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
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