him. He doesn’t mind if he wants to box and stay at bay and use his jabs,” De La Hoya said. “He’s a fighter who can offset you.”
De La Hoya likened it to the way Juan Manuel Marquez can throw Manny Pacquiao off his game, a generous comparison. While Marquez’s counterpunching style is uniquely fitted to give Pacquiao trouble, Cotto is a more versatile fighter who will have to use his size as an advantage.
“If you go into a fight with just one style, one plan to fight a guy like Mayweather … you’re going to fail,” Cotto said. “You have to prepare yourself for more than one plan.”
The fighters weighed in at MGM Grand Garden Arena on Friday in front of an overcapacity crowd. With fans piled out into the hallways watching on screens, Mayweather weighed in at 151 pounds — the highest of his career — while Cotto hit the 154-pound limit on the dot.
Cotto will likely pack on some weight in the hours before fight, putting him somewhere in the 160-pound range. That’s an advantage only so long as it doesn’t come at the expense of speed, which Cotto will need desperately against Mayweather’s quick jabs and counterpunches.
When the fight was announced in February, Mayweather had asked for eight-ounce gloves, the better to utilize his speed and also land shots more likely to cut Cotto. The Nevada Athletic Commission mandates that any fight at 147 pounds or more requires at least 10-ounce gloves, but Mayweather is still going in with the same mentality to make his opponent bleed.
“He’s not going to be able to outfight me in a war,” Mayweather said on Tuesday. “He bruises. He cuts. He swells. His eyes close. He’s a bleeder; I’m not.”
Cotto’s reputation for bleeding comes mostly from his 2008 loss to Antonio Margarito, although Cotto and many others now believe Margarito was using illegal hand wraps in that fight.
Cotto got his revenge last December, and he feels very good about himself heading into Saturday’s fight. However, there’s a big difference between getting his confidence back and being able to turn that into a victory against arguably the best pound-for-pound fighter in the game.
Mayweather may have all the pressure — including the extra weight of his impending incarceration on June 1 — but he’s still the same determined, manic fighter/promoter that he has been the past few years. This is business as usual, and Mayweather isn’t letting anybody in on his plans for win No. 43.
“I’m never going to tell you his weakness,” Mayweather said.
But he knows what it is. Does Cotto have the goods on Mayweather? Diaz says so, but he’s hardly the first challenger to say his fighter would hand Mayweather his first loss.
The masses want an entertaining fight, the latest chance to “save” boxing. Cotto just wants a win, a result that would certainly stir up the sport no matter how it’s attained.
There’s nothing certain about what will happen when two men in a small space start swinging at each other tonight. If Cotto wants to shock the world, though, he can’t let those boos last too long.
“If (Cotto) doesn’t do anything by the sixth round, then it’s all Floyd Mayweather,” De La Hoya said.