Cotto. vs. Alvarez is the drinks before dinner, the shirt before the shirt, the line before brunch, the Bud Light before the Fat Tire, the reservation before the upgrade…the fight before the fight.
Written by Kyle Magin
Forgive yourself for looking past Saturday, because almost no matter what happens on the Mandalay Bay canvas in Las Vegas, Miguel Cotto or Canelo Alvarez will win a date with Gennady Golovkin.
(That’s a date no middleweight with an American pay-per view audience wants. They’ve all spent the last 3 years swiping left on the Kazakh hitman.)
But, this matchup is more than an eliminator. It’s a chance for Cotto to burnish a 40-4 (33 KO) career record that is wildly under-valued compared to his contemporaries.
Cotto, a Puerto Rican legend, has taken on everyone who’s come a-calling in the last ten years (save that guy mentioned above): Paulie Malignaggi, Zab Judah, Shane Mosley, Manny Pacquiao, Antonio Margarito, Floyd Mayweather, Austin Trout, Sergio Martinez and now the Golden Boy of Guadalajara, Canelo. He’s mostly won against a collection of eclectic styles–seasoned guys who you can take to the bank for 12 rounds of strategic boxing, brawlers who throw bombs and the ghouls like Margarito who may have loaded their gloves and their bodies to unfair advantage. You can scour the landscape high-and-low for an analogous fighter and not find one; which is perhaps more of an indictment of high-profile prizefighting right now but impressive all the same.
For whatever reason, he’s not found the limelight outside the sport that others have. He’s described by lazy writers with throwaways about his heritage or his age (35) and the miles on his tires even though he’ll actually be the less experienced professional in the ring Saturday (Canelo, 25, turned pro at 15 and has three more fights to his name) and is only two years older than Golovkin. Perhaps that’s a function of competing for attention and respect in a landscape with Mayweather and Pacquiao and Mosley and late-stage De La Hoya before that. But I tend to think the very function of Cotto’s greatness–his professional ability to adapt his style to each fight–makes him hard to categorize and thus difficult to sell to the mainstream.
His 2008 TKO loss against Margarito and 2012 decision loss against Mayweather are case-studies in this sort of chameleon-ism. Versus Margarito (who should be heavily regarded to have had a suspect advantage in this bout), Cotto took damage to his face early and, essentially working with one good eye, moved in on the Tijuana Tornado to exchange body shots rather than expose his head to more trauma. The strategy worked to a degree and Margarito couldn’t stay busy enough to get ahead on the cards to gain any sort of decisive advantage. It was only when the big Mexican was able to disengage late and pound Cotto’s face to oblivion with, it bears repeating, probably plaster-loaded gloves, that he gained a real edge and caused Cotto’s corner to throw the glove in. The key thing to take away from that matchup is that Cotto sustained terrific damage that limited his vision and mobility (who trades for body shots!?) and still went 11 rounds with a power puncher. In 2012, Cotto restrained himself from attempting to rain down bombs on Mayweather, who would have dodged them and counterpunched anyway, and played Money’s game. Despite Mayweather’s UD, Cotto paced himself over 9 of the 12 rounds to remain busy and engaged with a much quicker, faster man and staggered the champ with the best blows anyone has landed on him before or since.
Many fighters can do one of these things well–war or ballet–but very, very, very few can do both. In both of those losses, Cotto employed the strategy most likely to win, despite the outcome.
Against Alvarez, Cotto (who has stopped opponents early in his last six wins; don’t doubt the power) is likely to see a man who is developing boxing skills close to his own yet is far more powerful. This could likely be his greatest test yet–how do you give-and-take with a tank?–and we should applaud him for trying to solve the puzzle.
Cotto could have relaxed into a semi-dotage a la Mayweather, taking on pre-dented cans and collecting the checks every 12 rounds. But he’s stepping up to the plate again, even as a serious (+230) underdog. Long live Cotto and his ilk, for they’re the glue that binds generations, the fighters who say yes and make spectacles out of sure things.