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.
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