A Real Fight: Mayweather vs. Cotto
It’s sad when a fighter loses his reservoir of skills; it’s justice when he walked on everyone in his path on the way up…
When boxing people reminisce about the great Puerto Rican fighters, they often break into a smile, delighting at the thought of the talent that the country has cultivated over the years. There are so many glorious moments to savor: Was it the beauty of thousands of Puerto Ricans flooding the New York City streets after José “Chegüí” Torres stopped Willie Pastrano in 1965 to win the light heavyweight title that people remember? Or do they get nostalgic thinking back to the night that a 17-year-old Wilfred Benítez bested Antonio “Kid Pambelé” Cervantes in 1976 with his ring genius and youthful defiance? Maybe it was Carlos Ortiz’s convincing victory in Hiram Bithorn Stadium over Ismael Laguna in 1965 to regain his lightweight crown? From Torres to Benítez to lightweight king Ortiz, to the indomitable Wilfredo “Bazooka” Gómez, Puerto Rico’s rich boxing tradition can never be questioned.
Tomorrow, its current boxing hero Miguel Cotto steps in against Floyd Mayweather to defend his WBA junior middleweight title. Cotto’s not as explosive as Gómez, as dominant or well-rounded as Ortiz, nor is he a ring tactician or defensive guru like the great Benítez. When it comes to one-punch power, he isn’t as powerful as Felix “Tito” Trinidad was with his vaunted left hook; and he has not captured the hearts of his people as Chegüí did with both his punch and his pen. Yet, somewhere along the way, Miguel Cotto fought and clawed his way into this exclusive company as if to say, “I belong.” And he does. Truth is, he doesn’t need Floyd Mayweather to validate his worth among his people or even to confirm his greatness, but a victory would catapult him into Puerto Rican boxing lore that is solely reserved for its untouchables.
“[When it comes to the best all-time,] first Sixto Escobar, then Wilfredo “Bazooka” Gomez, followed by “Tito” Trinidad, and then Miguel Cotto,” stated legendary Puerto Rican trainer Don Kahn. Conversely, Panamanian boxing manager and promoter Carlos Gonzalez sees it a bit differently: “For me it’s Ortiz, Trinidad, [Esteban] De Jesús, Benitez, Gomez, and Torres, but [Cotto] is definitely in the top ten.”
Debates aside, no one can dispute Cotto or Mayweather’s legacy. At 42-0 with 26 knockouts, Mayweather has been so dominant at every turn that it is easy to lose sight of his true accomplishments. Too often during the late-night boxing discussions, the conversation reverts back to the fights that Mayweather didn’t take rather than his unforgettable performances such as his destruction of the late Genaro Hernandez and Diego Corrales at 130 or his vicious knockout victory over Ricky Hatton at welterweight. At 130 he was unbeatable; at 135, he was excellent, with the exception of two ordinary performances against Jose Luis Castillo. At 140, he was brilliant. As Mayweather kept moving up, he got stronger, and maintained his quickness. As much as people try to expose the veritable chinks in his armor, it is nearly impossible. Every great fighter is allotted one or two bouts where they couldn’t get motivated and fought accordingly; Mayweather is an exception as he never takes a night off.
Unfortunately for Mayweather the one setback that he faces this Saturday in Las Vegas is that he’s meeting Cotto at an inopportune time. After eight months away from the ring, he faces Cotto coming off the most decisive win of his career. No longer is this the plodding, slow version of Cotto, still recovering after the physical and mental beating he endured against Margarito in 2008; instead, he has followed in the Arturo Gatti mold and traded his brawling style for movement and tactics. Plus, Mayweather has only fought 27 rounds since 2009; only four coming in the last year. If the Margarito return bout was a mere aberration (which I doubt) for Cotto, Saturday’s bout will expose him.
Talent-wise Mayweather has proved to naysayers that his boxing vacations have little impact on his performance; nevertheless, no fighter just walks in on Cotto after a year of inactivity and finds his rhythm again, especially with the mental anguish of dealing with a looming jail sentence.
“The trajectory of Mayweather, especially outside the ring, has proven that he can handle adversity, if not out-and-out chaos,” said Showtime analyst and boxing historian Steve Farhood. “Some fighters might not be able to handle preparations for a big fight with the knowledge that they’re facing jail time. I don’t doubt for a minute that Mayweather will be 100 percent prepared.”
Trainer Emanuel Steward once noted that Aaron Pryor thrived on the chaos leading up to his rematch with Alexis Argüello. However, Mayweather and Pryor were two different types of fighters. Pryor’s whirlwind style inside the ring perfectly paralleled the turbulence outside of it. However, Mayweather uses his often-orchestrated chaos to re-focus himself to concentrate solely on his opponent. Many claim he puts on an Oscar performance when it comes to stoking the fire.
“Floyd is not a bad guy,” said former lightweight contender and friend of Mayweather, Miguel Callist. “He likes to sell himself to make more money, but he is a disciplined and humble guy.”
If Floyd feeds off muddying the waters prior to a fight, Cotto thrives on the role of Zen master. Even when people yearned for him to unleash on Margarito in the pre-fight hype surrounding their rematch, he stayed composed. Margarito chided him often, hoping to provoke Cotto, but the Puerto Rican champ patiently waited to even the score in the ring. Mayweather and Cotto’s contrasting styles will make an interesting chess game, prompting some to question what would have happened if they met at 140 when both fighters were at their peak?
“I believe this is a fight that could have—and maybe should have—been fought about six years ago,” said writer/researcher for CompuBox, Lee Groves. “When Floyd battered WBC junior welterweight titlist Arturo Gatti in June 2005 to vault atop the pound-for-pound charts, Miguel Cotto was Floyd’s WBO counterpart. They both were undefeated, they were in their respective primes and the demand for such a fight was there. He also could have fought his IBF counterpart Ricky Hatton for the same reasons. Or perhaps he could have jumped in weight to fight Paul Williams, Antonio Margarito or Kermit Cintron at 147. By not fighting any of them he squandered a golden opportunity to build an inarguable legacy.”
As proficient as both men are in the ring, they are polar opposites away from it. When Cotto boxes and trains for a bout, he creates an intimate rapport with his audience. The antithesis of so many of his boxing colleagues, Cotto exudes a sense of pride that the audience can’t help but admire. We want to root for Cotto because there’s something honest about each of his movements. Ironically, this bond was established prior to the Margarito bouts. We didn’t need to see him fall and rise again in such a dramatic fashion in order to accept him; we already placed our utmost trust in Cotto. The rage he so classily bottled against Margarito only made us like him more.
Conversely, when Floyd Mayweather steps near a ring, the shield in impenetrable. He flaunts his wealth, and speaks without filter to hide his insecurities. Whether he’s bragging to soldiers about his mansion, mocking his opponent with racist slurs, or discussing issues (NBA) in which he is clearly out of his league, he adds another layer to the barrier that separates him from his audience. Unlike Cotto, you don’t want to root for Mayweather, and some will go to great lengths in order not to. Supporters claim this is his master plan, a facade; reality and past actions suggest otherwise. Mean-spirited is his game, and through it, he reveals his shortsightedness. What the fabulous showman has failed to realize is that the constant belittlement and degradation of the people around him will eventually be his undoing.
Nearly two years ago when Mayweather had begun to pile up his criminal offenses, he had a chance to change—the way he lived his life, and his image. Time passed, he insulted Manny Pacquiao with a racist rant, and less than a year later cursed out his father on HBO’s 24/7. But he doesn’t recognize the repercussions that he will face once his skills evaporate, when he becomes ordinary and no one cares anymore. When that time comes, for the first time in his life, he won’t be equipped to handle it. It’s sad when a fighter loses his reservoir of skills; it’s justice when he walked on everyone in his path on the way up. Some critics recognized the transformation after he played second fiddle to De La Hoya.
“Before facing De La Hoya, Floyd’s PPV numbers weren’t exceptional…he was just another guy,” said Groves. “Because of that, Floyd was obviously the ‘B-side’ of the equation in terms of public recognition compared to De La Hoya. But Floyd, recognizing he could never ‘out-good’ the ‘Golden Boy,’ put on the dark cape and created his own star.”
With the resurgence of Cotto from brawler to stylist, he may have opened doors that had been sealed tight after a one-sided loss to Manny Pacquiao in 2009. In a fabulous victory over Margarito, he rejuvenated himself and his career. Look for him to fight a much quicker fight against Mayweather. He can’t afford to bide his time over the first couple rounds. Cotto’s camp has to stress a faster start than their fighter usually gets off to. They can’t let Mayweather shape the pace of the fight as he so skillfully does. Mayweather will be fit and prepared as usual, but he won’t be acclimated to a big fight atmosphere right away.
Mayweather is coming off a fight where he blind-sided a defenseless Victor Ortiz, choosing the cheap way out. The ending of that bout left a bad taste, and he only had a couple rounds of good work. Mayweather is intelligent enough to know he has to shine in this bout. He will have no doubt prepared to be in a war against Cotto, and, contrary to what most believe, it most likely will be one. Once again, the brazen Mayweather will stand in front of Cotto, hang in the pocket, and rely on his outstanding defense and counterpunching. But this isn’t Juan Manuel Marquez or an inexperienced Victor Ortiz, and for the first time in years, he will be in a real fight. Although Mayweather takes a great punch, Cotto will dig hooks, and make him change his game plan. After getting off the canvas for the first time, Mayweather ekes out a close decision.