Cotto needs win to remain a contender

Cruel sport, this fight racket. Miguel Cotto is just 29, but there are many who whisper about him like he's a middle-aged dude who just got a nose ring and tatt and thinks he's all current and cool.

He's done, they chatter, speculation dressed as certainty. No tread left on the tires. He's taken too much punishment, it's just about time to hang up the gloves.

What a cruel concept this fight racket is, for a man pronounced elderly before he completes his third decade on this planet. Sure, that may be gettin' up there for a supermodel. But an athlete? In this day and age, with the superior training methods and supplementations? Cotto should be entering his prime.

Cotto has heard the rumblings. He knows what people are saying about him. Cotto (34-2, 27 KOs) knows he gets to answer all the questions Saturday night when he takes on Brooklyn's Yuri Foreman (28-0, 8 KOs) in a much hyped junior middleweight fight at Yankee Stadium. It is the first fight at the Stadium, old or new, since Muhammad Ali beat Ken Norton on Sept. 28, 1976.

"I don't know what is going to happen on that night," Cotto said, "but I'm pretty sure, no matter what, when it is over, I'm going to be the winner of the fight."

Boxing isn't mere sport. You don't "play" boxing. Boxing plays you. Problem is most fighters don't get it until they take on a younger, stronger, hungrier opponent who is just plain fresher and better. Foreman presents that type of challenge to Cotto.

"I think Cotto's damaged goods," ESPN boxing analyst Teddy Atlas said. "He's a little shopworn. The fight for Foreman could be even easier than people think."

Atlas says Foreman's size -- he's 5-foot-11 with a 72-inch reach -- will be too much for the 5-7 Cotto and his 67-inch reach. Five years ago, Cotto's size would never even be contemplated as a weakness. The Puerto Rican's ferocious style of hammering body blows with slick uppercuts chopped down bigger opponents. But Atlas and others believe Cotto has taken too much punishment. He's shown shown signs of wear and tear. In July 2008, Antonio Margarito had Cotto looking to his corner for help in Round 11. In June 2009, Cotto won a close decision over Joshua Clottey that many felt demonstrated how far he had deteriorated. His "downfall" was cemented in November when a sustained assault by Manny Pacquiao left Cotto bleeding in his corner. Cotto dodged questions about the Pacquiao bout and how much it took out of him. He may not admit it, but his actions say a lot. Cotto brought in legendary trainer Emanuel Steward to prepare him for Foreman.

"I have never trained Miguel before but all I can go by are the comments from people in the gym since we are training in the exact same gym where he trained before the Pacquiao fight," Steward said. "The people that are watching say he looks totally different from what they have seen before. I feel very good about it. I'm always going to be honest with you. Miguel's boxing and energy level have been fantastic."

Cotto knows this fight is his chance to prove he's still a legitimate contender. That is the question he gets to answer, but he has to beat Foreman handily. Foreman, who was born in Belarus and moved to Israel when he was nine, is drawing a lot of attention because of his unique back story. He is Jewish. He is training to be a Rabbi while also boxing. He will probably have the crowd behind him -- although Cotto will have a solid contingent because many Puerto Ricans are huge fight fans. But Foreman has yet to step into the ring against a fighter of Cotto's pedigree. ESPN Friday Night Fights play-by-play man Joe Tessitore sees the Puerto Rican rising to the occasion in the Bronx. "I think Cotto wins by a closer-than-expected decision," he says. "Foreman will give Cotto some difficulties in being an elusive target and picking his spots to get in and out, but in the end Yuri won't keep Cotto off of him and the later rounds it will start to fall in line with the stronger, more effective fighter."

As a boxer, Cotto understands the significance of this fight being held at Yankee Stadium. When asked about fighting in the Stadium, in the first bout in any Yankee Stadium since Ali-Norton III, Cotto talks about being "part of history" in that "legendary place." An avid baseball fan, Cotto said he goes to a lot of Yankees games whenever he is New York.

"I go to that place every year and I am proud of their fans," Cotto said. "I am going to feel like a Yankee on this night. I am going to feel like Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter."

Asked about fighting for the first time as a junior middleweight at 154 pounds, Cotto says it'll be no different than when he jumped from junior welterweight at 140 pounds to 147 to fight as a welterweight. "There are not worries," he said, "because he is a boxer."

His main concern is preparing for Foreman's style. Foreman is the sort of fighter who can make a guy go gray in 36 minutes. He's the same age as Cotto but has taken only a fraction of the punishment. He will move laterally all night and will make Cotto work way too hard to find him."

"Right now, the way Miguel has been looking, it is going to be very hard for Yuri to stay away from Miguel for 12 rounds," Steward said.

Foreman could well potshot his way to a points win, hitting Cotto early and often, then moving to stay away. But ultimately, he may get his biggest assist from an invisible but omnipotent ally -- Father Time.

Mike Woods is a contributor to ESPNNewYork.com and ESPN The Magazine, and editor of TheSweetScience.com.