By David P. Greisman
ORLANDO, Fla. — Don’t call it a comeback just yet, but you can nevertheless label Miguel Cotto’s third-round technical knockout win over Delvin Rodriguez a confidence booster.
Cotto hadn’t won a fight since December 2011. Last year, he’d dropped a unanimous decision to Floyd Mayweather and then lost on the scorecards to Austin Trout. He rested for the first half of 2013, hired an accomplished trainer in Freddie Roach, and returned by stepping into the ring at the Amway Center in Orlando, Fla.
As with his last victory — a revenge win over Antonio Margarito in front of a packed crowd at New York City’s Madison Square Garden — Cotto had the vocal support of his Puerto Rican faithful, who made up the majority of the announced 11,912 people in attendance.
He came out aggressively, aiming hard hooks for the body, the kind that had once been his trademark — and that Roach had promised would be back for this fight. Rodriguez tried but failed to handle Cotto’s pressure, instead finding himself on the receiving end of jabs, audibly hard body shots, and an occasional right hand upstairs.
Cotto returned to the body in the second round, sending a pair of lefts to the body, following Rodriguez as he backed away from the ropes, and then landing a left hook lead to the head that was followed soon thereafter by another right upstairs.
Rodriguez had been battle tested before — he’d been in entertaining battles, challenged unsuccessfully for a world title at welterweight, and waged a pair of entertaining wars with Pawel Wolak. But he essentially belonged on the level of ESPN2 fighters, while Cotto, for all of the wear and tear from nearly 13 years of pro fighting, is HBO-caliber.
That became clear in the final moments of the second round, when Cotto landed a right hand that left Rodriguez wobbled. The bell rang, literally and figuratively. Rodriguez shook his head, trying to clear it as he walked the one step or two he was from his corner.
The 60-second rest period didn’t do much to help.
Cotto was coming off a round in which he’d gone 27 of 51, while Rodriguez was 8 of 36. It was essentially one shot that would end things in the third.
Cotto threw a right that struck Rodriguez’s left arm, then turned into a left hook while Rodriguez began to do the same. Cotto’s landed first, and he crumbled down toward the canvas. As he dropped, Cotto landed another left hook and a right hand. The referee looked down and stopped it, feeling that Rodriguez either would not be able to continue, or should not be allowed to try.
The time of the stoppage was 18 seconds into the round.
Cotto went 55 of 110, landing 50 percent of what he threw, according to CompuBox statistics. Most of those were power shots: He was 47 of 84, a 54 percent connect rate. He landed 25 power shots to the body, with 13 of those coming in the first round. Rodriguez, meanwhile, was 16 of 68 in total punches on the night, going 7 of 26 with his power punches.
Cotto, 32, of Caguas, Puerto Rico, improves to 38-4 with 31 knockouts. He is a former titleholder at junior welterweight, welterweight and junior middleweight. The Rodriguez won’t put him back at the top of the 154-pound division, but it will keep him in the main event picture, and in the conversation for other major fights in the not-too-distant future.
Rodriguez, a 33-year-old originally from the Dominican Republic but long fighting out of Danbury, Conn., falls to 28-7-3 with 16 KOs.
The boos that came in throughout so much of Terence Crawford’s win over Andrey Klimov weren’t just because Crawford was the first fighter of the night not to be from Florida or of Puerto Rican heritage, and they weren’t just because Crawford was boxing instead of brawling.
Rather, it was that Klimov refused to exchange, and Crawford refused to turn up his volume despite his opponent’s passivity. Instead, Crawford stuck to his game plan, boxing well, pressing the action but never working to get Klimov out of the ring.
The first nine rounds of the bout stuck to this theme. The 10th round finally picked up the pace, with Klimov coming forward and both men exchanging. The only consolation was that this fight was the fact that it wasn’t scheduled for 12. Crawford left with a shutout unanimous decision, winning 100-90 on all three judges’ scorecards.
“I went into the ring to get the job done,” Crawford said afterward. “I out-boxed him. I thought I was hurting him all the time. I was never in trouble. Sometimes I overthrew some shots.”
Crawford landed 192 of 604 shots, a 32 percent connect rate, going 88 of 365 with his jabs (24 percent) and 104 of 239 with his power punches (44 percent). Klimov’s activity was paltry, his accuracy poor. He was 57 of 290 in total (20 percent), including 29 of 159 jabs (18 percent) and 28 of 131 with power shots (21 percent).
You cannot win by landing fewer than six punches per round. And so he didn’t.
Klimov, who was coming off a June majority decision win over John Molina, suffered his first pro defeat. The 31-year-old from Klimovsk, Russia, is now 16-1 (8 KOs).
Crawford, 26, of Omaha, Neb., improves to 22-0 (16 KOs). This was his third straight fight on HBO, but far from his most memorable night on the network.
In March, Crawford had stepped in to face Breidis Prescott as a late replacement for the injured Khabib Allakhverdiev. Crawford excelled and impressed, taking a clear unanimous decision on the undercard to HBO’s broadcast of the Brandon Rios-Mike Alvarado rematch. Crawford was back on HBO in June, scoring a sixth-round stoppage of Alejandro Sanabria.
He’ll need a much more entertaining performance in his next time out. And perhaps he’ll have an opponent who will bring that performance out of him.
Pick up a copy of David’s new book, “Fighting Words: The Heart and Heartbreak of Boxing,” at http://bit.ly/fightingwordsamazon . Send questions/comments via email at firstname.lastname@example.org