By Mariano A. Agmi
Photos: Marty Rosengarten/RingsidePhotos.com
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Miguel Cotto returns to the familiar surroundings of Madison Square Garden on Saturday, February 21, when he takes on unknown British import Michael Jennings of Chorley, England, for the vacant WBO welterweight title. The former two-division champion is back at his home away from home, where he experienced an enormous amount of success in title bouts against the likes of Shane Mosley, Zab Judah and Paulie Malignaggi. Cotto was at the Wamu Theater at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday for the final press conference to announce his bout against Jennings for the WBO title vacated by Paul Williams. This will mark the first time Cotto has fought since his scintillating loss to Antonio Margarito in an 11-round war last July. The Top Rank card is part of a split-site Pay-Per-View telecast that includes the return of middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik against Marco Antonio Rubio from the champ’s hometown of Youngstown, Ohio.
Despite the attention and long shadow that his only conqueror cast upon the promotion, Cotto (32-1, 26 KOs) insists that he is prepared and fully focused to regain a portion of the welterweight title on Saturday against the former English and British welterweight champion:
“We’re confident. We trained for the last two months and we’re ready for everything Michael can bring,” stated the Puerto Rican sensation. “We’re going to do anything in our hands to come back to Puerto Rico with the title.”
“Anything” does not include employing illegal hand wraps against his opponent, which is exactly what Antonio Margarito was accused of attempting before trainer Nazeem Richardson pointed out an irregularity in the “Tijuana Tornado’s” hand wraps before a bout against “Sugar” Shane Mosley on January 24th. After the hand wraps were confiscated by the California State Athletic Commission, Mosley went on to batter Margarito for 8 intense rounds until the Tornado’s corner stopped the drubbing in round 9.
Commenting on the “Wrapgate Scandal,” Cotto stated that “It’s sad when you hear that Margarito used something hard in his hand wraps and he says that he didn’t know what was put on his hands. That’s a lie. We are boxers and we should know what is being placed on our hands. We have to tell our trainers when the wrap feels good or bad.”
Cotto emphasized that he always speaks in the plural when talking about his preparation for bouts because he and his team bear responsibility for his preparation and what he brings with him into the ring: “We are a team. I’m responsible for what my uncle [trainer Evangelista Cotto] puts in my hands. You are always aware of what your trainer puts in your hands.” However, Cotto does not like to think that he was the victim of an illegality against Margarito: “Sports competition is about skills, preparation and coming in shape. I prefer to think that [Margarito] had a great night in July.”
Perhaps receiving little media attention might not be a bad thing for Michael Jennings, as he gets to play the role of spoiler against a superb fighter who may not be fully focused on his task at hand. “I’ve trained 100%, training camp has gone really well and I will show everyone a great fight on Saturday night,” insisted the 31-year-old.
The slick combination puncher sports a record of 34-1 (16 KOs) and is a former English and British welterweight champion. Jennings is ecstatic about making his United States debut: “It is a dream come true to fight in New York at Madison Square Garden, the Mecca of Boxing, where all the legends have fought.”
In an interesting bout between all-action brawlers, “Ireland’s” John Duddy (25-0, 17 KOs) faces Matt “The Predator” Vanda (39-8, 22 KOs) in a 10 round middleweight bout. Vanda, who gave Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. all he could handle in their first bout last year, promises that he is fully prepared to provide the fans with a show stealing fight: “I have close to 100 rounds of sparring for this fight. My body is feeling great and my timing is on,” said The Predator. Aware of Duddy’s popularity in New York, where he has sold out the Garden’s Theater on a number of occasions, Vanda countered: “I love hostile crowds and I hope the entire crowd is against me. John Duddy is a very tough up-and-coming fighter and I’d love to be the guy to give him his first loss.”
The 29-year-old Duddy, who hired respected trainer Pat Burns to morph his style from a face-first brawler into a boxer-puncher, agreed that this will be a war: “I don’t think that anyone is going to be disappointed on Saturday night. We’re going to get the show off to an explosive start.”
The telecast will open with 26-year-old Matt Korobov, a Russian middleweight prospect who was very impressive in a one round destruction of Roberto Florentino on the Mosley-Margarito undercard on January 24th. In that bout, Korobov used a disciplined body attack and hellacious combinations to stop his opponent in the first round.
Korobov, a 2008 Russian Olympian with a decorated amateur record including 300 victories, may just be Top Rank’s answer to Golden Boy’s Danny Jacobs in the middleweight division. As a professional, Korobov is 3-0 with 3 knockouts and is training out of Florida under the tutelage of noted trainer Dan Birmingham. “I worked very hard for this fight,” said Korobov. “I am so blessed to fight on this undercard and I hope to one day headline a card at Madison Square Garden.”
Korobov’s bout against Cory Jones (4-4, 1 KO) was promoted from the untelevised portion of the card as a substitute for Anthony Peterson, who pulled out of his fight with Edner Cherry due to a knee injury.
Wrapping up the press conference was Maureen Shea of the Bronx, who brings an undefeated record of 13-0, 7 KOs.
Shea, who gained amateur fame as she helped prepare Hillary Swank for her role in “Million Dollar Baby,” is excited to make history on Saturday night against Kina Malpartida of Lima, Peru (8-3, 1 KO): “I’m well aware that I will be fighting to be the first female super featherweight that the WBA has ever recognized as a world champion. This opportunity is huge for me. I’m extremely excited and well prepared for it. I promise that I will fight with all my heart on Saturday.”
Bob Arum had the funniest quip of the conference, as he provided a bit of color to help describe Shea’s background: “Maureen’s father is Irish, that’s the ‘Shea’ part. Her mother is Mexican, and that’s the beauty part,” said Arum. I wonder what John Duddy thought about that introduction?
“Two World Title Fights – One Night” featuring Cotto-Jennings from Madison Square Garden in New York and Pavlik-Rubio from Youngstown, Ohio, will be shown live on Pay-Per-View on Saturday, February 21st.