By Cliff Rold
Boxing makes its return to the fabled grounds of Yankee Stadium with a fight which, while heavy in question marks, also carries the look of a possible reclamation project. Despite holding a belt from a so-called major sanctioning body, 154-lb. beltholder Yuri Foreman carries a knockout percentage far enough below fifty percent to look safe as the business of Miguel Cotto reaches to stay vibrant.
A member of the 2000 Puerto Rican Olympic team, Miguel Cotto has become a staple of the June sporting landscape in the Big Apple. For the fifth time since 2005, Cotto headlines; for the first of those five, it won’t play the main arena at Madison Square Garden.
34 years without boxing at Yankee Stadium ends with Cotto-Foreman. That’s star power.
As was the case in each of the last four June outings, the story of the fight heading the marquee is a rich one. In 2005, it was about revenge against the man who eliminated him in Sydney, Muhammad Abdullaev (Cotto TKO9). In 2006, it was about an adopted New Yorker versus a native son in Paulie Malignaggi (Cotto UD12). 2007 was more of the same with the added allure of whether former Welterweight king Zab Judah could seize back a spiraling career (he couldn’t; Cotto TKO11).
Following a summer away in Las Vegas which saw Cotto suffer his first defeat at the hands of Antonio Margarito, Cotto returned in June 2009 to answer the question of whether he could rebound from that defeat against a genuine threat. The answer was sort of, Cotto managing a split decision over tough Joshua Clottey, keeping him unblemished in the NYC (7-0 overall).
His popularity is easy to understand. All of those battles were memorable, crowd pleasing affairs. Cotto rarely makes anything less no matter the location. Foreman, despite a style only a purist can love, will be forced to work on Saturday, likely to leave the ring having been in the most fan friendly bout of his career.
As Cotto aims for a belt in his third weight class, can the newly minted Jr. Middleweight beltholder also manage to leave the ring with his biggest win to date?
Let’s go to the report card.
Title: WBA Jr. Middleweight (2009-Present, 1st Attempted Defense)
Average Weight – Last Five Fights: 154.15 lbs.
Hails From: Brooklyn, New York (Born in Belarus)
Record: 28-0, 8 KO
Record in Major Title Fights: 1-0
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Defeated: 1 (Daniel Santos)
Previous Titles: WBO Welterweight (2009, 1 Defense); WBA Welterweight (2006-08, 4 Defenses); WBO Jr. Welterweight (2004-06, 6 Defenses)
Weight: 153.5 lbs.
Average Weight – Last Five Fights: 146.3 lbs.
Hails from: Caguas, Puerto Rico
Record: 34-2, 27 KO
Record in Major Title Fights: 14-2, 11 KO, 2 KOBY
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Defeated: 11 (Cesar Bazan, Carlos Maussa, Lovemore N’Dou, Randall Bailey, DeMarcus Corley, Ricardo Torres, Paulie Malignaggi, Carlos Quintana, Zab Judah, Shane Mosley, Joshua Clottey)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced in Defeat: 1 (Antonio Margarito, Manny Pacquiao)
Pre-Fight: Speed – Foreman B+; Cotto B
Pre-Fight: Power – Foreman C-; Cotto B+
Pre-Fight: Defense – Foreman B; Cotto B-
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Foreman B; Cotto B+
Foreman, dubbed by Maxboxing scribe Steve Kim as “Boreman” in recent years, is an underrated talent. Underrated doesn’t erase that he’s still largely unproven or mean he’s better than just pretty good. His jab, hold, and move approach hasn’t been aesthetically appealing but it’s won so far.
Against Santos, Foreman’s title win and last outing, the veteran Puerto Rican was visibly frustrated with the style, chasing far too often and even being stung by blind shots. Because the jab of Foreman is so quick, and the right hand launched at some odd arcs, it is a style which could wreak havoc on the rhythm of Cotto.
Cotto is a fighter who, even after a decade in the pro ranks, still struggles to meld his offense and defense into a single package. He’s usually in one pose or the other, meaning his transitions can be timed. If Foreman establishes the jab, his rabbit feet could have him long out of range before Cotto is ready to launch. If this becomes a pattern in the fight, Cotto could find himself having to come from behind to win. It remains to be seen if new trainer Emmanuel Steward has added wrinkles to Cotto to avoid the dilemma.
To slow down Foreman, Cotto will have to stick with what has made him the fighter he’s been at his best. He has to stick with an assault to the flanks. Foreman may be used to men natural to Jr. Middleweight, but outside Santos he hasn’t seen anyone in live fire with the pop Cotto carries…if Cotto can carry it up another class. Cotto hasn’t scored a knockout against anyone worth noting since Judah in 2007. Foreman will provide the evidence of whether he’s really worth noting more than Michael Jennings or Alfonso Gomez (Cotto’s last stoppage victims) in the ring.
While the win over Santos was quality on paper, the then-34 year old hadn’t been in the ring in well over a year when he faced Foreman and only once in more than two years prior at all. Was Foreman’s biggest win partly a result of rust? Foreman doesn’t have any other wins which would be noted as coming against more than fringe players (though Anthony Thompson and Saul Roman weren’t pushovers). Fans can’t really know how much stuff he has just yet.
Cotto is more proven in terms of intangibles, for better and worse. His heart and willingness for battle are obvious. His chin should hold up fine against a Foreman caliber shot. However, he’s also shown a propensity to swell, to cut, and to fade as fights wear on. If Foreman can cut him, obscure his vision, could his quick, cute punches tell the tale?
The cut factor could be huge on Saturday night. Foreman’s lack of power is enough to envision Cotto eventually steamrolling him, but at Jr. Welterweight Malignaggi won his share of rounds simply by being willing to box and taking his lumps. That was a better, fresher Cotto than Foreman will face and the size quotient favored Cotto then. If Cotto is cut in the first half, and Foreman can take Cotto’s left hook (body or head), all bets are off.
With skin still intact as the seconds tick to the opening bell, the bet still lies with Cotto. The left is going to land, as will his strong right. Even if he’s chasing Foreman in spots, he’ll be the aggressor and as the crowd favorite that should help in close scored rounds. There is also the chance he just rolls. If some comparison can be made to the Malignaggi fight, there is also a parallel to Cotto’s last rise in weight. In 2006, he moved to Welterweight for Carlos Quintana, a fighter whose jab and slickness could have pose problem. They didn’t. Again, this probably isn’t as good a Cotto as seen then, but Foreman hasn’t shown to be quite on Quintana’s level either.
What Foreman does well, he does well. Cotto can say the same, and he does more things well. Throw in a sizable gap in experience and this looks like a fairly competitive but ultimately decisive win for Cotto either by decision or stoppage in the second half.
Report Card Picks 2010: 14-10
Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at email@example.com