Ignore the hype: Mayweather Cotto

boxingBy Alex McMillan: In the midst of the latest chapter of the will they, won’t they drama of Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, the former eventually settled on a fight with light middleweight Champion Miguel Cotto. Cotto is much loved and well respected, both as fighter and, by all accounts it appears, as man. One assumes that really the latter details – his popularity – are what has brought him the fight. Floyd needs a light-middleweight belt about as much as he needs a rematch with Ricky Hatton. But Cotto brings a following, fanatical fans, a ‘road to redemption’ story, the very real desire to fight for the memory of his father, and ultimately of course, box office.

Meanwhile Pacquiao fights Timothy Bradley. A less fashionable fight, certainly. Not a tremendous story, less than fanatical support (even fighting within the United States one suspects Pacquiao will be more popular), and certainly far less box office. Conventional wisdom seems to hold the belief that Mayweather is taking a much bigger risk: fighting a bigger man, at a higher weight, using bigger gloves than he’s generally preferred. And not asking for a catch-weight, as Manny did. (Though the fact Floyd insisted Juan Manuel Marquez did for their own bout seems to have generally escaped that particular area of comparison).. Whether Bradley poses a greater challenge to Pacquiao than Cotto does to Mayweather is an interesting question, worthy of discussion, but the immediate question, 2 days before they enter the ring, is to what problems Cotto will realistically post Mayweather Saturday night.

Since losing to Margarito – in controversial fashion of course - and to Pacquiao, who took him apart, Cotto has had 3 wins. The first of those was for the light-middleweight belt he now defends, stopping the previously undefeated Yuri Forman after 9 rounds. Foreman is a decent technician, certainly. But perhaps of most appeal for the Cotto matchmakers’ thinking at that time was that fact Foreman can boast only 2 wins by KO in 30 fights (having also lost subsequently to Pawel Wolak, losing every round before retiring after 6). Wolak himself went on to lose to… Delvin Rodriguez… I think you see where I’m going here.

After claiming the title, Cotto won a 12th round TKO against Ricardo Mayorga. Once a fearsome, unpredictable fighter (the two wins over Vernon Forrest spring instantly to mind) Mayorga by this stage had lost something of his aura, dropping 4 of 8, his only win in 4 years being a split decision verdict over a similarly-faded Fernando Vargas who himself hadn’t claimed a win in over 2 years or a KO since 2001!

Then of course, came Cotto’s redemptive victory over Margarito. Justice, many would say. Therapy perhaps, for a fighter who, prior to the 2008 defeat, had looked a genuine contender to compete with the likes of Mayweather and Pacquiao for superstar status. It’s impossible to gauge how much damage was done to him in what was a fairly brutal beating by the time the referee intervened to pull Margarito off him, and of course with the controversy post-bout one can only feel for Cotto if significant damage was inflicted ‘unlawfully’ as it were. But by last December, it must be said, Margarito was likewise a shadow of his 2008 prime. He too had endured an all too drawn out beating at the hands of Pacquiao, before which he had been equally exposed, albeit in less brutal fashion, by Shane Mosley. Contining the theme of Cotto’s opponents, by the rematch he could boast only one win in 3 years.

Given the punishment of his two defeats, the careful management of Cotto’s career since is understandable. No-one would seriously call into question his decision to face Foreman over any number of more ferocious punchers when the opportunity to claim a world title arose. Likewise, the Margarito episode was always going to require revenge. Serious questions must be raised over the performance in between however – especially as many people point to Cotto’s power as his best chance to upset Mayweather. Oscar De la Hoya had Mayorga down three times during their 2006 fight, at a similar weight, yet Cotto struggled five years later to impose himself, eventually knocking him over in the twelfth, forcing the stoppage. Question marks must be raised as to what is left of Cotto’s power, what damage he can realistically be expected to inflict on Mayweather, far more elusive and far more reactive than either Mayorga or Margarito?

While in recent years Cotto has endured such highs and lows, beatings and revenge, neither Mayweather’s credentials nor his punch resistence have been seriously called into question. Since his 2007 dismantling of Ricky Hatton (more on him in a moment) he’s had a lopsided defence, some would say under lopsided conditions (catch-weight, Floyd’s 2nd favourite accusation towards Pacquiao at present) against the perennially unfortunate Marquez (can’t someone give this guy one fair fight/decision?); has come through a momentary scare on the way to a dominant decision over Shane Mosley, and last September of course beat Victor Ortiz in rather disappointing fashion.

Very few questions then, on what’s left in the Mayweather tank. Probably fair to say he’s absolutely peak right now, as always in fantastic condition and hardly taken a punch in 5 years. His issues external to the ring may be cited, but the Mayweather’s have always had issues outside the ring, be it with authority or with each other. Thus far Floyd’s performances in the ring have never been affected: it’s hard to see why something should change that Saturday night.

Cotto has faced real adversity. He’s been beaten, once controversially, once emphatically. He’s a proud man, a credit to the sport. Everyone seems to root for him (this writer included). At the higher weight, with the gloves in his favour, perhaps he has a chance. In theory, he has a formula: he punches to the body, he has (or had?) decent power. Certainly he isn’t afraid of Floyd. The arguments many make about him being the man to topple Floyd bear striking resemblance to those said before the Ricky Hatton fight. That Hatton could pin Mayweather down as he had Kostya Tszyu, that he could work the body and slow him down… And this was a prime Hatton. In the end of course, Mayweather was too fast, too reactive in his punching, too powerful (often overlooked). Yes, Saturday night’s fight is at a higher weight, yes they are using ‘Cotto’s gloves’. But one must consider whether the Mayweather camp would agree to either of those conditions – having previously dictated catchweight to Marquez - if they considered him anything other than a fighter someway in decline. Here’s hoping, should it go the way this writer expects, Cotto’s corner don’t subject him to any further unnecessary damage.

Article posted on 04.05.2012

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