Cotto can channel Castillo
I'm not about to stand up and declare that Miguel Cotto will beat Floyd Mayweather Jr. on Saturday night at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. I'm not sure I'd predict victory for anyone smaller than Wladimir Klitschko against Mayweather, on Saturday or any other night. But for Miguel Cotto fans who may be wondering whether the junior middleweight champ has any shot at all, or who are feeling aggrieved and anxious at the widespread dismissal of their man's chances, I offer two names by way of encouragement:
Jose Luis Castillo and Oscar De La Hoya.
These were, of course, the two men who came closest to defeating Mayweather. De La Hoya dropped a split decision to Mayweather almost exactly five years ago and remains the only professional to ever win on a scorecard against him. And Castillo fought so well against Mayweather that he remains the only boxer to have earned a rematch against the man then known as Pretty Boy. Indeed, there are those who still maintain the Mexican deserved the nod in their first contest.
Granted, just about every opponent since has announced his intention to follow the Castillo blueprint, and every one of them has failed. But several factors make Cotto the most likely to succeed where others have fallen short. First, like De La Hoya, he has an excellent jab; that jab gave Mayweather difficult moments until Oscar began to tire. And although Cotto doesn't have the height and reach advantages the Golden Boy enjoyed, when Cotto deploys his jab to full effect, it can be a thumping weapon, as Shane Mosley can testify.
If Cotto is able to use that jab to keep Mayweather on the back foot, Floyd will have a harder time gaining the leverage he needs for his fast counters. And if Cotto is able to trap Mayweather against the ropes, the champ has the style and ability to do what Castillo did: swarm Mayweather, stay on top of him, bully him, not give him room to breathe. Whereas many opponents make the mistake in that position of trying to hit Mayweather's head, Cotto is a natural body puncher, and his left hook can take the legs out of the best of fighters over 12 rounds.
Add to that the fact that Mayweather no longer deploys the lateral movement he did as a younger man, and the conditions are right for Cotto to pull off the upset. Will he do it? I'm still not prepared to go that far. But I'd argue that those who dismiss him entirely do so at their peril.
Can't keep up with Mayweather
Floyd Mayweather Jr. has insisted throughout the buildup to this fight that, as far he's concerned, Miguel Cotto is an undefeated fighter. He doesn't count the Antonio Margarito loss because he suspects, as many observers do, that Margarito was loading his gloves. And he doesn't count the Manny Pacquiao defeat because Pacquiao made Cotto fight at a catchweight (something Floyd would never do ... cough, Juan Manuel Marquez, cough).
I don't know if Mayweather referring to Cotto as undefeated is a show of respect and admiration, a marketing ploy to sell the competitiveness of this fight, or part of a pre-emptive plan to make a win over Cotto appear extra-meaningful. But I do know this: Cotto took brutal beatings in the two fights he officially lost. And as a result of those beatings, I don't believe he's the same fighter who, back in 2007 or so, might have been able to take Mayweather to the limit.
I would never go so far as to call Cotto a shot fighter, but since the loss to Margarito, when has Cotto looked remotely like his prime self? Not in the Josh Clottey fight he barely eked out. Not when he struggled for 11 rounds with Ricardo Mayorga. And the version of Margarito against whom he avenged defeat last December was simply a slower, more damaged fighter than Cotto was.
Behind body punching and pressure, Cotto could theoretically have the style to trouble Mayweather, but Cotto lacks the hand speed, punch resistance and durability to apply that style to maximum effect. His best hope is to go downstairs and try to hurt Mayweather with left hooks to the ribs. But is Cotto willing to leave himself wide open for Money's best punch, the counter right hand, when he loads up?
Cotto is still a quality fighter at age 31. He can still be competitive against just about any 154-pounder in the world. Just not with Mayweather, who is too fast, too accurate, too technically precise -- and too careful in his matchmaking not to have vetted Cotto thoroughly and determined that this will be, as Floyd likes to say, "easy work."
After a tense opening round or two, this will be a beatdown. Cotto's face will swell and bleed as the rounds pass, and I expect Mayweather's blazing fists to produce a couple of flash knockdowns. By about the 10th or 11th round, Cotto's cornermen will have seen enough. And then Cotto won't be undefeated anymore by even the most liberal of measures.
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