By Jason Keidel
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Lost in the blinding kaleidoscope of recent New York sports– the Rangers, Knicks, Yanks, Mets, and NFL draft picks – is the fact that a big bout is taking place tomorrow night in Las Vegas, where Miguel Cotto is fighting Floyd Mayweather, Jr. And while boxing has been relegated to the back alleys of the sports pages and deep folds of the American psyche, there are several compelling themes to this fight.

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There’s an ancient marketing maxim – there’s no such thing as bad publicity – that reeks of greed, of Gordon Gekko gone wild, of ravenous capitalism.

But it’s also true.

And Floyd Mayweather Jr. is Exhibit A. Love or loathe the loquacious boxer, he commands your attention. I fall into the latter, not because he loves himself, or is prone to flash gratuitous cash before the camera, but because his tongue has become too toxic and he violates an implicit agreement among his boxing brethren. He neither respects his peers nor his predecessors.

Mayweather, has said on several occasions that he’s better than Ray Robinson and Muhammad Ali. Perhaps you need be a devotee of boxing history to understand how blasphemous that is. And since he makes $20 million per fight without the sacrilege, there’s no need to say it. Ali was the provocateur nonpareil, and Mayweather is just a paltry imitation.

He also unleashed a YouTube rant on Manny Paquiao that could open a Klan rally. He made an absurd statement about Jeremy Lin, and shows constant contempt for the very people who make a living the same way he does.

You don’t have to take my word for it. Just watch the endless Mayweather montages on HBO’s “24/7” series. Mayweather drags cameramen and 50 Cent around the Vegas Strip, betting his bricks of $100 bills on basketball games. In fact, he was so detached from the “Face-off” segment with Max Kellerman and Cotto that Kellerman asked Mayweather why he was so mesmerized by his smart phone and some distant television screen.

“I bet on Ohio State,” Mayweather said, referring to an NCAA basketball tournament game. “I’m giving four points in the first half.”

Lost in the theatrics is Mayweather’s opponent tomorrow night: Miguel Cotto (37-2), a humble man who finds enough solace in the sweet science to avoid the verbal trappings that are so synonymous with Mayweather.

Cotto, 31, has lost one legitimate fight, to Pacquiao, at a time when everyone lost to Pacman. His other loss, to Antonio Margarito, has been clouded in controversy because Margarito may have tampered with his gloves to gain an advantage. Indeed, he was busted and suspended for one year for that very offense against Shane Mosley.

Cotto is a throwback, a man who literally does his talking with his fists, and leaves the drama at the door. If anyone needed a proper antidote to Mayweather, both in an out of the ring, Cotto fits the bill flawlessly.

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Also lost in Mayweather’s bombast is his skill, which is prodigious. Had he shown a modicum of modesty, we would be talking about a transcendent boxer whose place in history would be a very valid discussion.

Mayweather (42-0) reminds you a bit of Roy Jones Jr. Both are named after men they love and hate: their fathers. Jones, though not as egregious as Mayweather with his machismo, was never shy to share his opinions about himself. Each is similar in talent and temerity and, as Jones finally lost his lightning speed, the same fate will befall Mayweather, whose transcendent reflexes are what keep the crown on his head.

At 35, Mayweather is perilously close to the time when Father Time takes over, as he invariably does. It’s a slow drip down the nervous system, stealing synapses, and distilling a boxing match to the buffer between a missed punch and a left hook on the jaw that blasts the sweat off his formerly pristine brow. Saturday will tell us if Floyd and Father time have finally met.

I am grateful to Mayweather for one thing: he keeps boxing in the sporting lexicon, breaths life into a dying sport. While the next great heavyweight now plays linebacker for the Giants or power forward for the Rockets, the lighter men who have no place in team sports can still bang.

Sadly, the man who wants us to think he’s a conduit to his community, a misunderstood man who always remembers his rugged rearing in Grand Rapids, is going to jail shortly after the Cotto bout. Mayweather got permission from a judge to postpone his sentence to rake in another payday. Mayweather will spend about 3 months in the pokey for provoking a domestic violence case.

This is now the face of boxing, an alleged wife-beater with more arrests than Marlo Stanfield. But he can fight, and he knows it. And we know it. That’s why we watch him. Even if we want him to lose.

The result of this fight is simple. If Mayweather still has his baffling speed, he will counter-punch Cotto into oblivion, leading with lighting jabs and snapping rights over Cotto’s left lead. If Floyd has lost even a fraction of his electric traction, Cotto will make this a rather gripping fight.

We will watch because Cotto and Mayweather represent a fading visage from a formerly vital sport: greatness. Very few fights take us back to better boxing times, to when we had a cornucopia of certified gladiators, from Pryor and Arguello to Leonard and Hearns to Spinks and Qawi to Bowe and Holyfield.

Tomorrow night could double as time portal to old school pugilism. At least it’s worth a few bucks on pay-per-view to find out.

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