The Middleweight Mess

On the eve of one of the best matches the middleweight division can offer, and yet, despite this, a fight many are not expecting to be particularly competitive, writers Rafael Garcia, Eliott McCormick and Robert Portis discuss Gennady Golovkin, prima donnas, Miguel Cotto and what exactly a boxing champion is for.

Robert Portis: I’ve about had it with that prima donna who happens to be the current lineal middleweight champion of the world. First off, I hated all the crap he made Sergio Martinez eat before their fight last June. Martinez did not deserve that. Lest we forget, “Maravilla” had to earn every little bit of success he’s had in boxing, plus had to put up with the WBC actually trying to take his title away from him and give it to their favorite son, JCC Jr. So now Cotto thinks his win over Martinez (which admittedly was pretty impressive, even if Sergio’s pins are almost as dysfunctional as Andre Ward’s career), entitles him to carry on like some sort of mafia don.

His prima donna ways reportedly deep-sixed what would have been a huge match with Canelo Alvarez and instead we get Alvarez vs Kirkland which, let’s face it, is nothing to get very excited about. And now he’s sitting around like a vulture waiting to see if he can pounce on the corpse of Mayweather vs Pacquiao if that match falls through, instead of manning up and defending his title against the best middleweights available. My respect for Cotto has nose-dived and it has nothing to do with that weird thing he has for wearing hot pink or his ridiculous tattoos. Is it me, or are there legit reasons for fans to have a beef with Princess Cotto? And do you think he will ever man up and take on Gennady Golovkin?

Miguel Cotto v Delvin Rodriguez
Cotto: a prima donna?

Eliott McCormick: I don’t know if there are ‘legit’ reasons for fans to have a beef with Cotto, but I don’t see him getting in there with ‘GGG.’ Cotto boxed beautifully against Martinez but he was fighting someone operating at a pronounced physical disadvantage. Martinez couldn’t do anything to hurt him, but Golovkin can. At this stage of his career, does Cotto feel he has to take on GGG, who is bigger and punches as hard as Antonio Margarito with loaded handwraps? Cotto is not a true middleweight and it’s not as if he has to fight Golovkin to secure his legacy. It’s a bout he can easily avoid, and I don’t think he should be raked over the coals if he doesn’t pursue it.

I can understand how Martinez, the champion, was upset at Cotto’s demands prior to their bout, but a fighter should leverage all of their power, if nothing else than to gain a psychological advantage. It’s an issue I’m indifferent to. To circle back to your original question, I would rather see Cotto fight Floyd, assuming Mayweather gets past Pacquiao (assuming those two actually fight). It’s just a better size matchup than Golovkin, who I think could walk through most of Cotto’s punches and inflict serious damage. Ideally, Cotto takes on Canelo or moves down to fight Floyd and ‘GGG’ moves up to fight Andre Ward or another top 168 pounder. In either case, their destinies shouldn’t converge, but lead them to more physically appropriate opponents.

Cotto’s destruction of Maravilla appears a dead end.

Rafael Garcia: It’s disheartening that it seems so long since I wrote this article and we’re still nowhere near getting any clarity. I’m aware of the reasons Cotto has for not fighting Golovkin, and I sympathize to some extent, but if he’s going to blatantly avoid Triple-G, the decent thing to do would be to vacate the title so Golovkin can get his shot against whoever else is willing to step up. A true champion has to take on the best opposition available. Period. In the past, whenever fight fans got discouraged at all the bullshit that goes on in the sport that gets in the way of us getting the fights we want to see, we could always count on Cotto to deliver. Stepping up to fight Margarito when nobody wanted anything to do with the Tijuana Tornado was an incredibly ballsy move at the time, especially since Cotto was already a certified money-maker in 2008. Joshua Clottey was also a high-risk/low-reward matchup, as was Austin Trout.

Win or lose, the fact Cotto took those fights in the first place endeared him to the public, with good reason. But things have changed and Caguas’ favorite son has done nothing but sit on his ass, ever since his impressive beatdown of Martinez. The Canelo fight was a no-brainer, but he refused to take it, for whatever reason. There’s a bunch of interesting middleweight challengers not named Gennady Golovkin who would take a Cotto fight in a heartbeat: David Lemieux, Andy Lee, Peter Quillin, and even Danny Jacobs. Unfortunately, as ridiculous as it sounds, the lineal middleweight champion of the world is not interested in facing any middleweights. Word is matches with Erislandy Lara–a junior middleweight–or Timothy Bradley–who’s never fought above welterweight–are more likely for Cotto than a natural middleweight. There’s simply no way to give that a positive spin, regardless of how much anyone may like Cotto.

Bradley is a true professional.
Does this man deserve a shot at the middleweight crown?

Portis: The only reason professional sports exist is to entertain people by providing intense competition. The whole point of the Super Bowl or the Stanley Cup playoffs or the World Series is to see the best take on the best. Boxing doesn’t have a regular season and an annual playoffs tournament, but instead champions, who are obligated to take on the best contenders. This basic truth has been perverted and twisted beyond all recognition by the various sanctioning bodies and the networks and, of late, the fighters themselves. Having guys like Floyd Mayweather around, a champion who clearly isn’t interested in proving himself against the best available competition, only undermines the whole point of boxing’s existence and appeal. These guys get paid huge amounts of money not to strut around and bless us with their presence: they get paid to fight, and to fight the best. Even Al Haymon seems to be waking up to this idea with his announced matches slated for NBC.

The simple fact is, Cotto won the middleweight championship of the world when he defeated Sergio Martinez. This obligates him to take on the best middleweights. Or, to vacate the title and drop back down to 154. His lack of interest in facing Golovkin echoes Floyd’s avoidance of Pacquiao. His killing the Canelo fight with his posturing smacks of the same bullshit. This A-side, B-side crap is part of the disease which undermines boxing, namely the attitude some elite fighters have that boxing is there to serve them, as opposed to them doing right by the sport which has made them a multi-millionaire. I am sick to death of this sense of entitlement which Mayweather and now Cotto exhibit, as they go about trying to make sure the risk vs reward trade-off benefits them and no one else. Cotto needs to get off his ass and make his intentions known. And I will be the first to stand up and applaud “Junito” if he shows some balls and takes on Gennady Golovkin. Say what you want about Golovkin not being “physically appropriate”; the fact is that’s a premier match-up and GGG has yet to face anyone with the level of talent and experience Cotto can boast.

Canelo Alvarez in Training Camp. Big Bear Lake, California.
What happened to the Canelo-Cotto superfight?

McCormick: I agree with your premise and yes, it would be nice if Mayweather was not such an opportunistic matchmaker. Yes, some fighters today have delusional senses of self-importance. Yes, Cotto won’t win congeniality awards by emphasizing his promotional weight during fight negotiations. But boxing doesn’t unfold that neatly. Matchmaking is situational. It always has been and always will be. Cunning, after all, is part of boxing’s spirit: in the absence of one governing body, sharp and intuitive (or rapacious) decision-making allows smart fighters, managers, and reporters to stay on top. In this sense, the Super Bowl, Stanley Cup Playoffs, and World Series are idealized examples of what boxing is not. It will never operate like those sports because it’s too fragmented and those in control won’t relinquish their grip. The only other major combat sport that has a unified ruling body is the UFC, and if living with boxing’s frustrations means the absence of an overlord like Dana White, I’m fine with that.

If Cotto doesn’t feel Golovkin is a good matchup, it will be practicality, that dictates his decision-making. Of course, you could use the great Hearns-Hagler-Leonard-Duran rivalry as an example of how the sport should operate, and I can’t argue against the example they set, but those were exceptional circumstances and the same antagonism doesn’t exist between Cotto and Golovkin. If Cotto has no intention of ever facing ‘GGG’, he should abdicate his title and make room for the division’s real ruler. If he says, or pretends, that he wants Golovkin, the fans’ pressure on Cotto to make the fight should be unrelenting.

There is a larger issue here, though, which you allude to, that being the reluctance of elite fighters to face someone they might lose to. If a paradigm shift is needed in boxing, it should be away from the idea that one loss can ruin someone’s career. No one has capitalized more on his perfect record than Floyd Mayweather, but in reality there is no shame in losing to another member of the elite. Is Lucas Matthysse held in any less esteem because he dropped a fight to Danny Garcia? Is Canelo Alvarez after losing to Mayweather? If anything, their willingness to fight the best available opponent earned them respect. Losing, in other words, should lose its stigma. And if they wanted to act in their best interests, HBO and Showtime would help encourage this shift.

The myth of the precious ‘0’ is a damaging one for boxing.

To return to Cotto, who stands to lose more if he fights ‘GGG’? I think Golovkin does, given his size advantage and the prevailing myth that he’s indestructible. Cotto might get hurt, of course, and given what happened to him in his first fight with Margarito, he knows how physically and emotionally damaging getting beaten up can be. But maybe his world class skill level might be enough to make the fight competitive. While he doesn’t need ‘GGG’, as I mentioned earlier, Cotto’s reputation would only ascend if he does fight him, even if he loses. I would love to see this fight because it would pit two powerful and technically polished boxers against one another. Stylistically, how do you see the bout playing out?

Portis: “Exceptional circumstances?” I guess it depends on one’s perspective. In fact, if the Four Kings had been competing in the 1940’s or 50’s, instead of eight matches between them, there likely would have been a dozen or more. Again, the best fighting the best is the way it’s supposed to be. How many times did Barney Ross, Jimmy McLarnin and Tony Canzoneri fight each other? Or Robinson and LaMotta? Zale and Graziano? The list goes on. Actually, one could argue that a lot of this posturing and contractual strategizing started with Leonard, who, for years, flatly refused to give Hearns a rematch until he thought he was finished (he was wrong) and before that he had zero interest in facing Hagler until he saw that Marvin had lost much of his sharpness.

Anyway, to answer your question, there is no doubt Cotto gives away significant advantages in terms of power, size and youth against Golovkin, so it’s the intangibles which need to be at play for the older fighter to make it interesting. While Golovkin is much more formidable than the version of Antonio Margarito Cotto stopped back in 2011, the way Cotto used smart movement, footwork and timing to neutralize the bigger man could provide some basic strategy. Cotto would definitely need to get Golovkin’s respect early and find ways to inhibit his more powerful foe and some very tight defense would be crucial. But again, at this point there’s no reason to think it’s an insurmountable task. Golovkin has yet to face an opponent of Cotto’s quality and experience, so it’s anyone’s guess how the Kazakh would respond to such a challenge. A confident Cotto with a well-composed game plan conceivably might give GGG all kinds of difficulty.

Robinson vs LaMotta: back when fighters wanted to fight.

But we all know this fight is not going to happen because Cotto has taken on the Mayweather perspective. This means the least risk for the most reward, preferably against a “B-side” he can lord over and force to make all kinds of humiliating concessions. Cotto has given zero indication he’s seriously considering this match. Which is a shame. Again, if he doesn’t want to fight middleweights, let him go back to the super-welterweights.

As you’ve alluded to, Eliott, the simple truth is, Cotto probably doesn’t belong at middleweight anyway. Thanks to the day before weigh-in, guys like Martin Murray are no doubt entering the ring as light-heavyweights while a well-conditioned Cotto is never going to weigh much over 155, his weight for the Martinez bout. Actually, Murray’s size is one of the reasons I think Saturday’s fight could be very competitive. Golovkin won’t be enjoying significant advantages in terms of size and strength and Murray might be better able to withstand GGG’s power. It’s impossible to pick against Golovkin, but Murray is definitely a live dog.

Garcia: I agree Murray is a live dog, but the underdog he remains and the reason for that is his tendency to go into offensive lulls where he barely lets his hands go. This cost him crucial rounds against Martinez. Instead of bringing the fight to the aged champion in the late rounds, Murray took his foot off the gas and allowed Maravilla not only to catch his breath and fight his way back, but actually outscore him. This is a huge no-no against Golovkin, who feasts on inactive foes with the same relish a hungry dog chomps on a pork chop.

As you pointed out, Robert, Murray’s sole advantage against Golovkin will be his size, and the possibility that this may allow him to weather Golovkin’s onslaught better than previous GGG opponents. However, unlike Murray, Golovkin has never been shy about pulling the trigger, and we shouldn’t expect his performance this Saturday—in the most important fight of his career thus far—to be any different. As eager as the Khazak is to prove he’s the man at middleweight, I can only imagine how pumped he is to put on a show in Monte Carlo. So we can expect the same we’ve always seen from Golovkin: great footwork as he stalks his opponent, lots of combination punching, and beautiful body work. Further to that last point, it will be interesting to see how  Murray—who usually keeps his hands high while on defense—reacts to Golovkin’s work downstairs. But if I were in Murray’s corner, I would advise him to earn Golovkin’s respect early. This doesn’t necessarily mean to come out with guns blazing, but to get off first and often, throwing stiff punches that at least give GGG something to think about. Unless the Khazak encounters resistance of some sort, it’s hard to see him slowing down in any way.

Is GGG in Ward's future?
Golovkin feasts on Macklin: a throwback?

McCormick: We all like Golovkin and none of us is overly enthused about this fight. It seems perfunctory: ‘GGG’ takes care of the next available guy and we wait for him to get truly tested. Yes, Murray could upend this scenario but it seems highly unlikely. Give me your blueprint for where Golovkin’s career should go next. Tell me what weight he should fight at, who he should fight, and what you think his ceiling is a major attraction in boxing.

Portis: Actually, I’m excited for this fight. And all the people who seemed so jacked for Golovkin’s last bout should be too. This is one of the best matches to be made in the division and while there is no compelling reason to believe Murray will win, that doesn’t mean he can’t or won’t. In my estimation he has a far better chance than Macklin, Geale or Rubio. Something should be revealed in this fight. It could be that Golovkin is a legitimate great-in-the-making. Or it could be that those who see him as overhyped have a legit case. Or, it could be that Murray is a better fighter than almost anyone thinks. Whatever the outcome, my sense is this is definitely a scrap worth watching.

As for Golovkin’s next step, we’re back to where we started because the simple fact is so many fighters don’t want to face him unless huge money is involved. And some don’t even want to hear his name, period. We know Cotto is in that group. Am I wrong in thinking Carl Froch is too? My guess is Peter Quillin wants nothing to do with him, though Andy Lee might be game. The winner of the David Lemieux vs Hassan N’Dam match may well be first in line, but again, are they going to sign the contract or look for easier matches before taking such a risk?

This is why Cotto’s hold on the lineal middleweight crown seems almost absurd. Everyone would love to fight Cotto, while he only wants to fight super-welterweights, and at the same time no one is eager to face Golovkin. Is anyone calling GGG out? And people wonder why I hate Floyd Mayweather. He’s made this kind of bullshit acceptable. All these boxers with no balls. It’s truly sad to see. So, to answer your question, I want Golovkin to fight Cotto and then go on to test himself against the best middleweight contenders available. He looks like he could be a dominant champion for years to come, a latter-day Marvin Hagler. Let’s see if he can do it. But that means other fighters have to be willing to compete, to get in the ring and try and beat him.

A fight worth watching.

Garcia: I’m also excited about Golovkin vs. Murray, but it’s sad how badly so much of that excitement dissipated after you brought up the issue of Golovkin’s post-Murray future. I believe he will beat Murray, but I hope it happens in an action-packed and dramatic encounter. Because if Golovkin batters Murray with ease, his victory will make it even harder—not easier—for him to get a big name in the ring with him.

Your comment about “boxers with no balls” made me experience the shame the political-correctness police expects us to feel at the sound of even marginally controversial statements. It feels to me as if in this day and age it’s taboo to question boxers’ courage, and we should be nothing but grateful and admiring at the fact they toil in this most brutal of sports in a time where “social media specialist” is an actual thing people get money for doing. Is it the zeitgeist of the times that boxers now get a pass for ducking tough competition in the name of preserving their health and maximizing the earning potential that feeds their families? There’s lots of people on twitter and facebook who come out in defense of certain prizefighters and their career-decisions invoking precisely those prerogatives. In response to that, I can’t help but think this “justified ducking” is anathema to boxing in its purest form, where the best fight the best to find out who’s the biggest badass. Has boxing in the Mayweather-Klitschko era become a charade performed for money, where no truth is to be found that can help us assess where fighters rank respective to each other, much less to the greats of the past?

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