Is Cotto past Margarito debacle?

LAS VEGAS -- The image likely is seared into the minds of those who saw it: Miguel Cotto, his face a swollen mask, with blood pouring from cuts around his eye, his mouth and his nose, as if he had been beaten by a baseball bat.

He hadn't been, however. Rather, Cotto had been run over in the late rounds and finally stopped by Antonio Margarito in the 11th round of their welterweight title fight in July 2008.

It was the end of a classic battle, but one eventually tinged by controversy because six months later, before his next fight, Margarito was caught trying to enter the ring against Shane Mosley wearing hand wraps that had been loaded with illegal inserts coated in a plasterlike substance. Margarito and his trainer, Javier Capetillo, had their licenses revoked and, suddenly, the memory of Cotto's disfigured face made anyone with half a brain ponder the serious possibility that Margarito had inflicted such significant damage punching Cotto in the face while wearing illegal gloves, even though nothing has been proved.

Still, it is against that backdrop, and with Margarito still out of commission serving his suspension, that Cotto has carried on with his career. After two wins since the loss, Cotto is set for the biggest fight of 2009 when he defends his title against Filipino pound-for-pound king Manny Pacquiao on Saturday (9 p.m. ET, HBO PPV, $54.95) inside the same MGM Grand Garden Arena where Margarito punished him.

But the question lingers: What did such a brutal loss to Margarito take out of the Puerto Rican star, be it mentally or physically?

Cotto said he is over the loss.

"The Margarito fight is out of my mind. Out of everything about me," he said while meeting with reporters after Wednesday's final news conference.

"As far as we are concerned, the Margarito fight is over and done with," said Joe Santiago, Cotto's head trainer. "We are preparing for a new challenge, and I see him just as hungry. We always go in to win. The confidence when he goes up into the ring -- I don't see that changing."

Top Rank's Bob Arum, who promotes Cotto and Pacquiao, said the Margarito fight was merely a blip on the radar of Cotto's great career.

"He is absolutely back from any problems that that fight caused," Arum said. "You couldn't tell from the February fight, and you certainly couldn't tell from the June fight."

Arum is talking about the two fights Cotto has had at New York's Madison Square Garden since his lone defeat. In February, Cotto knocked out British softy Michael Jennings in the fifth round to win a vacant welterweight belt. In June, Cotto scored a split-decision victory against a much tougher opponent, rugged former titlist Joshua Clottey. That was a fight in which Cotto fought three-quarters of it bleeding from a terrible cut over his left eye but persevered for the tight win.

"After the Margarito fight, I dedicated myself even more to boxing," Cotto said. "Look where I am now, and look where Margarito is now."

Where Cotto (34-1, 27 KOs) is is in the biggest fight of his career against Pacquiao. Cotto has been a trouper during the promotion, answering questions about the "Margarito factor" time and again.

"I am not going to go to a doctor and tell him how to do his work. He knows how to do his work, and I know how to do my work," Cotto said. "I am pretty recovered from the Margarito defeat. I showed the world with my last two victories, and I don't have anything else to say about that."

For those who believe Cotto can't possibly be recovered from the Margarito fight, he simply points to how he handled himself against Clottey, a physically strong fighter looking to take advantage of a serious cut.

"If you ever saw somebody who fought with a huge cut over his eye and had to deal with the cut and an opponent in front of him and win the fight -- it is all the things I had to deal with," Cotto said. "I had a huge cut over my eye, a strong opponent in front of me, and I was the winner of the fight. I learned how to deal with huge problems in a title fight."

Freddie Roach, Pacquiao's trainer and a mind games expert, is predicting his man will score a first-round knockout against Cotto. Roach firmly said he does not believe Cotto has recovered from the beating he took against Margarito.

"Look at his last two fights. He's slower, he's more methodical. He doesn't have a trainer anymore, so he drops his left before he throws it now," said Roach, taking a shot at Santiago, the longtime assistant who replaced Cotto's uncle and longtime trainer, Evangelista Cotto, after uncle and nephew had a bitter falling-out a few months before the Clottey fight. "He doesn't have anyone correcting his mistakes. He's just slower, the physical effects of the fight. He has bad habits with no one to correct them."

So does that mean Roach believes Pacquiao (49-3-2, 37 KOs) will be facing damaged goods?

"You could look at it that way," he said. "Everyone gets knocked out, but it's how they come back from it. Some guys come back well, some don't. I don't think Cotto has done well coming back from it. I think it's affected him a lot. Damaged good since Margarito. We're not saying Margarito was doing anything illegal because that will never be known, because somebody wasn't doing their job in his camp [by not watching the hand wrapping]."

Roach and his pupil do not agree on Cotto's state since the Margarito fight.

"He's still a good fighter. He's still strong. He still can fight," Pacquiao said. "He's still the same fighter."

Pacquiao knows a thing or two about rebounding from a knockout loss. In fact, Pacquiao did it twice, although under different circumstances. He was an inexperienced 17-year-old in 1996 in his 12th bout when Rustico Torrecampo stopped him in the third round. Pacquiao went on to win the flyweight championship two years later, but lost it in another third-round knockout, to Medgoen Singsurat in 1999, when he was 20.

Pacquiao, who has won titles in six weight classes and is gunning for a record seventh against Cotto, attributed both his losses to being weight drained.

"After the [losses], I was thinking I'm going to stop boxing, boxing don't like me," Pacquiao said. "But since then, I was thinking maybe it was to force me to focus more on boxing."

Arum said too much is made about Cotto's one defeat.

"Cotto wasn't an older fighter. He was a young fighter, and young fighters are much more resilient," Arum said. "I've seen it happen so often. Look at Tommy Hearns getting knocked out by Sugar Ray Leonard or Marvin Hagler, and he comes back from both and is outstanding. He was an elite fighter. Cotto is an elite fighter."

Still, Cotto is as much as a 3-1 underdog and the clear second fiddle in a promotion centered on Pacquiao. However, Cotto appears unmoved by the hoopla surrounding his opponent or the lack of respect he is getting in some quarters.

"I don't know anything about the betting business," he said. "I am just here to try and bring my best every day in the gym and in training camp, and I am working to beat Manny. If the people bet for Manny, it is all right with me. I am here for myself and not any kind of bet. All the people that are betting for Manny Pacquiao are not going to change the result of this fight."

For the second consecutive training camp since splitting with Evangelista Cotto and turning head training duties over to Santiago, Cotto quietly went about getting ready for the fight with his tight-knit team in Tampa, Fla. Pacquiao, meanwhile, dealt with the distractions of training in the typhoon-ravaged Philippines, a move to lower ground in Manila, then the long trip to Los Angeles for the last couple of weeks of camp.

"I am here to do my work," Cotto said. "I am not an artist. I am just a boxer, and I have to be focused on the things I am going to do on [Saturday], and that is the reason I am here.

"I have done the right things in my camp to make a great fight on Saturday. I have no doubt I am going to be the winner of this fight. It is going to be a great fight for me and the fans and all the people in the boxing world."

If Cotto is right, you won't be hearing about the Margarito fight any time soon.

Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.