- Dan Rafael, Boxing
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If promoter Bob Arum has his way, 2006 will be a huge year for his rising star, junior welterweight titlist Miguel Cotto.
He fights in a hot division and Arum gets excited talking about potential matches for Cotto.
"Although we're not, and Miguel certainly isn't, taking lightly the fight [Saturday] and possibly another fight in December, the year 2006 is going to be big, big, big for Miguel," Arum said.
"We're looking for guys like Ricky Hatton and 'Pretty Boy' Floyd Mayweather. So you're seeing now the finishing touches on the emerging superstar, and in 2006 hopefully he will be able to claim the mantle of the real, real superstar."
Hatton emerged as the recognized 140-pound champion with his TKO of Kostya Tszyu June 11. Mayweather, the pound-for-pound king who is also promoted by Arum, stopped Arturo Gatti to claim a junior welterweight title two weeks later.
Cotto against either man would certainly qualify as a super fight, but before either match can be explored seriously, he has to keep winning.
That brings us to Saturday night (HBO, 10 ET/PT), when Cotto (24-0, 20 KOs) will face a largely unknown, but seemingly dangerous, mandatory challenger in Ricardo Torres (28-0, 26 KOs) at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J.
In the main event, heavyweights Samuel Peter (24-0, 21 KOs) and Wladimir Klitschko (44-3, 40 KOs) square off in an elimination fight that looms as the most significant non-title heavyweight bout of the year.
Torres, of Colombia, brings an impressive record, strong amateur background and an aura of mystery into the fight. It's a similar scenario to the one Ricardo Mayorga found himself in a few years ago. Mayorga was also a big puncher and a mandatory challenger but an unknown commodity until he ripped through then-welterweight champions Andrew "Six Heads" Lewis and Vernon Forrest to become a breakout star.
"It's been a long time since a boxer with the skills of Torres has come out of Colombia," manager Billy Chams said. "He is a good boxer with a big punch and he had an excellent amateur career."
Torres was not Cotto's original opponent. Instead, Torres took the fight on about three weeks' notice after original opponent Gianluca Branco suffered a hand injury while training. The move, though, hasn't fazed Cotto.
"To me it doesn't matter," Cotto said. "The change of opponent, it really doesn't affect what I want to do and what I need to do in the ring. I just know that I have to be well prepared to fight."
Arum isn't too concerned either because he planned to match Cotto and Torres in December in order to fulfill the mandatory and leave 2006 wide open for optional fights.
"Well, it generally is a source of trepidation," Arum said of switching opponents.
"It wasn't so much in this case because, in truth, Miguel was planning to fight in December and we were all agreed that we would get rid of the mandatory. So really this is a consequence of moving the mandatory up a few months. In other words, before all of these big plans could be put in effect, we knew Miguel would be facing Ricardo Torres. We just didn't think it would be in September. Rather, we thought it would be in December."
Arum already was priming Cotto's Puerto Rican fans for the eventual fight. He put Torres on a card there in the main event on Aug. 5 so the fans and media could get a close look at the future title challenger. It was Torres' first fight outside Colombia, and he was impressive in knocking out Edwin Vazquez in the third round.
Cotto, however, already was familiar with Torres. They have been in the ring together twice before.
The first time came when they were amateurs at a 2000 pre-Olympic tournament in Tampa. Their recollections of the fight differ, but they both agree that Cotto won a competitive fight.
"I won 11-5, 11-7, something like that," said Cotto, 24, who represented Puerto Rico in the 2000 Olympics.
Torres, who just missed making the Colombian Olympic team, had a slightly different recollection.
"We had a draw [8-8] and we had to go the computer to get a winner, and Cotto got the win because he threw more punches," Torres said. "I had no argument with that. He was the busier fighter that night."
The second meeting came about 16 months ago, when they sparred three rounds in Cotto's hometown of Caguas.
"We did not do any damage to each other," Torres, 25, said. "It was just three rounds of work for both us. Cotto's got fast hands and is very strong, but I'm very strong myself and when we meet it will be like a train looking for a collision."
If Cotto can escape the oncoming train, the plan is for him to fight again in December on a pay-per-view card before looking for one of the big showdowns in 2006.
"We believe that when we have a young fighter, before you get up into the stratosphere where you fight maybe twice a year, you want to fight as many times as is possible," Arum said.
"We plan for him to fight four times this year and [Saturday] will be the third time. So we would look forward to doing a fight in December."
Torres, however, hopes to derail that plan.
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.
Miguel Cotto faces Ricardo Torres Saturday in a duel of unbeaten junior welterweights. But Cotto's camp hopes this is just a step toward 2006 showdowns with Ricky Hatton and Floyd Mayweather.