The sudden retirement of Floyd Mayweather Jr. has had a profound effect on boxing in general and the welterweight division in particular. In wider terms, boxing pundits were asked to identify a new pound-for-pound king and Manny Pacquiao quickly filled that void with his spectacular ninth round destruction WBC lightweight champion David Diaz last month. This Saturday at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas WBA welterweight champion Miguel Cotto (32-0, 26 KO) will fight recently stripped IBF king Antonio Margarito (36-5, 26 KO) for the right to be called the division's pre-eminent figure. The 27-year-old Cotto is a 2-to-1 favorite to defeat the 30-year-old Mexican and become that man.
Given their respective styles, it is difficult to imagine anything other than a breathtaking display of fistic fireworks. Cotto is a left hooking aggressor who has shown he can box when necessary while the long-limbed Margarito boasts a whirlwind attack that has earned him the nickname of “The Tijuana Tornado.” In a year that has already seen half a dozen Fight of the Year candidates, Cotto-Margarito has the potential to top them all.
Since this bout will likely be a long grueling struggle for both, this analysis will examine the last two fights in which each was extended by world class opponents. Because Cotto is the defending champion, he will be given the honor.
The year 2007 was a defining year in Cotto's career because of his 11th round TKO of Zab Judah on June 7 and his close but unanimous decision of Shane Mosley on November 10, both of which took place before passionate crowds at Madison Square Garden.
Judah's five-inch reach advantage (72 inches to 67) dictated the pattern of the fight as Judah relied heavily on his jab to keep Cotto at long range and Cotto on his aggressiveness to get inside the New Yorker's longer arms. Judah's offense was 65-35 in favor of jabs while Cotto's ratio was 70-30 in favor of power shots and in the end Cotto did a much better job of imposing his style. Despite throwing 98 more jabs (300 to 202), Judah was out-landed 78-42 while Cotto dominated in power connects 214-90 (an average of 11 more per round) and throwing 322 more (29 per round). In all, Cotto was 292 of 683 (43 percent) to Judah's 132 of 459 (29 percent). Cotto maintained an active pace (his 62 punches per round was slightly above the divisional norm of 58.3) while also limiting Judah's offense (42 punches per round).
Cotto is renowned for his late round strength as he has registered 10 knockouts after round six (39 percent of his KO) and against Judah it was in full bloom.
In rounds eight through 10 Cotto out-landed Judah 100-32 overall (throwing 92 more punches in the process) and by a withering 85-24 in power shots (nearly 24 more per round) while throwing 115 more.
Against Mosley, however, Cotto had a much more difficult time statistically. Each man landed 248 punches, though Mosley had to throw 99 more (774-675) to get there. The strategic pattern was similar as Mosley used his speed and seven-inch reach advantage while Cotto attempted to work his power game. Mosley's offensive distribution was 57-43 in favor of jabs while Cotto's 57-43 ratio in favor of power shots indicated greater respect for Mosley's power than for Judah's. The first nine rounds were closely contested as Cotto held a 196-186 connect edge overall while Mosley actually had a 128-124 lead on power connects despite throwing 61 fewer (294-233).
By stubbornly hanging in with Cotto, Mosley managed to do in rounds 10-12 what previously had been thought impossible – be the physically and statistically stronger man down the stretch. In the final three rounds Mosley was 62 of 201 to Cotto's 52 of 156 overall while out-landing him 49-34 in power shots. Cotto also appeared to be the more weary and disorganized man, which may indicate to Margarito that Cotto is no longer the completely invincible master of the stretch drive.
Cotto navigated through this crisis by way of his underrated jab, for he out-landed the longer-armed Mosley 26-15 in the final three stanzas despite throwing 52 fewer (134-82). In fact, Cotto's jab had been effective throughout the bout as he out-did “Sugar Shane” in eight rounds to Mosley's two and two even while also registering double-digit connects four times, all in the first six rounds. Cotto was similarly dominant with the jab against Judah as he amassed an 8-1-1 lead over his faster and longer armed foe.
Another potential point of vulnerability for Cotto is his propensity to be hit with power punches, as Judah landed 57 percent and Mosley connected on 53 percent.
Despite sporting a 5-11 frame and a 73-inch reach, Margarito is among the world's most prolific and tenacious infighters. His 1,675 punches thrown against Joshua Clottey on December 2, 2006 in Atlantic City is CompuBox's all-time all divisions record, surpassing the 1,596 Zack Padilla threw against Ray Oliveira on December 15, 1993.
The raw numbers and statistical gaps amassed by Margarito in this fight were mind-boggling. Margarito averaged 139.6 punches per round, an astounding 101.5 more than Clottey's 38.1. His 842 thrown jabs were 750 more than Clottey's (an average of 62.5 more jabs per round) and his 833 power punch attempts were 468 more than the Ghanaian's. Despite injuring his wrist in round five, Margarito piled up a fight-high 197 punches and subsequently topped the 100-punch mark in all but one round. Margarito
exceeded 100 power punches in three rounds – five (105), six (106) and nine (110, including a fight-high 48 connects). Finally, Margarito kept up the pressure throughout as in round nine to 12 he was 115 of 533 overall to Clotty's 47 of 112 and accumulated a 97-39 gap in power connects.
When it came to landed punches, however, Clottey was far more competitive. Clottey out-landed Margarito in power shots in round two (24-18), three (20-15) and four (24-23) before injuring his left hand in round four. From round five onward a pain-inhibited Clottey averaged just 12 power connects but Margarito, who was also injured, averaged 26. Despite the humongous numerical gaps, Clottey was far more accurate as he landed 45 percent of his overall shots, 40 percent of his jabs and 47 percent of his power shots. This may indicate two things to Team Cotto: One, Margarito is easy to hit but two, he is not easy to discourage.
On July 14, 2007 at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., Paul Williams won Margarito's WBO title in most surprising fashion in that “The Punisher” used his freakish 6-1 height and massive 82-inch reach to do to Margarito what Margarito did to everyone else.
Williams set the tempo from the start as he threw 114 punches to Margarito's 42 while out-landing him 21-4 and from then on Margarito could do little to stop the numerical landslide. Williams' 104.7 punches per round overall was more than 50 above Margarito's 54.3 but the most telling gap could be found in the jabs.
Williams unleashed 606 jabs (a little more than 50 per round) while Margarito, unused to fighting someone taller, couldn't fire his own. An interesting factoid: Williams threw 57 jabs in the first round while Margarito didn't uncoil his 57th jab until sometime in the 12th and finished with 61.
Even then, however, Margarito demonstrated his ability to rally late. In rounds one through six Williams held a 124-64 connect edge while throwing 353 more (599-246) overall and a 97-59 bulge in power shots. In rounds seven through 12 the gap closed as Williams out-connected Margarito 164-117 overall but only 108-106 in power shots – and Margarito actually threw 19 more (363-344). In the final six rounds Margarito averaged 68 punches per round to just 41 punches in the first half.
Predicition: This is a fight fan's fight of the highest order and in terms of action and drama it will not disappoint. The flow of the fight will depend entirely on how Cotto chooses to handle Margarito's all-out attack. Will he continue his recent trend of jabbing and countering or will he be the methodical meat grinder whose relentlessness exacts equal doses of mental and physical punishment? The guess here is that he will toss aside his boxing ways and go right at the willowy Margarito's rib cage. It wouldn't be surprising if Margarito builds a lead by the halfway point, but Cotto's second half rally will put him back in the thick of things by the final bell.
If anyone is going to score a knockout, it will be Cotto in the late rounds. But the pick here is Cotto by close but unanimous decision. The next question will be whether a certain Pretty Boy will emerge from his mansion and declare it is time to tackle some unfinished business. Then again, maybe not.