Underdog Cotto hopes to knock shine off Pacquiao’s star

Associated Press / November 13, 2009

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LAS VEGAS - Miguel Cotto doesn’t need to be reminded what his role is supposed to be against Manny Pacquiao tomorrow night in Las Vegas.

Not after signing for half the money Pacquiao is getting. Not after having to agree to fight 2 pounds under his normal weight just to get the fight.

Not after spending months training for a fight a lot people in boxing don’t think he has much chance of winning.

“Psychologically he knows it and I know it,’’ promoter Bob Arum said.

No, the star is boxing’s latest sensation, a mild-mannered Filipino who gave Oscar De La Hoya such a beating he quit on the stool, and who destroyed Ricky Hatton with a single punch. Pacquiao is the face of this event, the fighter singing on “Jimmy Kimmel Live,’’ and the boxer who brings his native Philippines to a virtual standstill every time he steps into the ring.

But Cotto has a country behind him, too. Puerto Rico has long been a breeding ground of top fighters, and this fight is probably the most anticipated in his country since Felix Trinidad won a disputed decision over De La Hoya a decade ago.

Almost lost in the Manny mania that has made this perhaps the most anticipated fight of the year is that Cotto has some serious credentials of his own.

“I don’t want to be Manny Pacquiao,’’ Cotto said. “I just want to be Miguel Cotto.’’

For a long time that was good enough. Cotto was a rising star himself, a relentless puncher who won two titles, knocked almost everyone in front of him out, and had no trouble selling out Madison Square Garden.

But along came Antonio Margarito and Cotto found himself on the receiving end of the kind of beating he usually handed out. He fought valiantly before finally being stopped in the 11th round of a brutal slugfest, a devastating loss tempered later only by the suspicion that Margarito had plaster inside his gloves like he did in his next fight against Shane Mosley.

“When things about Margarito came out after the fight it made me feel better about the situation,’’ Cotto said.

He came back to win a tuneup fight, then had to rally to beat Joshua Clottey by split decision in the Garden in June. Pacquiao was there at ringside to watch a bloodied Cotto barely pull off a win to retain his piece of the welterweight title, and it wasn’t long before negotiations for their fight began.

Pacquiao is a 2 1/2-1 favorite in a fight that will be held at a catch weight of 145 pounds, something Cotto had to agree to if he was going to get the fight.