Philippines and Puerto Rico share a common history that diverged after their postcolonial period. Both were Spanish colonies handed to the United States after the signing of the Treaty of Paris in December 10, 1898. The Philippines went on to become an independent republic while Puerto Rico maintains its US commonwealth status, giving them a measure of autonomy but under American protectorate. This shared history somehow created quite a similar passion for a lot of sporting events, notably cockfighting, basketball, and boxing (Puerto Ricans love baseball too, a sport that has not taken a hold in the Philippines. The New York Yankee catcher Jorge Posada is from Santurce, Puerto Rico). It is in this light that the Pacquiao-Cotto fight, La Pelea del Año, is the most anticipated bout from fans across the islands of the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.
Like the Philippines, Puerto Rico is a global boxing powerhouse that ranks third in the number of world champions produced. Wilfredo Gomez, who beat Gabriel “Flash” Elorde twice in the 1960s when the Flash went up in weight, held the record for the most title defenses in the superbantamweight division and for the most successive knockouts by a titleholder. Gomez in an El Nuevo Dia interview remembered Elorde as a “strong and hardhitting puncher” like Pacquiao although the latter is more aggressive and has a left-handed stance. Gomez considered his 1964 visit to the Philippines as very good and maintained that he is enamored by the Filipinos’ sense of hospitality. “If I was to be reborn as a boxer, I would move to the Philippines,” Gomez said.
For many Boricuas (as Puerto Ricans refer to themselves here), Cotto represents what is best of contemporary Puerto Rican boxing. Miguel Cotto is a boxing prodigy from the town of Caguas who won a silver medal in the 2000 Sydney Olympics. He began his professional career then on at the age of 21. In 2004, he defeated Kelso Pinto to win the WBO junior welterweight division. He also held the WBA welterweight division before surrendering the belt to Antonio Margarito who knocked Cotto twice in the 11th round. Cotto rebounded from the loss by capturing the vacant WBO welterweight belt after a lopsided victory over Michael Jennings who was pummeled in five rounds with Cotto’s signature left hook bombs.
Boxing pundits here however are well aware of Pacquiao’s advantage in this fight. Jorge Perez, a sports columnist of El Nuevo Dia, compares the Filipino boxer’s combination of velocity and power as hurricane-like and that if Pacquiao imposes his speed on Cotto and delivers a series of combinations every time he goes in, then most likely he will win in a fashion similar to how Bernard Hopkins won against Tito Trinidad (although Hopkins is considered a slugger, his change in style in that fight confused Trinidad). A boxing expert, Margaro Cruz of Puerto Rico, remarked that Pacquiao is a spectacular fighter. “If Cotto does not come out 100% prepared for the fight then he will surely lose,” he added. Even Hector Camacho, a legendary Puerto Rican fighter, said in the Manila Times interview that Pacquiao will stop Cotto because of the Filipino’s speed and unorthodox boxing style.
The Puerto Rican boxing fans however are sure of Cotto’s victory. In El Nuevo Dia’s online poll of 20,863 respondents (as of November 11), 86.8% believe that Miguel Cotto will win compared to a measly 13.2% going for Pacquiao. In my personal interviews with Puerto Ricans, they all are in chorus that Cotto has an advantage because he is bigger and got more power punches but Pacquiao is going to be a tough fight for him. A boxing fan, Juan Romero, wrote to El Nuevo Dia saying that Cotto had defeated equally fast fighters like Paul Malignaggi, Zab Judah, and Shane Mosley, a master of the jab. He remarked that “Pacquiao has a hard time fighting aggressive punchers and is unable to fight when pressed. I think when he feels Cotto’s punches, he will have to go backwards. On the other hand, Pacquiao is underestimating Cotto and has had problems in training. I will bet on my countryman and am betting a case of beer.”
On another note, the megafight also brought to attention Filipinos living on the island. In the November 8 issue of El Nuevo Dia, a story on the family of Edgar Guerzon, a biologist married to Francelin Ortiz, a Puerto Rican microbiologist, occupied a two-page spread on the newspaper. The news feature relates the couple’s love story and their opinion on the coming fight. Francelin, who hails from Dorado, is not a big boxing fan but she wants Cotto to win. Edgar, on the other hand, is a Pacquiao fan and has already taught their two-year old daughter, Gaby, to chant “Pacquiao!”
That story in El Nuevo Dia served as a venue for Filipino expats to connect with each other. After a series of emails with Edgar Guerzon, my family is set to join a Christmas party for the very few paisanos in Puerto Rico. Meanwhile while Christmas is not yet around, we all will be glued to the TV on fight day. Like Edgar and Francelin, the outcome of the fight is not that important compared to the sense of solidarity that all Filipinos and Boricuas feel during the fight, and more importantly, the communitas that we all will share after the blood and gore is over.