By Cliff Rold
If nothing else, the world got a hellacious staredown at the weigh-in festivities on Friday night. If the pre-fight battle of the eyes between Tommy Hearns and Wilfred Benitez in 1983 is seen as the gold standard, the perfect ten of staredowns, Mayweather and Cotto registered at least a solid 8.5.
It was fitting for a bout literally years in the making. Once upon a time, Mayweather and Cotto were talents looking for a wider audience, sharing a card in Fresno, California in 2003 before the bright lights came calling. When Mayweather retired briefly in 2008, it was with Cotto taking on the look of the preeminent looming threat.
Life went in different directions, Cotto bested by Antonio Margarito and Manny Pacquiao, Mayweather with only three fights (if all victories) since December 2007. Fresh off a revenge win over Margarito, the long road brings it back around.
Cotto defends his 154 lb. belt against the man who calls himself Money. Can he keep the strap?
Let’s go the report card.
Title: WBA Jr. Middleweight (2010-Present, 2 Defenses)
Previous Titles: WBO Welterweight (2009, 1 Defense); WBA Welterweight (2006-08, 4 Defenses); WBO Jr. Welterweight (2004-06, 6 Defenses)
Weight: 154 lbs.
Average Weight – Last Five Fights: 150.2 lbs.
Hails from: Caguas, Puerto Rico
Record: 37-2, 30 KO
BoxingScene Rank: #2 at Jr. Middleweight
Record in Major Title Fights: 17-2, 14 KO, 2 KOBY
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Defeated: 14 (Cesar Bazan, Carlos Maussa, Lovemore N’Dou, Randall Bailey, DeMarcus Corley, Ricardo Torres, Paulie Malignaggi, Carlos Quintana, Zab Judah, Shane Mosley, Joshua Clottey, Yuri Foreman, Ricardo Mayorga, Antonio Margarito)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced in Defeat: 2 (Antonio Margarito, Manny Pacquiao)
Titles: Lineal World Welterweight Champion (2010-Present, 1 Defense); WBC Welterweight Title (2nd reign; 2011-Present)
Previous Titles: Lineal/WBC Jr. Lightweight (1998-2002, 8 Defenses); Lineal/Ring/WBC Lightweight (2002-04, 3 Defenses); WBC Jr. Welterweight (2005); IBF Welterweight (2006); Lineal/Ring/WBC Welterweight (2006-08, 1 Defense); WBC Jr. Middleweight (2007)
Weight: 151 lbs.
Average Weight – Last Five Fights: 147.1 lbs.
Hails from: Grand Rapids, Michigan
Record: 42-0, 26 KO
Record in Major Title Fights: 20-0, 10 KO including lineal title contests
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Defeated: 16 (Genaro Hernandez, Gregorio Vargas, Diego Corrales, Carlos Hernandez, Jesus Chavez, Jose Luis Castillo, DeMarcus Corley, Arturo Gatti, Sharmba Mitchell, Zab Judah, Carlos Baldomir, Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton, Juan Manuel Marquez, Shane Mosley, Victor Ortiz)
Pre-Fight: Speed – Cotto B; Mayweather A+
Pre-Fight: Power – Cotto B+; Mayweather B+
Pre-Fight: Defense – Cotto B; Mayweather A+
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Cotto A; Mayweather A
Before it’s forgotten, one can’t forget there is also a WBC Diamond belt on the line. The value of the belt might be measurable in comparison to excrement wipes, but one assumes diamonds would scrape badly. WBC President Jose Sillyman got to make his way into festivities for no good reason, so that’s at least one thing worth a flush.
This fight surely won’t be. Whether it ends early, late, or with twelve in the bag, fight fans know they are getting two seasoned professionals in the ring Saturday. Of the two, it is Mayweather who just appears a little better at most of hat counts in the ring.
Neither man has a real edge in experience and both have faced plenty of tough outs. Against common opponents, Cotto has usually had more grueling affairs but managed to beat a better version of Mosley and stop Judah while Floyd used skill to win lopsided decisions. Cotto’s two losses came against a man who Mayweather opted not to fight back when it was relevant (Margarito), and a man Floyd hasn’t managed to make a fight with yet (Pacquiao, though perhaps…someday…whatever).
Coming up in weight is a non-issue. Cotto is a small Jr. Middleweight and wasn’t particularly big at Welterweight. He fights smaller, and depending on the range he attacks from could find the distance to Mayweather a long slog. Cotto has often struggled in integrating his offense and defense. He is typically on one and then telegrahs the shift to the other. His rematch with Margarito was one of his more fluid performances, but even there it was a problem.
He’s never been hard to find anyways. Cotto has taken hard, damaging shots over the years from many a foe. DeMarcus Corley and Ricardo Torres had him in big trouble at Jr. Welterweight. Zab Judah rocked him and Shane Mosley had him holding a lot in the second half of their fight. At Jr. Middleweight, he’s taken his share of shots from Foreman, Mayorga, and ate his share in the Margarito rematch.
None had the accuracy or ring intelligence of the man he faces this weekend. Mayweather should be able to time the shifts in the middle of the ring. Where there could be some fun is along the ropes.
Mayweather is very good countering off the strands, able to hide behind the shoulder and pop with short lefts and snapping rights to the head and body. Conversely, Cotto is one of the best in the game at finding his man when he’s pinned down. For those who see the chance of a Mayweather-Castillo type affair, the ropes are where Cotto must succeed. Cotto must land without getting suckered into the sort of counters that swell eyes and cut brows. Cotto doesn’t have the whiskers Castillo did, but it doesn’t mean he can’t emulate him in spots.
Writing colleague Stephen “Bread” Edwards has pointed out a sneaky counter jab from Cotto. Could the weapon mess with Floyd’s rhythm enough to open up heavier artillery? Cotto needs to find a home for the left hook upstairs early and he’ll need his jab to do it.
If Cotto lets Mayweather get into a groove, he’ll be playing catch-up to a master of setting pace. He needs Mayweather to hurry. Shane Mosley showed, if briefly, windows can be found and attacked in repeat if Mayweather’s defense is truly taxed.
Of course, Mosley only did it for one round. Cotto has to be consistent, and he can’t flag stamina wise has as sometimes been the case for him. It’s a tall order. Cotto has a shot, but if he hasn’t taken something off the Mayweather fastball by the fifth, he’s in trouble.
Mayweather, given hand warp scandals with Margarito and a catchweight versus Pacquiao, has said he sees Cotto as undefeated. Of course, he also says he doesn’t need catchweights, ignoring that he signed for one with Juan Manuel Marquez and then blew it off for some extra coin.
Floyd says lots of things.
Cotto's body says he’s been beaten and with some lingering affect. Since the first Margarito fight, Cotto has had problems with swelling and the accuracy of Mayweather will bring it to the fore. Mayweather won't have an easy night, and should have trouble with Cotto's counter jab, but Floyd's reaction to fighters who bring it offensively has usually been to answer, and with a chip on his shoulder. For Cotto, it will mean a fight where the punishment mounts and one where the late rounds see him too easy to hit. Mayweather has a big chance to score a stoppage late, though a decision win might be the more likely outcome.
Report Card Picks 2012: 21-4
Cliff’s Notes… Of course, there is additional action on tap this weekend both in the States and overseas, with some self-plagiarism from pre-fight predictions already provided to Lem Satterfield and Jake Donovan…In the chief support bout for Cotto-Mayweather, Canelo Cunningham looks to burnish his credentials against one of the best of recent times and even Aunt Bee can’t save the old timer. Saul Alvarez defends his WBC 154 lb. trinket against Shane Mosley and this fight is just brutal. It’s the sort of ritual sacrifice boxing has engaged in for years with a typical hue and cry from moralizers who didn't say enough before the first bell. Mosley hasn't won a fight in years, had just enough gas to go two hard with Floyd Mayweather two years ago, and had terrible reflex and reaction against Sergio Mora and Manny Pacquiao. Alvarez may not be as slick, but he's younger, bigger, and has heavy hands. This looks likes it's going to be beating and one where Mosley's corner has to save him by the mid-rounds…Overseas, WBO Cruiserweight titlist Marco Huck follows up a career best performance at Heavyweight with a rematch against Ola Afolabi. Huck got robbed against Alexander Povetkin in February but should be sharp for the quicker and more athletic Afolabi, enough so to repeat the decision win he pulled off in their first clash.
Cliff Rold is a member of the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]