LAS VEGAS -- "I love fighting," said Ricardo Mayorga, his sunglasses hiding the expression in his eyes but his mouth betraying the hint of a smile. "If I wasn't a boxer," he laughed, "I'd be a gangster."
It is suggested that he enjoys more than just the actual physical combat, that he also thrives on the hype and the prefight publicity. After all, he is something of a master of bombast, pushing and at times erasing boundaries of taste with the manner in which he has goaded his opponents in the buildup to his bouts.
"I know it's part of my job, and something I have to do, but in reality I don't like it, especially during fight week," he responded. "During fight week we have to be really focused on making weight and I get edgy at times. So I don't really enjoy it."
But he is remarkably good at it, it is pointed out; somehow, he is even able to out-talk his famed promoter, Don King, who at this very moment is waving flags in the background and bellowing, "What time is it? Mayorga time!!"
The observation elicits another laugh, but then the mood shifts slightly.
We are talking in the lobby at the MGM Grand, three days before Mayorga challenges for Miguel Cotto's junior middleweight belt. Mayorga has made his grand entrance and conducted TV interviews in a makeshift ring nearby. Now, as we talk, it is Cotto's turn, and Mayorga's eyes, though still obscured, are unmistakably focused on his opponent, who takes his turn in the ring.
Suddenly, like a cat, Mayorga bounds on to the ring apron and toward Cotto. The Puerto Rican, talking to a camera, his back against the ropes, has no way of knowing what is coming. Cotto's 79-year-old promoter, Bob Arum, standing next to his charge, moves with remarkable rapidity to intercept the incoming Nicaraguan.
But Mayorga has no intention of starting anything. He may claim not to like the hype machine, but he plays an exceptionally astute role in oiling it. He stays on the ring apron, lifting his shirt to show his washboard abs, mugging for the camera over Cotto's shoulder, and bantering with Arum, a back-and-forth that the promoter clearly enjoys. At one point, Arum jokingly makes as if to throw a punch at the fighter, who responds by pointing to Arum and then to King, and suggesting it is time the two old rivals settled things in the ring.
It is typical Mayorga: loud, seemingly on the edge of losing control. It is the polar opposite of Cotto, who performs outside the ring as he does inside the ropes: calmly, methodically, with little flash of emotion, keeping within himself. He studiously ignores all Mayorga's antics; aware that his rival is hopeful of staging some kind of confrontation for the cameras, he avoids him completely, he and his camp circling back around the ring and out the front of the casino.
The following day sees the two men's roles repeated and reinforced. Cotto, impeccably dressed in a gray suit, parries reporters' questions professionally and impassively. Mayorga, wearing a T-shirt bearing the name of his country's president, Daniel Ortega, answers expansively and with emotion. He speaks with apparent candor about the lackadaisical approach he has taken to most of his career, training dedicatedly only for his two contests against Andrew "Six Heads" Lewis and the pair of victories over Vernon Forrest; the rest of the time, he confesses, he drank, smoked and "with respect to women, had intercourse with my girlfriends."
This time, he says, is different; he is in shape, and hungry for victory. Cotto is his golden ticket; he wants to knock him out in four rounds or fewer, to defeat him far more comprehensively than did Manny Pacquiao, so that he can force himself into a money-making clash with the pound-for-pound champion later in the year.
"One of two things is going to happen in the first round," he predicted of his clash with Cotto. "Either I'm going to knock him down or I'm going to bust him open. I can see he has a fear of me. I can see it in his eyes."
He keeps talking, until suddenly he has ripped off his T-shirt to display his physique again, the allegedly unwilling salesman showing his wares once more.
"On March 10, I turn 38 years old," he said. "I asked God personally for my birthday gift, to give me victory over Cotto. I'm not only going to win, it's going to be a brutal knockout. I'm going to try to score the fastest knockout of 2011.
"And whoever is on Cotto's side is going to have to wear black on Sunday."
The taunting continued as the final news conference reached its conclusion.
"Cotto, I want to ask you a question," Mayorga said. "What are you going to do after I beat you? Are you going to stay in boxing, or are you going to get a job? Answer me that."
Cotto said nothing, but sat with his hands clasped in front of his chin, refusing to engage, and staring straight ahead. Mayorga, his shirt once more off, stood on a chair, flexing his muscles, staring at Cotto and talking, always talking.