Saturday, February 4, 2012

Cotto's Shot at Boxing Immortality

By any measure, Miguel Cotto has had a wildly successful career as a professional boxer. He won titles in three weight classes (junior welterweight, welterweight and junior middleweight) and beat some excellent fighters, including Zab Judah, Shane Mosley and Josh Clottey. During his time in the top echelon of the sport, he successfully carried the mantle for Puerto Rican boxing and was its number-one star. Through his gutty efforts and crowd-pleasing style, he became one of the top draws in the sport.

However, to this point in his career, Cotto lacks a signature win. Many of his best victories were controversial and/or not definitive. The fights against Mosley or Clottey could have gone either way. He was losing to Judah until he committed a series of low blows which swung the match in his favor. His victory over Antonio Margarito in their rematch was, I'm sure, quite satisfying on a personal level, but who knows what Margarito he fought? It seemed that the man standing across Cotto in the ring was slow, old and lacked power. Cotto's best performances have been against lesser known fighters, like Muhammad Abdullaev, Ricardo Torres, Otkay Urkal and Carlos Quintana.

At 31, Cotto has experienced his share of ring wars and is at an age when many fighters start to slide. In fact, after the losses to Margarito and Pacquiao, Cotto looked very tentative in his return fights against Yuri Foreman and Ricardo Mayorga.  There were already whispers of a decline.

In an effort to return to basics, Cotto enlisted Pedro Luis Diaz, a former Cuban national coach, as his new trainer for the Margarito rematch. Suddenly, he looked like the old Cotto, the one who had excited the boxing community; he used lateral movement a good jab, intelligence and selective, menacing aggression. Cotto also seemed much fresher in the ring under Diaz and he didn't resemble the plodder who had surfaced in his prior handful of fights. That boxer loaded up on left hooks and straight right hands without setting up shots or using angles. His feet also seemed stuck in clay.

Because of the inability of Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather to agree to fight, Cotto was summoned with exigency to be a credible opponent for both boxers. After Mayweather consented to a match at the junior middleweight limit, Cotto signed on to fight him. Now Cotto has the opportunity to make the definitive statement of his career; however, it won't be easy.

On the surface, Cotto has several disadvantages against Mayweather. He lacks the hand speed, accuracy, footwork, defense and technical skills that Mayweather has. These are serious minuses that Cotto will have to overcome to remain competitive. However, as I see it, Cotto has three things in his favor. He has more power, superior physicality and the type of significant ring war experience that Mayweather lacks. These advantages should not be discounted.

Mayweather has only knocked out three of eight opponents at welterweight or above: Sharmba Mitchell, a blown-up junior welterweight who was at the end of his career; Ricky Hatton, a blown-up junior welterweight who at times lacked basic defensive skill and Victor Ortiz, a boxer fighting at welterweight for the first time who decided it would be a good idea to try to kiss Mayweather instead of defend himself.

Cotto has stopped eight of twelve opponents at welterweight or above – not all were world-class opponents, but that could be said about Floyd's foes as well. It's clear that Cotto's power has translated as he has moved up in weight and less certain about that of Mayweather's. The two fighters have three common opponents: Mosley, Judah and Demarcus "Chop-Chop" Corley. Cotto knocked out two of the three while Mayweather stopped none of them.

Cotto has also become adept at using his physicality to wear down fighters. He is comfortable infighting whereas Mayweather usually likes more space to land. If Cotto can cut the ring off – and that is a big if – he can use his size to make Mayweather very uncomfortable in tight quarters.

Finally, if Cotto is able to have some success in the early rounds, he has the ring experience and performance record to persevere in a ring war. He had to dig down to pull out fights against Judah, Clottey and Mosley. Those were bruising battles. Mayweather is certainly capable of going 12 hard rounds – he just hasn't had to do so very often. How would Mayweather react to seeing his blood, tasting the canvas or getting cut up? These are all things that Cotto has had to deal with throughout his boxing career.

For Cotto, his fight plan is simple in theory but will be hard to execute against such a defensive master. As good as he looked boxing against Margarito, he won't win a boxing contest against Mayweather; he must apply pressure. He needs to use angles to move in. Cotto needs to bring his left hook downstairs and attack Mayweather's body. He must use his body to wear down Mayweather: hold, grapple, clinch. He then has to be opportunistic with his right hand – the shorter the better. If Cotto loads up on the punch, he will be a sitting duck. Finally, he need not abandon defense, but he has to realize that he will get hit a lot. He can't let Mayweather stop him from coming forward. The further away he is from Mayweather, the worse things will be for him.

Cotto's task is daunting, but not impossible. Should he somehow walk away with a win, or even a draw, it would be the most impressive showing of his career. Cotto has been one of boxing's bright stars for some time, but now is his opportunity – perhaps his last one – to be considered a great.

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  1. great view of the overall fight, i am a Proud Puertorrican and i must admit this fight will send thru the roof or end him, ither way i will love to see it, thanks and keep up the great work, there are a LOT of out there that love the World of Boxing.

  2. Fantastic assesment and comments SNB. Truly, Cotto must impose his size, power and skills upon the opening bell..if he became tentative and fight Floyd in the middle of the ring, he can kiss his drem goodbye. But, as you suggest in this piece and if Cotto obey it..we will looking for another boxing greats from Puerto Rico.