Canelo, Cotto, and the Historic Rivalry

By Christian Giudice on November 21, 2015
Canelo, Cotto, and the Historic Rivalry
Chavez and Rosario came from a different time, one far removed from Canelo and Cotto.

No matter what shape the Mexico-Puerto Rico rivalry has taken over the years, this is the matchup that will keep it alive and strong…

The fight changed everything.  As right hands rained down on Puerto Rico’s Edwin Rosario, Mexican legend Julio Cesar Chavez was closing out his masterpiece — a work configured by the hands of a man firmly entrenched in Mexican lore. No matter what Rosario did, he couldn’t offset the will of Chavez; back then, nobody could.

Prior to the bout, Rosario tried to intimidate Chavez and gain an early edge, but sorely miscalculated. No one intimidated Chavez. Later, he paid for his transgressions in the ring.

Tonight, 28 years to the day of that historic matchup, Canelo Alvarez (45-1-1, 32 KOs) faces off against Miguel Cotto (40-4, 33 KOs) for the vacant WBC world middleweight title. Of course, the discussion will turn to the Mexican and Puerto Rican rivalry, the rich, unparalleled boxing histories shared by both of them. But Chavez and Rosario came from a different time, one far removed from Canelo and Cotto; therefore, there are few similarities between the matchups, but when one looks at the fighters’ passion and significance in each country, it becomes easier to draw a link.

Youth and experience will be factored in as experts make their predictions, but where did each fighter come from to get to this point in their careers. The stoic, no-nonsense Cotto, 35, hails from Wilfredo Gomez territory. It’s nearly impossible to avoid the reality, and harder to accept. Puerto Rican boxing has belonged to Wilfredo “Bazooka” Gomez and Felix “Tito” Trinidad for decades, and as one Puerto Rican journalist puts it, “We respect Gomez and we love Trinidad.” Now, they love Cotto, but in a different way.

When it comes to how he is received by his people, Cotto is not cold or detached or sullen or arrogant, but at the same time, he doesn’t elicit the same type of response that Gomez received even years after his retirement. Whether Gomez goes into a restaurant or visits his childhood home, fans never hesitate to approach him. It’s the smile and nod that shows he understands his place on the island. It is unlikely that the same rapport that he shares with his fans will ever change.

“Wilfredo was charismatic. He would spend time with the press. He was a natural. He spoke to you and knew who you were. He knew how to court the press,” said El Nuevo Dia journalist, Jose Sanchez. “Miguel wasn’t even close. He is a nice guy, don’t misjudge him, but he is a professional like Marvin Hagler. He has never wanted to court the press.”

In response, Wilfredo Gomez, who feels Canelo has an edge in this fight, and places himself, Trinidad, Wilfred Benitez, Hector Camacho, and Rosario as the top five all-time Puerto Rican fighters, added, “I always had a good relationship with the press during and after my career, with the exception of my loss to Salvador Sanchez.”

The debate rages on in Puerto Rico as to where Cotto belongs in the pantheon of Puerto Rican fighters. Yet, despite the multiple world titles, critics are reluctant to give Cotto his due. Press members who have covered him for years are able to see the entirety of his work.

“He is one of the most talented boxers who was born and raised in Puerto Rico,” said El Vocero boxing journalist, Carlos Narvaez. “He is received as another glorious legend in Puerto Rico. Wilfredo and Cotto were different types of fighters, who came along at different times, and also lived very different social lives. Wilfredo was always available to the media, and Cotto was not always like that. At this point of his career, he is much more accessible than he was early on.”

Regarding his place in Mexico’s boxing fraternity, Canelo can still learn from the past in order to continue his growth as a young fighter. Pulling something valuable from every great Mexican champion, Canelo can borrow Salvador Sanchez’s composure and conditioning, Julio Cesar Chavez’s persistence and methodical attack, Lupe Pintor’s toughness, and Carlos Zarate’s power. At 25, Canelo has developed into a fierce tactical fighter, whose penchant for destruction has been exhibited in wins over James Kirkland and Alfredo Angulo since his disappointing 2013 loss to Floyd Mayweather Jr. Sandwiched between those bouts, Canelo showed that he still needs to improve his ability to cut off the ring and use his movement to his advantage as he chased Erislandy Lara down to earn a split-decision victory in July 2014.

“Historically, Cotto is a better fighter than Canelo. Right now, Canelo is much bigger and stronger,” said Sanchez. “I look at it as Miguel is better than Canelo from the waist down and Canelo is better from the waist up. Canelo is limited with his movement, and Cotto has that great ability to judge distance and he will be able to use his boxing ability over the first four rounds.”

Few expect this fight to compare with the glorious brawls that have defined the rivalry. It doesn’t have the buzz of Sanchez vs. Gomez, the air of Gomez vs. Zarate, or the potential of a war like Gomez vs. Pintor, but, it’s difficult to imagine a scenario where this isn’t a great action fight. Questions that need to be answered early tonight reflect the limitations and strengths of each fighter: How will Cotto handle Canelo’s straight right and hook to the body? Will it be easy for Canelo to escape when he gets trapped by Cotto in the corner? How much can Cotto summon up for one last great performance? Can Canelo use his movement to set up his vicious attacks?

The transformation of each fighter is clear as both fighters had to reinvent themselves after disappointing losses. First, it was Canelo, who immediately came back strong against Angulo after a devastating one-sided loss to Mayweather. He could have easily regressed after the loss, where he never put himself in a position to win. Even though Angulo was not a huge test, it was necessary one to gain back that confidence. Then, it was Cotto, who proved that a new trainer, a new mentality, and a new lifestyle can add years to one’s career. Where he used to brawl, now he moves and boxes intelligently, and that has made all the difference.

“Cotto doesn’t like boxing. He looks at it as a job,” said Sanchez. “Now he has found a trainer who can motivate him. It’s fun for him again. After the loss to Pacquiao, Cotto took stock of his life, and said, ‘I can be an intelligent fighter again.’ He realized that he didn’t have to fight with that same reckless abandon.”

And no matter what shape the rivalry has taken over the years, this is the matchup that will keep it alive and strong.

Christian Giudice
Author: The Rise and Fall of Alexis Argüello
Author: Hands of Stone: The Life and Legend of Roberto Duran

Twitter Account:!/chrisgiudice
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Countdown to Cotto vs. Canelo (HBO Boxing)

Julio Cesar Chavez vs Edwin Rosario 1987 11 21

Salvador Sanchez vs Wilfredo Gomez

Gomez KOS Zarate This Day in Boxing History October 28, 1978

Wilfredo Gomez contra Lupe Pintor 1982

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  1. KB 07:08pm, 11/21/2015

    Nicely done.

  2. FrankinDallas 08:09am, 11/21/2015

    I’ve often asked my Mexican friends what’s the deal with this rivalry? After all, they’ve never been at war with one another, or invaded or whatever. The usual response is “I don’t know; we just hate them”.

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