By Jake Donovan
The May 5 collision between 154 lb. titlist Miguel Cotto and unbeaten pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather. Jr. has been aptly titled “Ring Kings.” Playing to the show’s theme, the press tour has featured the royal welcome for both combatants, as each man their place on a king’s throne on stage during the tour’s press conference.
Such accommodations are hardly unique for Mayweather Jr., who has for years served as among boxing’s royalty.
It was his superstar status that allowed for the fight to happen in the first place. Faced with the dilemma of serving a 90-day sentence at the start of the year, the seven-time titlist in five separate weight classes) managed to get a Clark County judge to delay the sentence in order to honor a previous agreement with the MGM Grand to fight on May 5.
The ruling in what was supposed to serve as sentencing day in early January was reminiscent of a passage from old school rapper Kool G. Rap’s “Road To The Riches” hip hop anthem:
Some young male put in jail
His lawyer’s so good, his bail was on sale
Everything about the verdict was unprecedented, but no doubt largely due to the status held by Mayweather Jr. as a huge money maker for the economically devastated Las Vegas region. The fighter himself was playing a game of Russian Roulette, as he was still in the process of securing an opponent for a boxing weekend that he has shared in past years with pound-for-pound rival Manny Pacquiao.
The speculation was that this time around would finally mark as good news for one and all, that both fighters would put their egos in check and - after more than two years of exhausting nearly every possible storyline - find a way to make the most lucrative fight in boxing history.
When that didn’t happen, Mayweather Jr. found a way to keep momentum in his favor. At a February 1 hearing in Las Vegas, the unbeaten star was forced to explain to a Nevada State Athletic Commission panel why he was deserving of his boxing license being renewed. His past – in particular, his out-of-ring actions – was called into question but his responses were taken into consideration.
The most important response of all was what sealed the deal. In the absence of Pacquiao showdown, Mayweather Jr. sought the most lucrative fight available, which led to the announcement that he planned to face Cotto on May 5.
For the second time in the span of less than two years (though just three total ring fights including the forthcoming May 5 affair), Mayweather Jr. found a way to turn a negative into a positive, and avoid nonsensical talks of cherry picking or making more out of a fight than what is really the case. He did so in 2010, when agreeing to terms to take on then-top welterweight Shane Mosley the moment plans first fell apart for a desired Pacquiao showdown.
Pacquiao went on to face Joshua Clottey, in a bout that became more about its location (Cowboys Stadium) than the fight itself. The pay-per-view tallies were less than half of what Mayweather Jr. pulled in for his dominant performance over Mosley in reestablishing himself as the best fighter in the world.
Two years later, Mayweather Jr. once again managed to find a way to trump his longtime rival – this time in a fight that from a styles perspective figures to be less competitive than Pacquiao’s June 9 showdown with Tim Bradley Jr.
The chief selling point in getting Cotto to agree to terms was in making the opportunity as attractive as possible. This was lost on Pacquiao, who sought a rematch but only if it took place below 150 lb., far below where Cotto has campaigned for his past three fights in growing quite accustomed to the 154 lb. limit. The two fought at a catchweight in Nov. ’09 when Pacquiao made history by capturing Cotto’s welterweight belt to score title wins in seven weight classes.
He added to his own record by winning a vacant 154 lb. belt against Antonio Margarito a year later, though in yet another catchweight fight, this time at a limit of 150 lb.
Mayweather Jr. has only engaged in one true catchweight over the course of his 16-year career – his Sept. ’09 ring return against Juan Manuel Marquez, who moved up two weight classes to face the unretired star in what was initially agreed upon as a 144 lb. bout. Mayweather Jr. instead decided just days before the event that he couldn’t get below 146 and had the weight limit modified in the contract, putting some extra cash in Marquez’ pocket in the process.
When he moved up to face Oscar de la Hoya, Mayweather Jr. agreed to the full 154 lb. limit since that was the weight class for the title that was at stake. In contrast, Pacquiao wouldn’t entertain a fight against the sport’s greatest ever box office attraction unless he dropped down to the welterweight limit, where de la Hoya hadn’t fought in nearly a decade.
In securing the showdown with Cotto, Mayweather Jr. wasn’t at all interested in forcing unnecessary disadvantages upon his opponent. The goal was to make the biggest fight possible, in part on his own terms (the fight taking place on May 5 and in his adopted hometown of Las Vegas) but also to where his opponent would greatly benefit and have been a fool to reject.
“I’m not looking to cheat,” Mayweather Jr. stated during the press conference, in a somewhat veiled shot at Pacquiao. “I told Miguel Cotto, ‘I don’t want to fight you at a catchweight.’ I want to fight the best Miguel Cotto.”
The version that will show up on May 5 will be riding a three-fight win streak – all by stoppage – since moving up to the 154 lb. division two years ago. Cotto made the decision to move up shortly after the loss to Pacquiao in Nov. ’09, in which he was forced to shrink down to 145 lb. at a time when he was already struggling to make the full welterweight limit.
He heads to Vegas on the heels of a revenge-fueled 10th round stoppage of Margarito last December, in a bout that confirmed his star power – playing to a sold-out crowd at Madison Square Garden and pulling in more than 600,000 pay-per-view buys – and his status as the best in his division.
The win avenged a July ’08 defeat against Margarito, who six months later was busted for plaster-like substance found in his hand wraps prior to suffering a one-sided 9th round stoppage against Mosley.
Speculation had run rampant that the Mosley fight wasn’t the first time Margarito sought an unfair advantage in the ring, with much of the focus placed on the Cotto fight.
Chief among those who agree is the man who headlines boxing’s royal bash on May 5.
“In my mind, Miguel Cotto is still undefeated,” Mayweather Jr. insists. “He lost to someone who cheated (Margarito) and wasn’t at his best (weight) against Pacquiao. It’s why I want to fight him at 154, when he’s strong and healthy.”
Mayweather Jr. is also well aware of the need to go all in. The fight has to happen on May 5 or else it gets put on hold until he returns to the real world sometime in early September after satisfying the terms of his revised sentence, which is set to begin on June 1.
Being at his best should never be of concern to boxing fans. If there’s one thing that has remained a constant in Mayweather Jr’s career, it’s his desire remain in peak physical condition. That frame of mind continues as he prepares for Cotto.
“I have to go to the gym and bite down and train hard. This fight with Cotto had to happen.”
When all else appeared lost, Floyd Mayweather Jr. found a way to make it a reality.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to [email protected]