Sunday, November 22, 2015

Opinions and Observations: Cotto-Canelo

Miguel Cotto's best opportunity to beat Saul "Canelo" Alvarez on Saturday was stinking out the fight. In a number of rounds that Cotto won (ignore the ludicrous, lopsided scores from the judges), he limited action, used movement and fired quick flurries. During these moments, he was successful at keeping Alvarez from throwing combinations and unleashing his expansive offensive arsenal. However, Cotto (and his trainer, Freddie Roach) isn't really wired to fight technically for 12 rounds. At heart, he has always been a boxer-puncher and his desire to stand and trade with Alvarez became more pronounced as the fight developed. Perhaps, at 35, he didn't have the legs to move for 36 minutes. But more likely, it's a temperament issue. Cotto has never won by being elusive; it's not how he entered the sport and it's not how he perceives himself as a fighter. 

It takes a certain type of boxer, such as Floyd Mayweather or Guillermo Rigondeaux, who appeared on Saturday's undercard, to stink out a fight. He must ignore the will of the crowd and dismiss the disdain of the boxing media. Concerns such as entertainment value are tossed out the window. The fighter who stinks it out doesn't view himself as emanating from some type of mythic warrior tribe. He is calculating. In the ring, clinical rationality lays waste to emotionalism. He doesn't lace up the gloves for love or affection. Let's face it; Miguel Cotto has never been that fighter.  

Like most boxers, Cotto yearns for admiration, approval and glory in the ring. In some instances, these positive characteristics can be a burden. They reduce the available options for victory. Cotto isn't programmed to win with a negative style. He wants to dazzle fight fans with power shots and impose his will on an opponent. Unfortunately, these attributes played right into Canelo's hands.

Although Cotto fell short of victory, he performed ably. He was active. He had success throughout the fight with jabs and left hooks. Repeatedly turning Alvarez, Cotto limited Canelo's punch output, especially early in the bout. Yet despite all of these positives in the ring, Cotto didn't truly commit to a winning game plan. He did box intelligently at many points in the fight but seemingly just as often he decided to stand and trade with a much bigger opponent.  

Ultimately, Alvarez's counterpunches were too powerful and those shots were the difference in the fight. One good Alvarez uppercut seemed to have the impact of three Cotto left hooks. Canelo's punches were thudding, eye-catching and did more damage. He was never bothered by Cotto's power and his size advantage helped minimize the impact of blows received and accentuate his own offensive forays. 

In my estimation, Alvarez has now beaten three very good fighters in Austin Trout, Erislandy Lara and Cotto. In each of those bouts, his opponents had pronounced foot speed advantages. Nevertheless, Alvarez makes up for these shortcomings with excellent punch placement, timing and unconventional attacks. No one else in the sport throws a lead uppercut as often as he does. It's a devastating punch and one that opponents cannot adequately prepare for. In addition, his crosses, hooks and body shots consistently hit their marks even against more athletic opponents (the preternaturally gifted Mayweather is, of course, an exception). 

It's easy to look at Alvarez and point out his deficiencies: clumsy footwork, lack of urgency in the ring, middling ring IQ. However, his considerable strengths are too often overlooked. He has tremendous confidence in his own abilities. He doesn't beat himself in the ring. Canelo has a huge punch arsenal and is wonderful when countering. He's also a sublime combination puncher. 

Over time, the positive aspects of his package continue to manifest in the ring. His intangibles are strong. Not for one moment on Saturday did he seem intimidated by the Hall of Fame opponent in front of him or bothered by a lack of early success. Instead, he persevered and landed enough of his power shots to clinch the victory. 

I had the fight 115-113 for Alvarez and that seemed to be a popular score on social media. The judges saw it much wider for Alvarez, 117-111 (John McKaie), 118-110 (Burt Clements) and 119-109 (Dave Moretti). Those last two tallies failed to reflect the competitiveness of the fight. Let me stop downplaying it; those scorecards were suspicious. Unfortunately, Cotto was fighting far more than just Alvarez. Yes, "that's boxing," and contemptible scoring happens quite often, but it's still abhorrent. In a perfect world, Moretti and Clements would be summoned to the Nevada State Athletic Commission to explain their cards; however, let's not kid ourselves about the realities of professional boxing. Commissions only seem to act when they are embarrassed. Last night, the "right guy" won, so in basketball parlance – no harm, no foul. 

The fight also demonstrated that Cotto's power at middleweight wasn't blessed with magical sorcery. He finally encountered a boxer who could withstand his best shots (in truth, many in the division could). Perhaps Cotto and Roach thought that Canelo would wilt in the later rounds after eating too many sharp left hooks, but not only did that eventuality fail to materialize, it never came close to happening. Throughout his career, Alvarez has displayed a very good chin. He has been bested once by a defensive marvel who had the foresight and willingness not to stand and trade with him. 

Perhaps Gennady Golovkin's power will be too much for Alvarez; GGG certainly would be a sizable favorite in that matchup. But let me say this: Alvarez won't be intimidated by Golovkin's reputation or his past exploits in the ring. They have sparred with each other before and Alvarez knows what he's up against. Golovkin may very well beat Alvarez but he'll have to earn it. 

On the undercard, Japanese junior lightweight titleholder Takashi Miura and Mexican challenger Francisco Vargas engaged in a vicious war, one of the best fights of the year. Vargas almost ended matters in the first round with a huge right hand that buckled Miura's knees. After a shaky start, Miura found his way into the fight with straight left hands and punishing body shots. As the match progressed, Vargas' right eye resembled a crater. The fight featured fierce exchanges with Miura more often getting the better of the action. In the fourth, he sent Vargas down with a sledgehammer left cross. By the eighth, it looked like Vargas was ready to go. However, Vargas changed the fight dynamic early in the next round with a massive right hand that felled Miura, who beat the count but was in terrible shape. Vargas then landed some hard follow up shots, which forced Tony Weeks to wave off the bout. 

Over the last few years, Vargas has been steadily moved by Golden Boy Promotions. Facing an assortment of decent fighters, such as Jerry Belmontes, Will Tomlinson and Abner Cotto (to say nothing of the corpse of Juan Manuel Lopez), Vargas demonstrated that he had the boxing skills and power to beat "B-level" opponents. However, Miura, who had dropped 130-lb. king Takashi Uchiyama and defeated Billy Dib and Sergio Thompson, represented a huge step up in class. It was classic "sink or swim" time for Vargas. And in the middle of the bout, the deep waters were unkind. But Vargas wasn't looking to be rescued by others. After fighting hard to stay afloat, he saved himself with the lifeboat known as his right hand. 

The fight revealed all the character we need to know about Vargas. He walked through hell to win. At various moments he teetered on the precipice of defeat. However, despite hitting the canvas and fighting with a damaged eye, he pulled out a resounding victory. It was a gutty and wonderful display and I can't wait to watch it again.  

Former junior featherweight champion Guillermo Rigondeaux also fought on Saturday's undercard, but "fought" might be too strong of a word for his performance. Against an overmatched Drian Francisco, Rigondeaux danced, feinted and occasionally punched his way to a shutout victory. Landing fewer than ten shots per round, Rigondeaux fought with no urgency or desire to impress. He was getting his work in and minimizing risk. The crowd booed his effort and they should have; the fight resembled an uneventful sparring session. 

It had been an eventful few weeks for Rigondeaux. Stripped of his titles because of inactivity, he fired his manager and signed with promoter Roc Nation. Unfortunately, all of those transactions were far more interesting than his performance on Saturday.

Rigondeaux has won two gold medals, defected from Cuba, secured junior featherweight titles belts and signed a multi-million dollar contract with Roc Nation. In short, he has had quite a life. Unlike most fighters, he seems unimpressed with fan devotion or the usual glories associated with professional boxing. At 35, he now fights primarily for pecuniary reward. 

Rigondeaux is a unique figure in boxing. A defensive master with power, he cares much more about the former than the latter. He's been booted off TV networks, frozen out by promoters, been embroiled in lawsuits and ignored by boxing fans, to say nothing of pricing himself out of big fights. He remains overly self-satisfied in the ring and a diva outside of it. Yet, he continues to soldier on with the formula that has led to his present status.

For as much opprobrium and scorn that he receives, his approach has worked out just fine. Rigondeaux's considerable skills raised him out of poverty and provided him with the opportunity to experience the joys of living in a free society. Unfortunately for boxing enthusiasts, freedom doesn't always lead to our desired outcomes. Like all other top fighters living in a democracy, Rigondeaux has the freedom not to fight, to have unscrupulous people on his payroll to blow off promoters and to be difficult. But by overcoming real hardships, he has earned these rights. So I'm sure that he's aware of the boos and his lack of popularity among boxing stakeholders, but he has made it to the promised land and thrived. In that context, the negative reactions from crowds, TV execs, promoters and writers are ephemeral. He has endured far worse.

Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of
He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
@snboxing on twitter, SN Boxing on Facebook
Contact Adam at 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Cotto-Alvarez: Keys to the Fight

Saturday features one of the best matchups in boxing, four-weight champion Miguel Cotto (40-4, 33 KOs) of Puerto Rico against hard-hitting Mexican matinee star Saul "Canelo" Alvarez (45-1-1, 32 KOs). The fight, at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, promises to add another memorable chapter to the fabled Puerto Rico/Mexico rivalry in boxing. The bout will be contested at a catchweight of 155 lbs. Cotto currently is the lineal middleweight king and there is an additional belt in play should Canelo win the match. 

Both fighters enter the bout in fine form. They recorded scintillating knockouts earlier in the year – Cotto destroyed an overmatched Daniel Geale and Canelo obliterated James Kirkland in a knockout of the year candidate. Each fighter possesses boxing skills and array of power punches; their styles should mesh well to produce a compelling fight. Read below for the keys to the fight. My prediction will be at the end of the article.

1. Freddie Roach's game plan.

Since aligning with trainer Freddie Roach, Cotto has scored an impressive stoppage in each of their three fights together. With Roach, he has displayed a renewed killer instinct and has rediscovered his left hook, a primary weapon during his early championship run that went missing during a mid-career lull.

Roach is one of the best offensive trainers in the sport. He likes his fighters to go right at opponents; he wants knockouts. His boxers are almost always in shape (let's not count Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr., who is a handful for anyone) and they don't beat themselves outside of the ring. However, it seems to me that Canelo is the wrong opponent for Roach's typical game plan. Sending Cotto right at Canelo plays right into the slower-footed Alvarez's strengths. In this scenario, Canelo doesn't have to use his legs to track a fighter down and he can rely on his counterpunching to generate offense.

Cotto would best be served by boxing through large portions of the fight. His biggest advantage over Alvarez is his foot speed. Using lateral movement, his jab and quick combinations, Cotto can rely on his ring craft to win rounds. Alvarez can have difficulty in cutting off the ring and Cotto's versatility (a fighter who is comfortable either as a boxer or a puncher) will be a big plus in the bout.

But will Roach concede Alvarez's physical advantages? Does he want his boxer trying to win by being clever or will he insist on Cotto testing Alvarez with left hooks at close range? Alvarez may not have had to withstand a punch as good as Cotto's left hook to this point of his career, but, he has displayed a good chin and seems to recover well from big shots. Does Roach send Cotto into the fire? This is perhaps the most important factor in determining how the fight plays out. 

Personally, I'd want Cotto to box-and-move his way to a victory but that isn't Roach's usual way of doing business. Roach is certainly a master of breaking down tape and it's certainly possible that he's found something in studying Alvarez that would lead to Cotto fighting more offensively than conventional wisdom would suggest. However, I'll play the percentages here. I think the less that Cotto brawls, the better he does.

2. Canelo needs to hit what's available.

Most likely, Cotto will spend large chunks of the fight boxing and moving. He'll use his legs to navigate around the ring, stopping briefly to potshot and unload quick combos. This type of fighter clearly troubles Alvarez, who can be plodding on his feet and doesn't use angles well to initiate offense. However, against tricky, athletic opponents like Austin Trout and Erislandy Lara, Alvarez had enough stretches of success to win close decisions.

The formula in those fights was simple enough: hit whatever was available. It didn't have to be pretty and often Canelo landed just one shot at a time, but it worked. Lara gave up the body so Canelo went downstairs consistently with right hands. Against Trout, he had success with lead right hands.

Cotto won't likely provide an easy target for Canelo, especially early in the fight. Thus, Canelo needs to be satisfied with shots here and there. Some good body work or a few strong right hands could be enough to tilt the action in his favor. If he's looking to land eye-catching combinations, he will be in for a long night.  

3. Lessons from Lara.

Canelo's 2014 split decision win against Lara was a debatable verdict. Many favored Lara's boxing skills and ring generalship. Others rewarded Alvarez's aggression and body shots. Ultimately, two of the judges sided with Alvarez (interestingly, Dave Moretti judged that fight and he will be one of the arbiters on Saturday).

That fight, like Saturday's, will be contested in Las Vegas, which is a jurisdiction that tends to favor the "aggressor." The fighter who comes forward is often awarded close rounds, regardless of how effective he is. If Cotto plans to play "keep away" for portions of the fight, he'll have to take into consideration that many judges will reflexively side with the aggressor when in doubt. Boxing Alvarez can work but he still has to do enough offensively to win rounds on the judges' scorecards.

The three judges for the event are Moretti, Burt Clements and John McKaie. Moretti and Clements are from Nevada while McKaie is from New York, which has essentially been Cotto's home base throughout his professional career. It's probably no coincidence that McKaie was approved by the Cotto camp; he sided with Cotto in the fighter's razor-thin split decision win over Joshua Clottey in 2009.

Ultimately, the crowd will probably favor Canelo to a degree and two of the judges will be from a jurisdiction that particularly rewards offensively-minded fighters. For Cotto, it's not enough just to make Canelo look bad; he also has to impose himself enough offensively to impress the judges. Being evasive isn't good enough.

4. Who does best from long range?

Although I expect Cotto to box from the outside during periods of the fight, it's not a given that he is the better fighter from distance. Canelo fights taller than Cotto does and he may have a slight reach advantage. He has a good lead right hand from the outside and an underrated jab. These are two weapons that can minimize Cotto's effectiveness throughout the fight, especially from range. 

However, Cotto also features a sharp right hand and has found increased success with that punch as his career has progressed. Cotto also has underrated hand speed. He found success with his jab even against a slickster like Floyd Mayweather. Canelo doesn't move his head much and Cotto's jab could be a significant factor in the fight. 

Fans certainly want to see Cotto and Canelo duke it out at close range but it may be in both fighters’ best interests to win the battle from distance. That victor will then force the other to come inside more often, potentially forcing more mistakes. 

5. Can Cotto get in and out fast enough?

I don't think that Cotto wants this fight to turn into a phone booth war. In that scenario, Canelo has an array of punches and combinations that cause significant damage. Still, Cotto needs to go to work offensively. Although, I rate both fighters as having close-to-equal hand speed, I think that Cotto gets his left hook off faster than any power punch that Alvarez can deliver. But staying in the pocket too long is to Cotto's peril. He needs to throw his shots and get out quickly.

Canelo can definitely be hit but fighters get greedy with this knowledge. They often decide to stand in front of him to their detriment. In Alvarez's career, he hasn't lost too many prolonged exchanges. Canelo turns counterpunching opportunities into multi-punch combinations. And he is unconventional with his combinations (when he's really rolling, watch how often he starts combos with his uppercuts). By standing in front of Canelo, Cotto minimizes his advantages in the match.

Cotto has the wisdom to win this fight, but, at 35, does he still have the reflexes? Is his defense sound enough at this stage of his career? Is he able to consistently avoid Canelo's counterpunches? Can he move in and out without getting clipped by something big? If the answers to these questions are affirmative for Cotto, then he will have an excellent chance of securing the victory on Saturday. 


The early rounds of the fight will be far more tactical than action-oriented. Cotto will use his legs and movement to flummox Canelo, who can't find the right distance to land consistently. Cotto will have success with jabs, single hooks and quick two-punch connections. 

I believe that the fight will turn with a big shot by Canelo. Cotto will be caught by either backing straight out from an exchange or misjudging distance and getting hit by a lead right hand from long range. Over the course of the fight, I see Canelo developing more confidence. Body work will eventually force Cotto to become less mobile and Canelo will gradually unleash his combinations. 

Cotto will win many of the early rounds but Canelo will find his way into the fight. He will continue to do better as the bout progresses, eventually dominating the match in the final third. He'll hurt Cotto a couple of times toward the end of the fight but the veteran will be too cagey to be stopped. 

Saul Alvarez defeats Miguel Cotto 116-112.    

Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of
He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
@snboxing on twitter, SN Boxing on Facebook
Contact Adam at   

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Opinions and Observations: Bradley-Rios

Brush aside the significant talent disparity between Tim Bradley and Brandon Rios for a second to consider one other key point about Saturday's fight: Bradley gave himself the best chance to win the fight and Rios did not. Bradley, one of boxing's true ring professionals, came into the match on weight; Rios once again struggled on the scales and somehow blew up from 147 lbs. at the weigh-in to 171 lbs. on fight night. Unlike his magician-like performances in the past where he could overcome a debilitating training camp to conjure a winning performance, on Saturday, Rios physically had little to offer. By the fourth round, one of the best pressure fighters in the business was voluntarily accepting clinches instead of working in his preferred area of the ring, not a good indication of his stamina or physical agility. 

However, let's not dismiss Bradley's win even if his opponent was diminished. Unlike previous bouts against lesser foes, Bradley never let Rios into the fight. He maintained his poise and focus. He stuck with the game plan throughout the match. Much of this improvement could be attributed to his working relationship with new trainer Teddy Atlas, who offered both strategic suggestions and emotional pleadings in the corner. (For instance, Atlas insisted that Bradley get out quickly after exchanges and more than once lashed into his charge about a potential drift in concentration.) In summing up Bradley's performance, this was his best effort in the ring since his win against Juan Manuel Marquez. He made this fight easy whereas in the past he let other considerations (ego, playing to the fans) get the best of him. 

Technically, Bradley kept turning Rios all night. His left hand was wonderful. His jab was sharp and accurate. He threw various combinations just with his left, including hooking off his jab and throwing a scintillating left hook to the body/left uppercut combo. Bradley's movement and punch volume didn't allow Rios to plant his feet and get off with punches with any kind of consistency. On defense, Bradley was more than adequate at getting under Rios' shots, letting most of them roll off his shoulders or back. 

With the exception of Bradley himself on occasion, no one has ever confused him with a power puncher (his 13 KOs speak to this). However, one has to be impressed with the way that he finished Rios in the ninth round. After forcing Rios to take a knee from a vicious body shot, Bradley continued to rip thudding blows to Rios' midsection. Rios then went down to the canvas a second time and he decided to call it a day. In the past, after Bradley would hurt an opponent, he would look to land that one, big knockout blow. This approach derailed his early success in the Manny Pacquiao rematch and led to a more competitive fight against Diego Chaves than it should've been. On Saturday, after Rios was hurt, Bradley just went back to work. He let the knockout come. It was a disciplined response and one that finally led to a stoppage. 

Prior to this bout, Bradley decided to switch trainers. It was no secret that Bradley and his former coach, Joel Diaz, weren't always in synch during fights and there were also a few personal issues between the two. His selection of Atlas was curious in that Teddy hadn't trained a fighter in years and had a significantly different style than Diaz's. Nevertheless, watching Bradley on Saturday, he seemed to buy into Atlas' approach. He didn't remain in front of Rios for too long. He mostly stayed on the move and, more often than not, he wisely clinched instead of slugging it out on the inside. Bradley looked rejuvenated in the ring. After the fight, it was clear how much satisfaction that he had with his training camp and performance in the bout. Finally winning an easy one can bring a lot of smiles. 

As for Rios, he had gone to the well too many times in his career. A bad combination of too many wars and weight problems has that uncanny ability to hasten Father Time in the ring. Not even 30 yet, Rios looked and fought like an old man on Saturday. He pushed his punches. He could hardly be bothered to throw combinations. Furthermore, and perhaps most damning, he no longer could cut the ring off with any kind of consistency, the death knell for a pressure fighter. 

Unlike Bradley, Rios was never a real student of boxing. He fought in a particular style because that's the only way he had found success. He abused his body both in and out of the ring. Perhaps the greatest enemy of Rios was himself. Camp after camp, he desperately tried to cut off dozens of pounds. It's possible that having a too chummy relationship with trainer and father-figure Robert Garcia didn't always help him either; Rios' lack of discipline led to much of his undoing.

After Saturday's fight, Rios announced his retirement. If he stays true to his word, I applaud him for his decision; however, I am skeptical that he will remain out of the ring. This is not to disparage Rios in particular but to acknowledge that many fighters have "retired" only to come back a year or 18 months later. Rios is still relatively young and he could collect decent paydays against guys like Ruslan Provodnikov or Victor Ortiz. 

If this is Rios' end in the ring, let me conclude with a few reflections on his career. As a lightweight, he was a force of nature. His 2011 fight against titleholder Miguel Acosta was my fight of the year. He destroyed Urbano Antillon and John Murray. He forced Anthony Peterson to foul his way out of their match. At 140 lbs., his first bout against Mike Alvarado in 2012 was the best live fight that I've seen. 

Let me expound on that some: Rios-Alvarado I was a matchup so enticing that I had to travel across the country to witness it in person. I'll never forget that the Carson crowd was giving a standing ovation to both fighters after just the first round! Staged in an arena built for tennis, the crowd "oohed and aahed" after each fighter hit and returned fire. They reacted as if they were watching an epic Sampras-Agassi rally, but one deliciously spiked with boxing's concoctions of blood and guts. Alvarado lands an enormous lead right hand (oooh). Rios follows with a left uppercut that snaps Alvarado's head back (aah). Alvarado returns with a menacing left hook (ooh). Rios digs two shots to the body (aah). The crowd's elation grew with each successive salvo. The fight was ludicrous, and by that I mean, truly bananas. How could these guys be doing this to each other? How are they staying on their feet? What a special night! 

But perhaps the fight that will define Rios in my eyes was his battle with Acosta. In the first four rounds, Acosta seemed to have every single advantage. He was rangy, athletic, had good power with both hands and elusive. Acosta literally hit Rios with everything that he had. Yet Rios kept trudging forward. Eating shot after shot, Rios made Acosta work so hard to avoid prolonged exchanges. By the sixth round, he had corralled Acosta. Firing short right hands, left hooks and some sizzling body shots, Acosta hit the canvas for the first time in that round. By the 10th, he folded up on the mat like an accordion. For textbook examples of pressure fighting and self-belief, watch Rios-Acosta again. Despite being battered early in the fight, Rios never stopped forging ahead, knowing that, eventually, his time would come. 

Many liked to dismiss Rios as a punching bag and while his defense certainly was poor throughout his career, ask Acosta or Peterson or Murray about their Rios experiences. Those fighters never recovered from "An Evening with Brandon." 

Against truly elite fighters, Rios was outgunned but facing a B+ or an A- guy, he could be as game as they come. So I will never forget that night in Carson or how good he was against Acosta. Yes, Rios failed to live up to his potential and his peak was all too brief but ultimately, he provided some truly transcendent moments in the ring. And that is more than most fighters will ever accomplish. Godspeed, Brandon.

Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of
He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
@snboxing on twitter, SN Boxing on Facebook
Contact Adam at 

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Lukie Boxing's Podcast

I joined Lucas Ketelle's podcast this week to talk about Golovkin, Thurman, the good an bad of the PBC and Halloween scares. I also make good on a bet that I lost. I think that you'll really enjoy this one. Click here to listen:

Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of
He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
@snboxing on twitter, SN Boxing on Facebook
Contact Adam at