Mayweather vs. Cotto: Another Déjà Vu?

By Gideon Animanno: When two marauding warriors from different directions but with same destination, in search of glory happen to cross path, the resultant effect is epic in proportion. Come May 5, the boxing world will witness another night of a display of some of the sport's top talents. On that weekend of mexico's independence anniversary(cinco de mayo), Floyd mayweather jnr will square up against Peurto Rico's Miguel Cotto at the MGM grand in the desert 'sin city' of Las Vegas. This fight has been in the offing for about 7years or so, dating back to the days when both boxers were at Bob Arum's Top Rank Promotions but boxing's politics made sure fight fans would have to wait all this while before this bout happened. Better late than never, they say.

Michigan is home to America's automobile industry but this mid west state is also home to some of boxing's great stories. In the late seventies through to the eighties and beyond, Detroit's own Thomas 'hitman' Hearns, nicknamed the motor city cobra, then trained by legendary coach Emmanuel steward of the famous Kronk boxing gym gave boxing fans a lot to cheer about with their blood, sweat and tears in the ring. Same time as Hearns reigned, a boxing dynasty was being built. The Mayweathers. Father, Floyd snr and uncle roger, from Grand Rapids were chatting their own courses in the ring. Younger uncle Jeff too followed suit. Fast forward to the mid nineties, a young Floyd mayweather jnr, would start putting the mayweather name in gold and cement their legacy in the sport. Coming from such a huge boxing family meant 'little Floyd' would get a firm grip of boxing's fundamentals as well as an array of skills to match his undoubtedly huge God given talent. His amateur career was a tonic for success. Even though Floyd jnr didn't win gold at the Atlanta 96' Olympic games under controversial circumstances, his bronze medal winning feat was enough to give him the needed confidence to turn pro right after the games. Roberto Apodaca was the first test for Mayweather jnr in the professional ranks, and he passed that test with a 2nd round TKO win. The rest, is history in the making.

Miguel Angel Cotto, from Caguas, Puerto Rico stands across the other side of the ring on the night of May 5. Having lost to Mohammed Abdulaev in the first round of the Sydney Olympics in 2000, Cotto turned pro months later when he fought Jason Doucet. That was the beginning of a boxing journey which could be described as a successful one, albeit the setbacks and controversies surrounding it.

Floyd Mayweather jnr and Miguel Cotto have come a long way in their boxing careers and the two are future hall of famers, with the former being a sure bet first pick. Mayweather's boxing successes began just two years of his pro debut when he defeated then reigning WBC super featherweight champion Genaro Hernandez(RIP). Hernandez had captured the title when he won a split decision over Ghana's Azumah Nelson in march 97' but a year and a half later, he would lose it to a young and hungrier mayweather, in what was his 18th pro fight. Floyd went on to beat the likes of Angel Manfredy, Justin Juuko, Emmanuel Augustus and the rest. But it was until his January 20th 2001 fight with Diego 'Chico' Corrales(RIP), that catapulted Floyd into the real limelight of the boxing sphere. Corrales, who was a 33-0, coming into that fight was one of the rising talents that time. En route to the 10th round TKO, Floyd knocked Chico down five times before his corner threw in the towel.

Mayweather had two more fights at 130 lbs, against Carlos Hernandez and Jesus Chavez before moving up to face Jose Luis Castillo in april 2002 for the WBC lightweight title. On that night at the MGM grand, in what many see as the blueprint to beat Floyd, Castillo's awkward fighting style was very difficult for mayweather in the earlier rounds but he managed to adapt to win most of the championship rounds. Even though most at ringside thought Castillo would win the close fight, the judges were unanimous in their decision in favor of mayweather. News from team mayweather indicated that floyd's noted hand problem was a worry in that fight. December 2002 saw mayweather rematch Castillo at the Mandalay Bay. This time, with no questions, Floyd adapted to Castillo's style again en route to another unanimous decision. Till date, mayweather critics site the first Castillo fight as the blueprint for beating him; and that going to the body is key to beating floyd; something he and his followers vehemently object to.

Floyd defended his title twice against Victoriano Sosa, by unanimous decision and a knockout victory win over Philip Ndou. Floyd moved up to light welterweight to face DeMarcus 'chop chop' Corley. Corley survived two knockdowns to lose a unanimous decision to Floyd but talking point for Mayweather critics was how he was rocked in the third and fifth rounds by Corley.

Fast forward Cotto's career to 2004, came the October 11 fight with Kelson Pinto for the vacant WBO light welterweight title. The Brazilian Pinto, who had beaten Cotto twice in the amateurs was a real match for Miguel. Cotto turned the tables, and secured a vital 6th round TKO. Cotto then went on to defend the title against Randall Bailey, 'Chop chop' Corley, Ricardo Torres, Malignaggi, another revenge win against an amateur foe in the shape of Muhammad Abdulaev, and the likes.

At this point in time, the demand for a mayweather-Cotto clash had gathered considerable momentum and reached a crescendo, and understandably so; they were both under the same promoter, Bob Arum, they were both undefeated, they both competed in the 140-147 lbs region, they were both heir apparent in many 'boxing jurisdictions'. Cotto was taking over from the legendary Puerto Rican, Felix 'Tito' Trinidad, mayweather was had also destooled Roy Jones from the mythical pound for pound rankings, they both had a large proportion of the boxing followership, et al.

In January 2005, mayweather fought Henry Bruseles at the American airlines arena in Miami. Floyd won via a 8th round TKO. Years later, we would be told that this fight was proposed by Top Rank Promotions president Todd duboef. Team mayweather claim after they had requested for a Cotto fight, Duboef asked them to fight Bruseles first, apparently as a measure of his performance if Floyd were to fight Cotto since he had same style as Bruseles. Mayweather's manager, Leonard Ellerbe claim Cotto was being protected by duboef. After the Bruseles fight Floyd went on to demolish warrior Arturo Gatti(RIP) for the WBC 140 lbs belt. After the Gatti triumph, Mayweather moved up in weight to the 147 lbs division, where he's been stationed since, albeit the trip to 154 lbs to fight De La Hoya and now against Cotto. Sharmba Mitchell was dispatched in six round as Floyd marked his welterweight debut.

Floyd then took on childhood friend Zab Judah for the IBF welterweight title. In that highly anticipated bout, brooklyn born Judah got off to an early start, rocking Floyd with some crisp left hands and moving around pretty well. Even in the second round, floyd's gloves touched the canvas after a right hook by judah but legendary referee, Richard Steele ruled it as a slip. As expected, Judah's stamina came to play in the mid rounds onwards as Floyd adjusted well and started landing those jabs from different angles and his trademark straight right hands. A tiring Judah, who virtually had his hands very low in his southpaw stance was left wandering about in the ring in a survival mode.

Then came the tenth round when Judah hit Floyd low and followed it with a rabbit punch. Mayweather's uncle and trainer roger mayweather entered the ring, furious and Judah's corner did same. A nasty riot erupted in the ring afterwards involving both corner and security. After the chaos settled, the fight picked up from where it left off. Floyd won a unanimous decision. But during the course of the riot, I noticed one significant trait about Floyd. His calmness in the ring and his approach toward the whole Chaotic scene. That's how focused he is; albeit his cockiness, his public display of wealth and all those negatives. Another important development was that, this was mayweather's last fight under Bob Arum's Top Rank Promotions. A move that will affect his career forever; a move that benefitted him in terms of revenue. Just as De la Hoya left Arum and saw record revenue, Floyd did same. Floyd's business godfather, Al Haymon was instrumental in relieving Floyd of his contract with Top Rank. During this time, Floyd adopted a new moniker, "money mayweather", to depict his new found economic freedom. "pretty boy Floyd" had paved way for "money".

On the other hand Cotto was also on pursuing his quest for greatness. In December 2006, 'junito' made his welterweight debut to challenge Carlos Quintana for the WBA welterweight title. Cotto beat an undefeated Quintana via a 5th round tko. Cotto made four successful defenses of his WBA 147 lbs belt, against German Oktay Urkal, tko win against Zab Judah, Shane Mosley and Alfonso Gomez. Floyd fought Carlos Baldomir in November 2006 for the WBC belt. Many felt Floyd should have pursued a much more tougher fight; like against Cotto or Margarito or Mosley. With many critics citing Baldomir as a journey man who was lucky to have had back to back victories against an over the hill Arturo Gatti and a 'not too serious' Zab Judah. Well, matter of fact is Floyd got same money as being offered by margarito when he fought Baldomir. Floyd won all the rounds en route to a unanimous decision victory against Baldomir.

This fight was Floyd's first outside Top Rank and it was his highest earning($8m) at the time. Floyd then fought De La Hoya in May 2007 in a record revenue generating fight at the MGM grand. The bout which grossed $165 million in total also broke the ppv record with 2.45 million buys. De La Hoya made $52 million out of this fight whiles Floyd made $26 million. The revenue aspect aside, the bout dubbed "the world awaits" wasn't really your Haggler-Hearns or Leonard-Hearns type of match. Oscar was the busier of the two but Floyd was landing at highly precise rate. The match ended in a surprisingly split decision in favor of Floyd. Surprising because the numbers and what we saw tells us it should have been a unanimous verdict for Floyd. CompuBox Punch stats had Oscar throwing 587 punches and landing 122, which is 21%. Floyd on the other hand threw 481 punches, almost a 100 less than Oscar did but landed 207, which is 43%. Floyd weighed a career high of 150 lbs and used a 10 ounce gloves in that fight. Oscar comfortably weighed 154 lbs.

Floyd complained that the gloves felt like "pillows" against Oscar, and has requested to use an 8 oz gloves against Cotto, even though he says he'll fight with 10 oz if not granted.

Mayweather went on to defeat the then undefeated British boxing icon Ricky Hatton at the MGM Grand in front of an exciting atmosphere, mainly due to the drumming and noise making of Hatton's followers, who had made the long trip across the atlantic. According to many, that was one of boxing's liveliest crowd ever. The fight itself was scrappy due to Hatton's aggressive approach and referee Joe Cortez had a hard time manning the game. Hatton had some early success as he backed floyd down at times but Floyd as usual picked his shots as they came, timing and sizing up Hatton for openings. In the tenth round, mayweather caught an on rushing Hatton with a check left hook which sent the British boxer crushing his head against one of the padding on a corner post en route to falling down. A dazed Hatton managed to beat the count but Floyd followed up till Cortez ended the fight. Afterwards Floyd announced his retirement, the second time in the year after he said same when he had conquered Oscar.

This time he was gone for a good while, for almost two years. Destiny meant Cotto would face a known cheater in the shape of Antonio Margarito, which changed his life forever. On that summer night of 27th July 2007, at the MGM grand, Cotto was receiving a beating of his life. He started well in the early rounds but Margarito, nicknamed the "Tijuana tornado", possibly fighting with loaded gloves full of plaster of Paris took over from the mid rounds as he relentlessly chased down a tiring Cotto. The damage was so severe that Cotto was bleeding profusely by round 11 and his corner had to throw in the towel. Cotto looked liked he's been pulled from a car wreckage all due to the pounding he received. Years later after Margarito would be caught by Mosley's trainer brother Naazim Richardson having white substances suspected to be plaster of Paris, prior to his fight with Mosley, it will also emerge that Margarito might have started using this crude method long ago, with potential victims including Joshua Clottey, Paul Williams, Kermit Cintron and Miguel Cotto. The psychological effect it had on Cotto was telling. Knowing somebody took your "0" by cheating and the kind of punishment you took has added what we term in boxing "more years to your age".

Cotto had another crack at a world title when he fought Michael Jennings for the WBO welterweight title at the Madison Square Garden. Cotto won via a 5th round TKO. He managed to pull off a split decision against Joshua Clottey in a grueling encounter with the tough Ghanaian at the Garden. Mayweather returned to the sport in September 2009 to take on Mexican slugger and fellow counter-punching expert Juan Manuel Marquez. Floyd made easy work of "dinamita" en route to a lopsided unanimous decision victory. Mayweather was criticized for taking this Marquez fight because to many, he was bigger than dinamita. Cotto lost his WBO welterweight belt in another punishment loss when he took on Filipino boxer Manny Pacquiao at the MGM in November 2009. An obviously drained Cotto, weighing 145lbs, his lowest ever at welterweight couldn't match up to Pacquiao's hand speed and movement, and had to back peddle for most part of he fight, on survival mode. Pacquiao won via a 11th round tko. Wins over Yuri Foreman and Nicaraguan Ricardo Mayorga at 154 lbs set up a rematch against Margarito at the Garden in December 2011. Cotto boxed beautifully en route to a 10th round stoppage victory. But Cotto's errors were still visible; fighting with his legs too wide open and leading with his head down. And his tissue-paper like face which gets easily bust upped will have to be strengthened because that might be a worry for him against Floyd. Mayweather's last two fights, a one sided unanimous victory against Shane Mosley and a 4th round KO of Victor Ortiz has seen Floyd come in a little different from the one we knew years back.

Now he's standing in pocket and banging it out. The jabs are paving way for more "pot shotting". Mayweather is likely to counter most of Cotto's jabs with those straight right hands. Cotto's trainer Pedro Diaz will have to devise a way to get through Floyd's defense. Floyd is a pure boxer, with less punching power but his skills are just marvelous. His work ethics is without doubt a perfect one. His mantra, "hard work and dedication" epitomizes a super athlete who despite his egos, doesn't joke with his trade. Cotto too combines a bit of boxing and slugfest, and fighting from the inside might be an option for Cotto but as to whether Floyd will leave himself in that position with Cotto remains highly unlikely. Going to the body against Floyd has been touted as being an option as Hatton and Castillo are believed to have had some successes against him. But going to the body means leaving yourself open for a sharp left hook or counter right, and cotto is open to more uppercuts considering how lowered his head is in his bent stance and he will have to deal with the shoulder roll and those high elbow blocks from floyd.

Floyd has quite an unusual reach, coming in at 72 inches compared to Cotto's 67 inches and that will definitely be a factor. Another factor is the mental toughness of Cotto. His ability to stay focused during the fight will be key as many of Floyd's opponents often get frustrated with his defense and his style. Floyd's boxing iq is unheralded and his masterful craftiness will be too difficult for Miguel Cotto come May 5; there will be no room for errors from Cotto because as Mayweather puts it, he(Cotto) will pay for every error made. Junito would have to be at his upmost best on that night. but this is boxing, Cotto has a punchers chance too...

Article posted on 18.04.2012

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