Now, it’s Manny’s turn

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson - The Philippine Star

Freddie Roach got the job done in resuscitating Miguel Cotto’s career with the Puerto Rican rebounding from back-to-back losses to knock out Delvin Rodriguez at 0:18 of the third round in their lightmiddleweight fight in Orlando, Florida, last weekend.

Cotto let go of Cuban trainer Pedro Luis Diaz to hook up with Roach for his comeback fight. He was previously trained by his uncle Evangelista, Joe Santiago and Emanuel Steward. It was Santiago in Cotto’s corner when the Puerto Rican was stopped by Manny Pacquiao in 2009. Roach and Filipino assistant Marvin Somodio conspired to prepare Cotto for Rodriguez. Cotto reached out to Roach who took on the job after the fighter promised to work his butt off in the gym.

What Roach liked about Cotto was his willingness to do what he was told. In camp, Roach went back to basics to rediscover the Cotto of before, the body banger who hammered his way to world titles in the lightwelterweight, welterweight and lightmiddleweight divisions. Cotto committed himself to sacrifice and hard work. He knew this was a make-or-break situation. Another loss would likely end his career.

Against Rodriguez, Cotto was relentless from the start. He didn’t bother using the jab. Cotto pressured Rodriguez as soon as the bell rang for the first round. Rodriguez, who’s supposed to be no slouch, looked like he didn’t belong in the same ring. The Dominican Republic fighter never got to exploit his edge in height and reach. He ran scared the moment Cotto showed he meant business. Worse, Rodriguez was poorly coached. Instead of moving away from Cotto’s dynamite left, Rodriguez walked straight into it. Rodriguez’ lateral movement was to Cotto’s left, not right.

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Cotto hardly jabbed. Because Rodriguez wasn’t throwing, Cotto went in for the kill early. Since Rodriguez repeatedly moved to his right, Cotto had no problem cutting the ring off. He was an available target. Cotto landed 55 out of 110 punches and 47 were power shots in the brief contest. Before the fight, Roach said Cotto’s attack would be anchored on his signature punch, the left hook to the body, and it was. Cotto whacked Rodriguez’ sides with his vicious left hook and there was no antidote to stop him. Cotto used combinations to the body and head as he pushed Rodriguez against the ropes. Cotto was in complete control of the ring.

Near the end of the second round, Cotto staggered Rodriguez with a left-right combination to the head. Rodriguez’ legs turned rubbery and he was saved by the bell. It was evident he wouldn’t last much longer. Rodriguez answered the bell for the third round probably unsure of where he was. Cotto knew Rodriguez was ready to go and went for the jugular. A right hand set up a left hook to the jaw that dropped Rodriguez near a neutral corner. Rodriguez went down and referee Frank Santore Jr. jumped in to wave it off. Rodriguez got up on his feet, wanted to go on but was clearly in no condition to continue.

The brutal demolition not only signalled Cotto’s return to form but also reinforced Roach’s stature as the best in the business. Roach took a lot of heat from critics when Pacquiao, Amir Khan and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., his high-profile protégés, lost all in a row. With Cotto’s win, Roach proved he hasn’t lost his touch.

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Cotto, 32, has arrested the tailspin in his career and is now back in the big money stakes. The word is he could be in line for a rematch with Floyd Mayweather Jr. or a marquee matchup against either Saul (Canelo) Alvarez or Sergio Martinez. However, promotional differences will make a Mayweather rematch a remote possibility. The likelihood is Cotto will face Alvarez or Martinez.

When Cotto lost to Mayweather last year, he was badly outclassed. Judges Dave Moretti and Patricia Jarman scored it 117-111 both and judge Robert Hoyle 118-110, all for Mayweather. If Cotto fought Mayweather like he did Rodriguez, the outcome could’ve been different. The only way to beat Mayweather is to take him out of his comfort zone – pressure him to leave no space for him to operate from a safe distance away. Cotto has the ability to do that. So does Pacquiao.

Roach said Cotto’s training camp was perfect and it showed in the way he disposed of Rodriguez easily. If Pacquiao works as hard or even harder in camp for his Nov. 24 appointment with Brandon Rios in Macau, there’s no doubt he’ll win as convincingly as Cotto. Roach has halted Cotto’s two-fight losing streak. Now, he wants to do the same with Pacquiao.

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