by Cliff Rold
The anticipation is so fevered amongst the hardcore faithful that it has to be asked: would a good fight be good enough? If WBA Welterweight titlist Miguel Cotto (32-0, 26 KO) and former WBO and IBF titlist Antonio Margarito (36-5, 26 KO) just went out and fought a hard twelve rounds, if it turns out to be slightly less than a classic, would it be okay?
It’s the burden of the hyperbole and rhetoric flying around en route to the opening bell on Saturday night. When Cotto-Margarito stops being something to look forward to, removes itself from abstraction and unfolds as graphic reality, the hope for a classic will loom over every punch thrown. The first time someone’s head is jerked to the side by a smashing hook, a roar will come for the crowd asking “Is this it? Does the Fight of the Year start now?”
There are a small handful of fights that ever garner this sort of buzz based solely on the action potential. Julio Cesar Chavez-Meldrick Taylor had it; so did the recent Israel Vasquez-Rafael-Marquez series. They were fights that featured elite, not quite mega-stars whose reputations were formed in the ring and not the larger social conversations that often drag along behind the brightest marquee battles.
Before bell one, this is already a pure fight and that may be why ‘just’ a fight might not be good enough.
Let’s go to the report card.
Speed: For Cotto, the wisest path to victory might be ‘just’ and his advantage in speed will be the key. If at one end of the scale fighters like Manny Pacquiao whip through openings, and at the other end fighters like Margarito thud, a Cotto lands in the middle with a smashing affect. He’s able to land hurting blows quickly but not in such a way that he’s already on the back foot and out of the way as they land. That will mean relying on a jab that he can work up and down to stymie Margarito’s pressure, constantly forcing him to reset. Margarito can overcome speed and has in the past. He walked down Joshua Clottey and Paul Williams, catching the former and almost catching the latter, on the cards late in their fights. Both had hand speed superior to Cotto, but both also had very different styles and dimensions. Cotto is compact, and is effective inside and at range. Pre-Fight Grades: Cotto B+; Margarito B-
Power: While both men have solid knockout percentages, Cotto’s better quantity of quality competition in recent vintage might lead one to believe he’s the better puncher. It’s more likely that this is a push. Neither man is a one-punch and out of there kind of guy. Cotto devastates with efficient, precision combinations. Margarito just wears guys down, willing to do the little things like beating on another man’s shoulders and throwing to spots rather than present targets. It’s where he makes up for a lack of speed. He times his blows with damage on the end of them, particularly on the lead left uppercut. Cotto has a better knockout percentage, so the edge goes to him by a hair. Pre-Fight Grades: Cotto B+; Margarito B
Defense: There are some who ascribe the old adage “take two to land one” when it comes to Margarito. It’s only partly true, and that part is often early in fights. As the seconds, minutes and rounds tick by, Margarito turns the connecting advantage. 2-1 becomes 1-1 until it’s three and four to none, opponents sapped of their energy from accumulation of punishment and the metal taxing of a man who doesn’t ever seem all that fazed by the sting of leather. None of this means he’s as easy to hit as he often appears. Margarito holds his arms up and slightly out, his chin usually well tucked, allowing his arms and shoulders to take as more punishment than his dome. Cotto, technically, is the better defensive fighter. When he crouches, pulling his gloves high to his forehead, or rolls his shoulders, he can be very difficult to hit square. There is also a weakness in those postures though, one Margarito can exploit. Cotto often stutters, if only for split seconds, in making offensive and defensive transition. There were times against Zab Judah last June when he would all but stand still and regroup before reengaging. Margarito’s lead uppercut, if perfectly delivered, could turn the fight in those moments. Pre-Fight Grades: Cotto B; Margarito B
Intangibles: Cotto has gotten off the deck to win against Ricardo Torres, and battled through severe buzzes to do the same against DeMarcus Corley, Zab Judah and Shane Mosley. As big as the names of those last two are, one has to ask if the names out rate the fighters just a smidge. Judah’s name has frequently been more than his delivery; Mosley, while still very good, is a good old fighter. Should a prime fighter in his 20’s most, this scribe included, feel is a present pound-for-pound elite really be going to the wall with a 36-year old Mosley? Is there a chance that Miguel Cotto has been, if only slightly, overrated and, if so, is it because the chin remains a possible Achilles? Margarito’s chin is the one place we know he holds a decided edge but how will he really respond to the big moment? Will the pressure of all the years spent waiting for a chance to punch his way to a seat at the table get to him?
Last year, against Williams, he didn’t have enough in the tank to go for the finish in the final round after an excellent eleventh. However, in April, with his career all but on the line, he worked Kermit Cintron over worse than he did the first time they faced off. All bets are off here; these are quality, character men inside the ropes and that character is a big reason some fans are all but drooling at the thought of the opening clang for round one. Pre-Fight Grades: Cotto/Margarito: A-
The Pick: As already drafted for MaxBoxing: Given years of waiting for the sort of notable fight that could truly cross him over from a station as hardcore favorite, the best of Antonio Margarito can be expected this weekend. Given his recent form, Cotto being at his best is almost a foregone conclusion as well. So why Margarito? At the end of the day, he has qualities that Cotto hasn't confronted yet and, unreasonable expectations of the modern age aside, even the best fighters don't stay undefeated if they run up against top foes often enough. Cotto is very good, but I've never been sold on him as a special fighter; even if he were, the special ones lose to. Like Winky Wright against Shane Mosley and Bernard Hopkins against Felix Trinidad, the weight of years should weigh heavy in the fists of Margarito and with one extra caveat. The beard isn't as good as the rest of Cotto, and in a fight between two men who can bang and who are open to be hit, go with the man who takes a better shot. Margarito in a classic, say by tenth round TKO.
Cotto is the better man piece by piece. On Saturday, I just think the sum of the parts is what will count. Then let the anticipation for the rematch begin.
For more on this bout and its impact on the World Welterweight championship, feel free to click here: http://maxboxing.com/Cliff/Rold0723m08.asp
Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org