My Biased Case for Miguel Cotto
I’ll put on my biased glasses and root for quiet wisdom to stifle brash ego, for confidence to trump arrogance…
Miguel Cotto has handled himself with consistent grace through an 11-year professional career. He never talks smack, and only answers when provoked. He enters every fight in shape, ready to work 12 busy rounds. He is respectful in victory. And there’s a gravity to Miguel Cotto that speaks of maturity, of reason and of a strength deeper than the strength it takes to beat a man. When Cotto enters a press conference, in suit and tie, speaking seriously and thoughtfully, he projects the image of a man who understands that his life’s work is work. Some criticized Cotto’s honest answer before the Margarito rematch where, when asked if he’d fight to the death, he explicitly stated, “For what?” But I thought his response was refreshing. Miguel Cotto doesn’t need to resort to easy hyperbole. He’s a husband and a father and a man who appreciates life. He’s wise enough to understand that there’s no need to make foolish, thoughtless declarations about dying in the ring for the entertainment of the masses who, when the fight is over, will go back to their lives, lives far removed from the precipice of danger. And as for his actual behavior in the ring, no one can question Cotto’s heart. The two times Miguel Cotto “went out,” he went out on his shield.
Clearly, I’m a Cotto fan. When Miguel Cotto fights Floyd Mayweather for the WBA’s version of the light-middleweight belt, I’ll be rooting, loudly, for the man from Caguas, Puerto Rico. My biased eyes will probably add speed and power to Cotto’s punches. My biased ears will probably hear Mayweather swinging and missing even when he connects. And my biased heart will elect Cotto the ring general as he pushes the fight forward.
Objectivity might be the foundation of good reporting, but perhaps writing about boxing calls for something else. Baseball box scores, always accurate, separate winners and losers. Football stats, yards gained, touchdowns scored, do the same. Much of boxing’s corruption thrives in the subjective, but its beauty blossoms there too. Punch stats may be antiseptically accurate, but they certainly don’t tell everything. The interpretation of ring generalship can sometimes be as nuanced as a discussion about realistic vs. abstract art. And when we watch a fight, we watch one fighter more than another. It’s as if our very eyes refuse objectivity. Robert Frost talked about two eyes made one in sight where vocation and avocation merge, and in the ring, when a fight is relatively close, our vision of the fighter we admire is similarly unified—the fighter who gives us the most joy is the fighter we perceive as doing the best work. In a sense, our biased eyes complete our favorite fighters. We zoom in on his skills. We forgive his missteps. We cheer too loudly when he does something that warrants a quieter reaction. We push the scales with biased fingers until the dish tips in the direction we wish. here are times I’ve sat at press row, credentials around my neck, knowing I should keep up the pretense of impartiality, understanding I’m there to write not root, but when the fighter I admire lands a beautiful combination, I can’t keep silent. The best boxers may be clinically cool, but they evoke hot, emotional responses.
So with rose colored glasses, or perhaps glasses tinted with a darker, bloodier shade of red, these are the reasons I believe Miguel Cotto has a chance against Floyd Mayweather.
First the Objective Downside
I’ll start with the counterargument to get that out of the way, to take the wind out of the naysayer’s (perhaps the truth sayer’s) sails.
When Miguel Cotto fights Floyd Mayweather on May 5, he’ll be 31 years old. For a light-middleweight, that’s not over the hill, but it’s pushing up the slope. And while Floyd will be four years older come fight time, with five more fighting years under his glitzy belt, Pretty Boy will be the fresher man when round one begins. Aside from receiving a number of blistering shots from Jose Luis Castillo, a few flush punches from Zab Judah, and a single blow delivered by Shane Mosley that buckled his knees for a moment (and raised my legs to a standing position), Floyd Mayweather has remained unscathed, an impressive feat for a 15-year veteran. Miguel Cotto has taken more shots and more damaging shots. He’s been bloodied and bruised and stopped. He will be the shopworn man going in.
Mayweather, a master at gaining any advantage, psychological and physical, in every fight, called out Pacquiao after Pac Man’s less-than-stellar performance against Juan Manuel Marquez (since I’m showing my biases, I was rooting for the underdog Marquez that night and had him winning nine rounds). Against Marquez, Pacquiao was a drained fighter. Beyond having a hard time figuring out the Mexican’s slashing style, there was something missing in Pacquiao—his legs had no spring, his demeanor was less than supremely confident. Even his corner seemed clumsy. Mayweather believed the time was ripe to fight Manny and, this time around, it seemed Team Pacquiao was stalling. The truth is, Mayweather will never sign for a fight he doesn’t think he’ll easily win and his safety-first attitude has increased with time. Look at his last five fights: De La Hoya was old. Hatton was small. Marquez was small. Mosley was old. Ortiz was green. There’s a reason Mayweather agreed to the Cotto fight. He believes Cotto is past his prime. He recognizes Cotto has taken some beatings. Mayweather may not be the bigger man going in, but he’s certainly not the smaller man, and his speed and five-inch reach advantage will pose a serious hurdle for Cotto. And the odds makers, rarely wrong, have posted early odds that are about 5 to 1 for Money May. I’m guessing the late money will tighten these odds, but Mayweather will definitely remain a heavy favorite.
Now the Subjective Upside
Cotto is not what he was, but he’s still a lot. He may not be undefeated like his May 5th rival, but he’s beaten everyone he’s faced except Pacquiao. Styles make fights and Pac Man was destined to demolish Cotto. Cotto is a stalker. But Pacquiao doesn’t merely present subtle angles; he explodes across great distances and disappears. And he rarely seems to tire.
Yes, Pac Man struggled against Marquez and, yes, Mayweather dominated Marquez, but this common-opponent litmus test doesn’t apply here. Marquez has Pacquaio’s number, plain and simple. Against Mayweather’s longer arms, Marquez couldn’t deliver the slashing shots, thrown from outside, that made Pacquiao vulnerable. (Pacquiao like Marquez like Cotto has a 67-inch reach). But unlike Pac Man, Mayweather never punches in bunches. Instead, he’s the king of the one-punch. Always ready to counter, Mayweather is an expert at landing and moving enough to make his opponent miss. Cotto knows this. He will train for this. And he won’t get discouraged. I see Cotto losing the early rounds, but then finding his range. And when he does, he’ll start to win rounds because he’ll be the busier fighter. That’s the blueprint for beating Mayweather—Castillo drew it, but, so far, no one has followed the plan for 12 rounds. Cotto could be the first. Mayweather is a supremely fit athlete, and he’ll be able to stick and move for a while, but Cotto will pursue and punch for 12 rounds.
Miguel Cotto’s other edge: His last fight, the fight most vivid in his mind, gave him a psychological boost. He avenged a brutal loss, probably a plaster-tainted loss, bloodying and stopping the man who bloodied and stopped him in 2008. A loss like the one Cotto suffered against Antonio Margarito can damage a fighter’s career, sometimes permanently. In that fight, Cotto’s will to win was broken. When he took a knee, in this case the matador succumbing to the bull, Cotto admitted his weakness. Once that happens, once a man’s sense of himself as invulnerable is broken, it’s like cracking a motorcycle helmet—it’s just never as strong. Notice the number of fighters who, once they lose their first fight, go on to lose a second very quickly. It was with this vulnerable mindset that Cotto faced Pacquiao 16 months later. Pacquiao would probably have won this fight regardless, but I doubt the fight would have been so brutally one-sided. To his great credit, Cotto faced the rematch with Margarito head-on. Spurred by photos of Margarito’s illegal wraps, Cotto trained hard and entered the ring ready to challenge his personal doubts. He may not have been ready to die for victory—and no wonder, since he faced death, quite literally, in their first fight in the guise of loaded gloves—but he was ready to avenge his loss and, far more important, to prove he’d taken a knee not from fists, but from weapons.
Margarito, even with unloaded gloves, is a dangerous man. He’s four inches taller than Cotto and has a six-inch reach advantage (one more than Mayweather will have), but Cotto reached him easily and often. Of course, next to Mayweather, Margarito’s knowledge of ring geography is crude. But again, Cotto is a veteran who will eventually gauge the distance and find the rangier Mayweather. And Cotto, his sense of self regained, his resolve healed if not completely intact, will be mentally ready for this fight, far more ready than he was against Pacquiao when Margarito was still on Cotto’s mind. Miguel Cotto is a persistent and well-schooled puncher. When he starts to land combinations, Mayweather, who hates getting hit, will have to hit back, and with more than one punch at a time if he’s to win. Out of his comfort zone, Mayweather will weaken while Cotto thrives.
The last fight fought is the first remembered. Cotto’s fresh memories are about unadulterated victory. Mayweather’s are not. Money May talks cocky about his bout with Ortiz, but that sucker punch suggests doubt. Joe Cortez’s incompetence facilitated the shot. Ortiz’s stupidity facilitated the shot. And Mayweather’s win-at-all-costs attitude, admirable from a Darwinian standpoint, even if it defied good sportsmanship, insured the bout ended before it fully began. It’s impossible to know how the rest of this fight might have gone, but I sensed a shift in the action. Ortiz was coming on. He was showing no fear and no respect for Mayweather. And I believe Mayweather, attuned to everything ring-related, sensed Ortiz’s surge—Mayweather is a man who wears his heart on his sleeve and he didn’t look happy. An exit presented itself, and, sensing fire, he punched the unprotected head apologizing in front of him and left the building quickly. Cotto fears no man. He’s as willful as any fighter today. And after his last fight, his self-confidence is high. He won’t strike a silent deal with Mayweather, as most of Mayweather’s opponents have done, and get lulled into a slow-paced fight where punches are thrown sparingly. Cotto will come to fight. That’s his job. That’s his man’s work and he’ll do it.
Finally, and I’ve said this before (and been wrong), I see Mayweather’s corner as a disadvantage. The day will come when Floyd Jr. will need some sage advice when he sits on his stool. I just don’t see Roger helping his nephew if things get truly rough. So far, Mayweather has been able to rely on his mastery. And he is indeed a master of the squared circle. But a good corner doesn’t simply provide water and first aid. I’ve always sensed a disconnect between Floyd and Roger no matter how much they protest that all’s in-synch with the family. If Cotto starts to build a points lead, Floyd Mayweather will feel very alone. Cotto is in better hands. When he returns to his corner, he’ll have Pedro Luis Diaz waiting for him, the same man who got him fight-ready for Margarito, the same man who kept his charge cool and helped him exact the coldest revenge.
Some fans are still disappointed that Pacquaio and Mayweather won’t be filling the Cinco de Mayo dance card, but I’m not. After all the back and forth about drugs and money, after all the false stops and starts, frankly, I don’t give a damn. This fight will happen or it won’t.
The fight I want to see is Cotto/Mayweather. I’ll put on my biased glasses and root for quiet wisdom to stifle brash ego, for confidence to trump arrogance, for a man who never protests (even when he has the right) to defeat a man who protests too much and too often. I want to see Miguel Cotto beat Floyd Mayweather.
So this is what I see: I see Cotto starting his surge around the fourth round, the same round Ortiz hunkered down with his head. I see Cotto moving forward, cutting the ring, deciphering Mayweather’s angles, landing punches in bunches. I see Mayweather having to fight, winning some exchanges, but losing many. I see Mayweather returning to his corner, a little flustered, a little lost. I see Miguel Cotto’s hand getting raised to the rafters.
Possibility lies mostly in the realm of the subjective, the same place boxing’s beauty resides. Will Miguel Cotto beat Floyd Mayweather? In my biased eyes, it’s more than possible.