Cotto vs. Canelo: A Testament to the Sport

By Gordon Marino on November 20, 2015
Cotto vs. Canelo: A Testament to the Sport
Does boxing needs its bad guys — whom throngs come to see to get their comeuppance?

Though Puerto Rico has a population of less than 3.6 million, it has produced over 70 world champions. Mexico boasts over 200 world titleholders…

Financially speaking, the May 2015 matchup between Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr. was one of the richest sporting events in history. The fight garnered a record obliterating 4.6 million buys at nearly 100 dollars a click. However, by all measures, the tussle was a dud. Many boxing fans felt fleeced and some surely resolved to find other forms of entertainment.

If, however, there is a fight that can induce boxing fans to forget and forgive the Mayweather-Pacquiao fiasco, it is the middleweight tilt taking place on Saturday in Las Vegas between Mexican Saul “Canelo” Alvarez (45-1-1, 32 knockouts) and Puerto Rican star Miguel Cotto (40-4, 33 knockouts).

At 35, Cotto is the grizzled old pro and the 25-year-old Alvarez the young gun. Both combatants are attack minded boxing masters with heavy hands and bad intentions. Though never renowned for his footwork, Alvarez’s trademark is quicksilver combinations, often culminating with a devastating left hook to the body. A converted southpaw, Cotto is a power puncher with straight concussive jab and a left hook for the ages.

Boxing is the most ethnic of sports and there is a longstanding, popular rivalry between Mexican and Puerto Rican pugilists. A multi-divisional champ, Cotto is one of the most beloved boxers of all time in Puerto Rico. And when the red-haired Alvarez slips between the ropes he gets better ratings than the national soccer team in Mexico. Asked about the rivalry, Cotto said, “Everybody knows what a fight between a Mexican and Puerto Rican means for boxing. People can expect the same from us.”

Traditionally, both Mexican and Puerto Rican boxers share a common style: take risks, be willing to absorb punishment, go for the knockout. Though Puerto Rico has a population of less than 3.6 million, it has produced over 70 world champions. Mexico boasts over 200 world titleholders.

Oscar De La Hoya, President of Golden Boy Promotions (one of the promoters of this event), said, “Styles make fights and this fight between two absolute warriors is guaranteed to be a testament to the sport, guaranteed to remind people of the greatness and excitement of boxing.” 

But with increased consciousness about the long-term effects of head injuries, and with the retirement of Floyd Mayweather, the most ancient of sports is feeling its way into the future. On at least two counts, it is a time of transition in the gloved game.

For decades, big time boxing has lived off pay-per-view and premium cable channels such as HBO and Showtime. Enter the mysterious boxing manager, Al Haymon. In 2015, Haymon, who refuses to be interviewed, inaugurated the Premier Boxing Champions series. With over 40 shows in nine months, Haymon has been putting major bouts back on network channels such as ABC, NBC and CBS. According to Tim Smith, VP of Communications at Haymon Boxing, the PBC series has reached a cumulative audience of 85 million people. Haymon has signed over 200 fighters. Some groan that Haymon is trying to gain a monopoly on the sport and both Golden Boy and Top Rank Promotions have filed lawsuits against him.

In addition to the structural shifts, boxing needs a new supernova. Mark Taffet, VP of PPV at HBO, said, “When I came up in the sport, it was Mike Tyson who brought the crossover fan in, then Oscar De La Hoya, and then Floyd Mayweather Jr. Now we are looking for the next superstar. It could be middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin, Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez, or light heavyweight champ Sergey Kovalev. It is yet to be seen, but someone will emerge.”

A Picasso of the knockout, Gennady Golovkin is currently considered the most magnetic figure in the sport. Taffet reported that in his first pay-per-view appearance in October, Golovkin notched a respectable 135-150k in buys. A title bout between Golovkin and the winner of Cotto vs. Alvarez is on every boxing fan’s wish list. But are Golovkin’s leaden mitts and 10,000 watt smile enough to take the torch for boxing?

Mike Tyson reflected, “The darkness is the light in boxing.” By that he meant boxing needs its bad guy — the early Ali, a Tyson, a Mayweather — a bad boy whom throngs come to see to get their comeuppance and whom many in turn become enamored of.

While both Alvarez and Cotto are gifted pugilists with heavy hands and bad intentions, they are both hard not to like. De La Hoya, whose star power buoyed the bruising business for a few years, does not believe that boxing needs an arch villain. De La Hoya said, “Every great fighter needs a dance partner to become a mega star. Ali had Frazier. Leonard had Duran. I had a number of them, but Cotto will be Alvarez’s dance partner to superstardom.”

The most famous trainer on the planet, Freddie Roach, is tutor to Miguel Cotto. He sees something else in the crystal ball. Pressed about the post Mayweather era, Roach chuckled and said, “To be honest, when Cotto knocks out Alvarez, which is something Mayweather couldn’t do, I think Mayweather will come out of retirement to fight Cotto again.” 

A professor of philosophy at St. Olaf College, Gordon Marino writes on boxing for the Wall Street Journal. He is on the board and works with boxers at the Circle of Discipline in Minneapolis, as well as at the Basement Gym in Northfield, MN. His The Quotable Kierkegaard was recently published by Princeton University Press. You can follow him on Twitter at @GordonMarino.

Special thanks to the Wall Street Journal.

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  1. Sam Rosenberg 04:26pm, 11/23/2015

    Hello Gordon, I was hoping to find your contact info and it looks like your articles are the next best thing to that. I talked to Thomas Hauser in New York for the ggg vs Lemieux fight and he directed me towards you to get in touch to talk some boxing and many more things. Hope my email gets through to you - if you have the time I would love to get in touch with you and talk about a vast array of boxing related things from history of it to writing and my philosophies on the sweet science.

    Fantastic writing, can’t wait to get in touch with you. 

    -Sam

  2. Gordon Marino 09:56am, 11/21/2015

    Thanks my friend. Wish I could be there. I guess I’m going with Canelo —- but a tough one. Hope nothing crazy happens to take the shine off. Never know with our sport. Hope you are very well.

  3. Mike Casey 01:58am, 11/21/2015

    Should be a good one, Gordon, and you’ve teed it up very nicely!

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