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A bout that's what it's all about

November 14, 2009|BILL DWYRE

FROM LAS VEGAS — Seldom has there been better proof that there is no accounting for taste.

Starting at 5:30 a.m. Friday, hundreds of people began lining up in the hallways leading to the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Barack Obama was not scheduled to appear, nor was Bruce Springsteen. Nobody would be changing bread and wine into loaves and fishes.

They were there awaiting entrance to the weigh-in for Saturday night's boxing match between Manny Pacquiao and Miguel Cotto. Two nicely cut little guys, Pacquiao and Cotto, would strip to their underwear and stand on a scale, a man in a sport coat would nod that they each made the weight limit of 145 pounds and it would be over.

Oh, yes, that began at 3 p.m.

Lest we linger too long on thoughts of the current collective IQ of our populace, we must stretch for positives here.

That kind of fan outpouring signals the continuation of a sort of rebirth of boxing, which had seemed to be losing a generation of fans to the perceived thrill of muscular people rolling around with each other in cages. The younger generation calls it ultimate fighting. Graybeards call it ultimate stupidity.

Pacquiao and Cotto seem to have bridged both groups.

The men most influential in making this event happen, Ross Greenburg of HBO and Bob Arum of Top Rank Boxing, have been talking a lot about how many of those all-important web hits this fight is generating. Both also see the possibility that it will attract in excess of 1 million pay-per-view buys, which would put it in the rarefied air of only 25 other fights in history, most of them heavyweight matches.

The all-time record is 2.4 million buys for Floyd Mayweather Jr. versus Oscar De La Hoya two years ago. Matter of fact, Mayweather and Juan Manual Marquez did a million buys two months ago, and that one turned out to be little more than a workout for Mayweather.

Now, with Pacquiao's massive Filipino following and Cotto's similar Puerto Rican following -- as well as a new buzz among the general sports fan -- boxing seems to be acquiring a new swagger. Even at the current $54.95 pay-per-view price.

Perhaps most interesting is that all this noise is being generated for what is, most likely, a semifinal. If Pacquiao continues his rise from 106 pounds to a seventh boxing title in a seventh weight division by beating Cotto, and if Arum is able to make a match with Mayweather, then Pacquiao-Cotto will have been merely foreplay.

Quality foreplay, certainly.

Pacquiao, 49-3-2, hasn't lost since 2005 and has been dazzling since he took big steps up in weight to go against David Diaz, De La Hoya and Ricky Hatton. Deeply embedded in the memory of boxing fans is Pacquiao's spectacular left-hook knockout of Hatton in May. Hatton never felt the jolt of the canvas because he was out well before he got there.

Cotto, at 34-1-0, was among the most feared welterweights in history until he took a terrible beating from Antonio Margarito on July 26, 2008. That fight, of course, took on new meaning after Margarito was discovered with plaster of Paris in his gloves before a fight in January against Shane Mosley, who proceeded to win handily. Cotto has won twice since the Margarito fight and claims that people should pay more attention to that than to Margarito, whose presumed glove-doctoring Cotto is now calling "criminal."

Pacquiao is a 3-1 favorite. His trainer, Freddie Roach, says Pacquiao is "100% ready," and that his fighter's superior hand and foot speed and a strategy to avoid Cotto's lethal left hook means he will handle this fight easily.

Cotto's trainer, young Joe Santiago, says he is stunned that Pacquiao is a favorite and says that every boxer who has faced Cotto had a plan to stop the left hook. "And he just keeps landing them," Santiago says.

Some boxing experts think that Cotto, the natural welterweight, who has never fought below 137 pounds, will be too big for Pacquiao to handle. Roach, who had a say in this fight's catch-weight of 145, says Pacquiao has gotten better as he has gotten bigger because he is such a good athlete.

"He could have picked any sport and excelled," Roach says. "I'm glad he picked boxing."

Usually, in boxing, the war of words is better than the war in the ring. This time, the words may represent more than just a pay-per-view sales pitch.

That would also make it somewhat more understandable for people to spend an entire day in an arena lobby to witness a nonevent weigh-in.

On second thought, no it wouldn't.

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bill.dwyre@latimes.com

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Manny Pacquiao vs. Miguel Cotto

Tonight at the MGM Grand Arena, Las Vegas,

6 p.m., HBO pay-per-view

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