Would it really have been better four years ago?
Back in late 2007 there were hopes in the welterweight division about a potential clash between then undefeated Miguel Angel Cotto and Floyd Mayweather. Money May had just dispatched Ricky Hatton via epic left hook with a stopover at the ring post, while Cotto had outpointed a still very game Shane Mosley in an entertaining war about a month earlier. So when Floyd decided to announce a retirement after the Hatton fight, some people accused him of ducking Cotto, while others just lamented the fact that Mayweather vs Cotto wouldn’t be happening.
But last night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Miguel Cotto and Floyd Mayweather Jr. finally met inside the ring and went to war for twelve rounds. Punches flew, blood spilled, and fans cheered, but after 36 action-packed minutes, “Pretty Boy” walked away with the decision. Cotto, however, put on a vintage performance of determination and courage, which made for a dramatic fight. Miguel is now a member of a select group of fighters (Marquez, De La Hoya, Hatton, Mosley) who have faced the two best fighters of this generation, and put the test-obsessed Mayweather to what was perhaps the toughest test of his career.
And that is no small feat if you remember some people considered this fight a mismatch to the tune of Mayweather vs Gatti; Cotto certainly proved them wrong. The Puerto Rican kept up the pressure throughout much of the night, propelled forward by his will to win and his new-found confidence in himself and in his team. His strategy took the best of Jose Luis Castillo’s and De La Hoya’s gameplans when they fought Mayweather and melded them into a plan of attack that almost worked. In the first Mayweather vs Castillo fight, the Mexican focused on making the combat as rough as possible, using his larger size to wrestle Floyd and push him back against the ropes. De la Hoya, on the other hand, relied on his left jab when he fought Mayweather. As a converted southpaw, De La Hoya had one of the strongest left hands around, and found some success against Mayweather’s defensive wizardry by jabbing and hooking to the head and body.
Miguel Cotto, being both heavier (and thus, presumably, stronger) than Mayweather, and also a converted southpaw, used both of those strategies in trying to deal with the puzzle that Floyd is. To see Cotto at his best, look no further than the eighth round of last night’s fight, when he cornered Mayweather and successfully landed flush right hands and strong hooks and jabs to the face and body of Mayweather. It’s hard to remember Mayweather ever losing a round so definitively. And after round eight, a strange, almost bewildering image appeared before us: Floyd’s face splattered with his own blood. He managed only a sheepish grin to try to hide the fact that he was getting more than he ever bargained for from the tough Puerto Rican.
Of course the difficulty for Cotto was that he just couldn’t replicate what he did during the eighth round often enough to win (this observer scored the fight eight rounds to four in favour of Mayweather). The contest started out with Mayweather in control, keeping the fight in the center of the ring and landing straight right hands on Cotto’s temple, past and around Miguel’s left hand glove in order to make it count. Floyd’s speed doesn’t seem to have diminished much with age, which is remarkable given the fact that he’s now 35 years old.
But going by what we saw in the middle rounds, Mayweather’s ring mobility has taken a hit. Instead of circulating and minimizing the risk of getting caught by Cotto’s left-hand jabs and occasional hooks, he decided to stand by the ropes more often than he used to in past fights, countering with precise right crosses during and after Miguel’s attack. But Cotto kept coming forward, applying crippling pressure on Mayweather, backing him up physically and unloading a hefty amount of punches. Of these, only a fraction landed cleanly, but even the ones Floyd deflected or caught with his arms and body served to remind him that this was no sparring match, this was a real fight.
In the championship rounds, however, Cotto slowed down a bit. He was no longer able to put the heat on Floyd as he had before, and Money took advantage of it. He unleashed quick combinations of punches, the lead right hand followed by the left uppercut being a very effective one. Round twelve was all Mayweather, who took offensive command of the action and landed flush uppercuts on Cotto, buckling his legs. When the final bell rang, both guys embraced and traded words of respect and recognition. They had put on a hell of a show, and they knew it.
In the post-fight interview, Floyd stated that he decided to take more risks–in other words, allowed Cotto to manhandle him a bit–in order to “give fans what they want”. This statement can only be taken at face value; while it is certainly a plausible scenario, the simpler explanation is that Miguel succeeded in putting Mayweather under pressure the likes of which he hadn’t seen in a long, long time. Cotto left the ring without giving an interview, in disgust with the scorecards turned in by the judges, all of them in favour of Floyd by six (on two cards) and seven points.
When it was all said and done, fans of all stripes had something to cheer for last night. They saw two future hall of famers still fighting at an elite level put on a truly exciting show. It took all of Mayweather’s skill and experience to fend off the attacks of the rugged Cotto, and it made his win one of the most spectacular of his career. Cotto, on the other hand, loses nothing by failing to get the win. There’s no shame in losing to Mayweather, and even less so after giving such a display of heart.
That being said, the Boricua has been through yet another taxing war that may affect his long-term prospects in the ring. For his next outing, he would benefit from working more on his stamina; fading towards the end of fights has always been an issue with the Puerto Rican. Conveniently, his current trainer specializes in conditioning. Additionally, now that he’s no longer under contract with Top Rank, Miguel has several intriguing options at 154 pounds: there’s the rising star Canelo Alvarez, who consistently pummeled Shane Mosley for 12 rounds in last night’s undercard bout (hopefully retiring him in the process), and there’s the ferocious puncher James Kirkland, who has slowly but surely climbed up the rankings of the division.
For his part, Mayweather will be “out of circulation”–to quote HBO’s Larry Merchant–for three months starting in June, but will still have big fights to look forward to when he gets back. Besides the obvious choice of the Pacquiao vs Bradley winner, the lightning-quick Amir Khan is a possible rival if he gets past Lamont Peterson in their rematch. Or perhaps the strong Andre Berto if he bests Victor Ortiz in their second fight.
Whichever way these two champions decide to go in the future, last night they proved beyond any doubt that they deserve the attention of boxing fans. If and when they decide to fight again, we’ll be watching. – Rafael Garcia