Friday, May 4, 2012

Mayweather-Cotto: Keys to the Fight

The first mega-fight of 2012 arrives this weekend, with multi-divisional champions Floyd Mayweather and Miguel Cotto squaring off in Las Vegas. Read below for my keys to the fight. My official prediction will be at the end of the article.

1. Can Cotto land enough?
To me, this is the most fundamental question of the fight. No one denies that Cotto has real power; he may be the most powerful fighter that Mayweather has faced to date. However, what will Cotto land? His jab can get lazy and it is a punch that can be countered. His straight right hand can be sharp but someone with Mayweather's defensive skills can elude it or stymie its effectiveness.

Essentially, the key punch of the fight for Cotto – the one that could keep Mayweather honest – is his left hook to the body. To land that, Cotto will have to close the distance and eat some of Mayweather's pinpoint counter shots. Cotto must not let Mayweather's incoming volleys dissuade him from coming forward. Cotto has to apply pressure and connect with his left hook; it's his best shot to win. Without consistently landing that punch, which can be absolutely devastating, I don't see how Cotto stays competitive. In addition, Cotto, who has featured his left hook only intermittently in past fights, must throw it with regularity.  

2. When will Mayweather get started?
In past fights against active punchers such as Oscar de la Hoya and Zab Judah, Mayweather has started slowly. He took a few rounds to figure out openings against these opponents. More recently, especially in the Shane Mosley and Victor Ortiz bouts, Mayweather pressed the action early in the fight, establishing his straight right hands. (He is also older and doesn't move around the ring as much as he did earlier in his career.) Against Cotto, a fighter whose power he respects, Mayweather will most likely start the bout cautiously. If he makes that decision, will it come back to haunt him?

3. Can Cotto hurt Mayweather?
Although Mayweather is a defensive marvel, he can be hit. Having taken big shots from DeMarcus Corley, Mosley and Judah, Mayweather has shown that he has a good chin. However, those instances forced Mayweather to shift his attention to defense.

Cotto, who does pack quite a bit of thunder, needs to land something big on Mayweather, preferably early. Mayweather has demonstrated that he can recover from big shots, but his instincts are not necessarily to fight his way out of danger. More likely, he'll hold and delay until his legs return. Cotto must seize these opportunities to inflict the maximum amount of damage, putting rounds in the bank and giving himself the opportunity to swing the fight in his favor.

4. Will Cotto's skin hold up?
Cotto has been prone to cuts, especially in past fights against Antonio Margarito and Manny Pacquiao. Although he was cut-free in the rematch against Margarito, Cotto's skin will face a stern test this weekend. The combination of Mayweather's sublime punch placement and his deployment of elbows and forearms could open up cuts on Cotto. Cotto's cutman could play a central role in the fight. With Mayweather's intelligence, if he sees a cut, he'll go after it all fight. Because of his propensity to cut, Cotto must work hard in ever frame. He has to win the 50/50 rounds.

5. Will Mayweather go for the jugular?
Mayweather could have a much greater knockout percentage than he currently does. He has carried fighters in the past, from Mosley to Juan Manuel Marquez. With a style predicated on risk minimization, Mayweather gets his knockouts from perfect punch placement in opportune moments (think Ricky Hatton or Victor Ortiz). Mayweather has talked in the buildup to this fight about going for the knockout. Of course, he says a lot of things – some are more believable than others. If Mayweather has Cotto hurt, will he go for the stoppage or just box his way to a decision victory?

Cotto starts out active, looking to establish his jab and his straight right hand. Mayweather remains in the center of the ring, studying Cotto, looking for opportunities. Mayweather finds early success with the counter straight right hand.

As the fight progresses, it becomes obvious that Cotto won't be able to win the bout from the outside; he starts to take more chances. He tries to attack Mayweather more and attempts to back him up to the ropes. At close range, Mayweather features his counter left hook and uppercuts in addition to his straight right hand. He's able to counter quickly and sharply, pot-shotting and eluding most of Cotto's pressure.

Eventually, Mayweather's accuracy gets the better of Cotto, who starts to wear down. By the later rounds of the fight, Cotto's energy level flags as Mayweather further establishes dominance. Despite opportunities to go for the knockout, Mayweather doesn't step on the gas and Cotto makes it to the final bell.

Floyd Mayweather wins by wide unanimous decision – let’s call it 118-110, or 10 rounds to 2.

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