Forget the amateurs: Cotto will win

My boxing videotape library contains a lot of Oscar De la Hoya, Mike Tyson,
Lennox Lewis and more Heavyweight Explosion footage than any one man should
possess, but, sadly for this advance, there is not one inch of tape that
features Kelson Pinto.

Yet anyone who is more than a casual fan has had ample opportunity to
eyeball Miguel Cotto, who will meet Pinto to vie for the vacant WBO light
welterweight title, on Saturday at the new Jose Miguel Agrelot Coliseum
in Hato Rey, Puerto Rico.

You saw Cotto give Victoriano Sosa the business on Feb. 28, knocking the
accomplished vet down three times in scoring a TKO win in the fourth round.
On Dec. 6, 2003, Cotto took apart Carlos Maussa, who had bested then
undefeated prospect Jeffrey Resto two months prior, and you liked how he
took apart a taller man. You like his calm manner as he cuts off the ring
and then delivers telling shots, rarely pausing to take even a third of a
round off.

You've seen all you need to see to make an informed decision on
Cotto, 23, and therefore you nodded in assent when Dan Rafael of USA Today
named him 2002 Prospect of the Year.

As for Pinto, the jury is still out for the many casual fans who don't live
in Brazil (where he has fought 12 of his 20 pro bouts), Mexico, Texas or
Vegas (the locales for his other eight pro fights). Unless you have a
serious tape-trading connection who gets off-TV bouts from small cards in
Brazil, you probably don't have a strong concept of what Pinto brings to the
table for the Saturday night showdown, set for broadcast on HBO at 10:15 p.m.

Count HBO sports' resident wordsmith, commentator Larry Merchant, among
those who will be tracking down tape of the 27-year-old Brazilian with a
20-0 record.

"I don't know a lot about Pinto," said Merchant. "I know he's a good boxer/puncher and he could give Cotto
trouble. It's the kind of style he will have to learn how to break down."

Merchant expects the 18,000 fans in the Coliseum to be a boiling cauldron of
expectation and raucous celebration as Puerto Ricans continue to track the
progress of someone they hope is the rightful heir to Wilfred Benitez,
Wilfredo Gomez and Felix Trinidad: iconic warriors who island inhabitants
can point to with fierce pride.

"The passion of the fans there juices everything up," he said. "It's great
background music for a spirited fight. But it could be a case where it's
like Forrest and Mosley."

Prior to the first of their two battles, Vernon Forrest announced that no
matter what the oddsmakers or InstaPundits said, he knew that he had
Mosley's number and would beat him, because he had done it before, in the
amateurs. Pinto also predicts victory and points to his two victories over
Cotto in the fight-for-free ranks.

But Cotto turned pro in February 2001 and Pinto in December 2000. Is this a case of
"The more things change, the more they stay the same?" Or is it, "Same as it
ever was?"

I'm guessing -- and it's an educated guess but still, I'm throwing this dart
while blindfolded -- that Cotto's ascendance as a pro, and the
not-too-smooth/not-too-choppy course dictated thus far by Top Rank will have
closed any gap that existed between the two fighters. Pinto's last two
fights, on Jan. 27 and Oct. 3, 2003, were against Jose Otavio da Silva and
Nelson Santos. Not to worry if you thought maybe your grasp of the junior
welter ranks worldwide had slipped; da Silva came into the bout 2-2 while
Santos was 0-4. These guys aren't out signing autographs when they exit
their residences. Before those useless outings, Pinto downed Emanuel
Augustus (UD 10) so it's not like he's been feeding off the Stiff Trough to
this point, however.

My take: Cotto, TKO 8.

"This is an important fight for Cotto and maybe for boxing," Merchant said.
"For all we know Pinto is the guy who comes out of it and maybe both of them

Trinidad's return means there is less pressure from Boricuas on Cotto to
elevate himself into the Island fight pantheon. Merchant said that he thinks
Cotto could handle the extra eyes anyway.

"When a guy is good, pressure is just opportunity," he stated. "It's not something that weighs you down, it
inspires you."