By Cliff Rold
Miguel Cotto is one of the best, most tested, and toughest matched fighters of his generation. Miguel Cotto is not a modern Middleweight.
That’s why it’s so unfortunate that he’s the current Middleweight Champion of the World, at least in terms of history and the WBC belt.
With much adieu in social media, and with the clock ticking to the weigh-in Friday, it remains to be seen if Cotto’s challenger this weekend can make the contracted weight for the fight. Oh, we know Daniel Geale can make the Middleweight limit of 160 lbs.
The former unified Middleweight beltholder has been making 160 most of his career.
The contracted weight for this fight, as requested by the Middleweight champion, is three pounds under that limit. Whether that affects the outcome of the fight might be tough to assess. Geale could always win and make it a non-issue. The fighter who went to Germany to defeat Sebastian Sylvester and Felix Sturm for titles is certainly capable.
That it could affect the outcome, and is a story in the days before the fight, gets back to the original point.
Miguel Cotto is not a modern Middleweight.
He’s not that interested in fighting them either.
Headlines and speculation about whether Geale can get that low on the scale will be answered soon. This is hardly the first catchweight bout in boxing. They happen more often than most realize and aren’t, on face, that big a deal.
How they’re being used in recent years is raising some ire. We live in an era when the practice has become so pervasive as to be used in a unification fight between reigning titlists in the same class (Floyd Mayweather-Saul Alvarez, 2013). That wasn’t a first. We saw the same thing in Bernard Hopkins-Oscar De La Hoya in 2004.
That it isn’t entirely unique doesn’t make it a positive. The catchweight in Geale-Cotto comes off bad. For Cotto to ask for a catch in his first Middleweight title fight, challenging then-champion Sergio Martinez, was par for the course. For him to continue asking for pounds, as the reigning champion of the division, is a little absurd.
To say Miguel Cotto is not a modern Middleweight isn’t a slight. There is nothing wrong with that. It would be better if he’d acknowledge it, vacate, and move back down the scale. The money in defending his title against the likes of an Alvarez or even Mayweather (neither of has genuinely tested Middleweight to date) means we deal with the sideshow of what happens when a real contemporary Middleweight enters the picture.
Sometimes lost in the debate about the weight for this fight, and recent catchweights in general, is the total reason they are being used. Yes, part of it is about star fighters throwing their weight around (pun intended). Part of it is seeking an advantage.
A bigger part of it might be when they step on the scale.
There are often historical analogies employed about old time fighters who gave up weight to bigger men without official catchweights. For example, Henry Armstrong famously challenged Ceferino Garcia for the Middleweight title, settling for a controversial draw. This was after Armstrong had pulled off his legendary trifecta of simultaneous reigns at Featherweight, Lightweight, and Welterweight. According to BoxRec, Armstrong came into the fight at 142, Garcia at 153 ½.
The problem with comparing boxing in 1940 to now is the context of the scale. Armstrong had already successfully defended the Welterweight title against Garcia in 1938, weighing 134 to Garcia’s 146 ½. Garcia was always about 11-12 pounds bigger than Armstrong. They weighed in the day of the fight back then and that handicap was fairly consistent from scale to opening bell.
Armstrong did fight in other catchweight bouts as Welterweight champion, but those were about accommodating smaller men.
Today is something different. The last few decades, with increasing abuse, fighters have been able to weigh in more than 24 hours before a fight and then rehydrate. It has become a regular state of affairs for fighters to gain more than ten, sometimes approaching twenty, pounds by the time they get into a ring.
Geale is one of those fighters. For the fight where he lost his IBF title to Darren Barker, he officially weighed in at 159 ½. Unofficially, according to HBO, he was 174 when he entered the ring. That’s one pound shy of the Light Heavyweight limit.
When smaller men move up the scale and can do it, the use of catchweights isn’t just about making the other guy dry out. It’s a hedge against the danger of rehydration. When Pacquiao did it to Cotto in 2009, it was in part because Cotto was known to blow up past the Jr. Middleweight limit of 154 lbs. after weighing in.
In 2015, the reality of boxing is that on fight night what we’re often really watching, in almost every title fight, are men a class or two heavier than the weight limit advertised. A lot of the time the scale hopping types, like Pacquiao, consistently entered the ring at their highest weights (in his case Welterweight) years before they were official to the division.
Miguel Cotto in any era would have been small for Middleweight. He might be 5’7 and was never considered on the larger side when he was at Welterweight. Already giving up 3-4 inches in height to the larger Geale, it makes sense to try to keep him at least near the Super Middleweight limit.
It makes sense but it still doesn’t make the situation palatable.
It’s not like everyone doesn’t know what they’re getting into when they move up in weight. Many fighters who have moved up the scale were able to employ rehydration tricks in lower divisions. They aren’t conceding the advantage back.
Cotto, given his box office appeal, didn’t have to stay at Middleweight. He chose to.
He chose to reign in a division where the weight limit is 160. Given we already have seventeen weight divisions do we really need more?
This is the era hand we are dealt. There are pros and cons to the day before weigh-in, both economic and health related. Whether it should remain, be modified, or abolished, is a debate that has and will continue to go on.
It’s not going anywhere for the foreseeable future.
As long as the day before weigh-in remains, we can expect to continue to see catch controversies continue.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]