Our friends at ESPNDeportesLosAngeles.com convened a roundtable, including a former world champion and a current world champion, to weigh in on Saturday night's Floyd Mayweather-Miguel Cotto fight in Las Vegas.
1. At this stage of Mayweather's career, is Cotto the toughest challenger he's faced?
Diego Morilla (ESPNDeportes.com): Mayweather is the Everest of boxing right now, and contrary to Cotto, the American fighter seems to get better with time. Mayweather is older but has had less physical wear, unlike Cotto, who will need all his boxing tricks to look good in this fight.
Noel Piñeiro Planas (ESPNDeportesLosAngeles.com): Considering that a fight with Manny Pacquiao continues to be vetoed by Mayweather and his representatives, Cotto is the most difficult opponent he could face. I consider him the toughest fighter Mayweather has faced because other big name boxers he defeated, such as "Sugar" Shane Mosley and Oscar De La Hoya, faced him in the twilight of their careers.
Bernardo Pilatti (ESPNDeportes.com): No, not at all. If Cotto sticks to his fighting style, he has no weapons to really fluster Floyd. His only alternative is to interrupt Mayweather's style, wait for him, force him to expose himself and counter punch. Judging from his statements, the Puerto Rican will do the opposite. As of today, Pacquiao is still the toughest rival Mayweather could face.
Arash Markazi (ESPNLosAngeles.com): Yes, although this fight would have been far better if it were held five years ago. Cotto is the toughest challenger Mayweather can schedule outside of Pacquiao, but Cotto is no longer in the same class as Pacquiao or Mayweather. That will likely be proven in the ring Saturday night. That said, Cotto is a tough opponent and has a chance of pulling an upset, which is more than I can say for some of the opponents Mayweather has had over the past five years.
Jose Sanchez Fournier (El Nuevo Dia, Puerto Rico): Without a doubt, Cotto is the toughest rival that Mayweather has had in a long time. That's not to say that Mayweather has faced low-quality opponents. De La Hoya and Juan Manuel Marquez are two of the best fighters of the past few decades. But when he fought against Floyd in 2007, the Golden Boy was already in the twilight of his career, and Marquez took on the man nicknamed "Money" despite an obvious weight and height disadvantage.
Cotto is a relatively small junior middleweight, but he's solid and strong. The power in his punch has decreased compared to when he was fighting in the 140- and 147-pound divisions. Nonetheless, he continues to be one of the best fighters today, as he demonstrated to Antonio Margarito in December.
Juan Manuel Marquez (WBO Interim Junior Welterweight Champion, ESPN Deportes): At this stage in his career, I don't think Cotto is the toughest rival. Cotto has had tough fights, and he has gotten very beaten up. Because of that, he cannot arrive to this fight at 100 percent. Of the opponents that Mayweather has taken on, he is tough but not the toughest.
Sergio "Maravilla" Martinez (Ring Middleweight Champion and recipient of the WBC Diamond belt): He will not be the toughest rival. He will be a great rival, a renown one, but this is not Cotto's best moment. Hopefully it will be his best night and hopefully he will win the fight, but he is not experiencing his best moment. Cotto's best moment was a couple of years back.
2. With the early odds favoring Mayweather, does Cotto have a real chance to win Saturday?
Morilla: Besides a fighter's chance, Cotto has a great strategist in his corner, and he seems more motivated and concentrated than ever as he prepares for this event. Opportunities are there, but Cotto will depend on doing an outstanding job himself. He will have to capitalize on any mistake Mayweather may make in order to prevail, and that will probably be too much to ask.
Piñeiro: The bets and the people placing the bets don't fight or, even less, train for the fight. Although at a disadvantage in the experts' estimation, Cotto has a chance to win because he's not wounded and he isn't passive in the ring. Cotto has his resources, and I consider that Mayweather has never faced as strong a rival as him. Cotto arrives re-energized to this fight after his solid victory over Margarito, and he is evidently enamored once again with the training regimen and with learning new techniques under Pedro Luis Diaz Benitez, his trainer for a second fight in a row.
Pilatti: Boxing is not an exact science. The possibility of winning will always exist, but in this case, it will depend on his battle plan and on whatever mistake Mayweather may make. Beyond the fact that he is bigger and, in theory, stronger than Floyd, Cotto has worked on strengthening and will arrive more solid to the fight. Just seeing a photo is enough to ascertain that he has worked on his physique adequately.
Markazi: He has a chance, how real or how great will depend on what the cerebral Mayweather allows Cotto to do. The beauty of Mayweather is he rarely puts himself in position to look bad, get knocked out or lose. He might not always win in the most exciting fashion -- 12 of his last 17 fights have been decided by the judges' scorecards -- but he rarely leaves himself open for an upset. That's why the smart money is on a Mayweather decision Saturday night.
Sanchez: Cotto has a chance, but it depends greatly on how Floyd shows up to the fight. If Mayweather, at 35, has started to lose his vast boxing abilities,or if he arrives unfocused, Cotto could surprise.
But if the Floyd who enters the ring is the untouchable and quick fighter who easily dominated the great Marquez and the solid Mosley and who mercilessly knocked out Victor Ortiz, the probability that Cotto will win seems minuscule.
Marquez: The bets are one thing; the facts are another. That doesn't mean that because the bets are in favor of Mayweather they will guarantee the win for him. He must show it in the ring. But since bets are in his favor, many could view it as an easy victory, and the same thing that happened to me against Pacquiao could happen to Cotto.
Martinez: The possibility will always be present. Everyone has chances to win. But logically, the one with the best chance to win is Mayweather, although in this sport, logic does not exist. But statistics exist for a reason, and people don't bet with their heart; they bet with their mind.
3. What's your prediction for this fight and why?
Morilla: Mayweather by points, handily but not necessarily comfortably. It will be an intense clash, with a fast pace and great moments from Cotto, but the speed and defense from Floyd will ultimately be too much for Cotto, who in any case will create a great impression in a fight that will be more even than expected.
Piñeiro: It will be a close fight, tough for both fighters. Mayweather is the best defensive boxer of this generation, and Cotto is a resourceful fighter, who, like his opponent, knows how to move well in the ring. Both will have good moments and each will put his opponent in a jam. Either one could notch the win by knockout at some point during the final quarter of the fight. That said, logic tells me that Mayweather will win a tight decision in his own backyard.
Pilatti: Mayweather should win without a doubt because of speed and technical superiority and because the rival on duty adapts to his style to a T. Everything indicates that this brawl will be decided by points on the judges' scorecards; they will go the 12 rounds. Nonetheless, I don't rule out that the accumulation of power punches on Cotto's face eventually does enough damage and he is forced to abandon before the end.
Markazi: I have to go Mayweather by decision. In Mayweather's last 17 fights, 12 have been decided by the judges' scorecards, which is just fine for Mayweather. Cotto will be looking for the knockout, and Mayweather knows the only way he can lose is by being out of position and leaving himself open, which history says won't happen. Mayweather will be aggressive early before retreating and playing the numbers all the way to another win.
Sanchez: I think Cotto will look to pressure in an intelligent way and attack low. He will be successful early, and we will see good exchanges. But just like he did against Mosley, Marquez, Zab Judah and many others, Mayweather will decipher Cotto's strategy. He will adapt and dominate the second half of the fight and proceed to win by a clear-cut decision.
Marquez: I believe that the first rounds will be difficult for Mayweather, but he will win by decision. I say decision because Mayweather doesn't take risks, and with his defense and his counter punches, he will win on the scorecards by a clear margin. I say three or four points.
Martinez: I believe Mayweather will be victorious by points because of the way he has fought recently. Cotto is still famous and a strong boxer and what have you, and if he comes well prepared and trained, he can give a good fight. But Mayweather will do enough to win by points.
4. Win or lose, will there ever be a Mayweather versus Pacquiao fight?
I have always said that there's too much money in that fight for it not to happen, and perhaps a Mayweather loss -- or a performance well below his standards -- predisposes him better for negotiating that mega-fight. We've had worse surprises, but my bet is that Floyd versus Pacman will happen.
Piñeiro: I don't even know what to say about this anymore. For this fight, there has not been a willingness from all parties, and the most recent reason blocking the way is the fight over how to distribute the money. Mayweather is too ambitious, wanting money and to be a star. That is why he does not want to split the purse almost equally with Pacquiao, who has his own thing going as a money-generating figure. That fight will only become a reality when one of the two loses a fight and starts to see his value decrease.
Pilatti: I don't think so. Not this year and I dare rule it out for the next few. Too many mistakes have been made in the negotiations, especially on Floyd's behalf. My prediction is that in November or December, Manny will face Marquez and then retire. That is why there will be no fight of the century.
Markazi: Yes, but much like Mayweather-Cotto, it will probably take place five years after we wanted it to. There's simply way too much money at stake for these two not to come to the table and say, "Hey, we don't agree on much, but we can both agree we can't pass up on this payday." It would be a shame if these two let percentage cuts of the purse prevent the most anticipated fight boxing has seen in decades from happening. The only ones sorrier than the fans if the fight doesn't happen will be the fighters when they realize all the money they left on the table by bickering over drug tests and gate receipts.
Sanchez: I used to think that if Mayweather-Pacquiao has not happened until now, it's because it will never happen. But recently I had the opportunity to share lunch with Michael Koncz, personal adviser to Pacquiao, and he indicated that even though the most recent round of negotiations failed, there was progress and they are still in touch with Mayweather. Koncz believes that this highly anticipated bout could be set for 2013, and although I am skeptical, I give him the benefit of the doubt.
Marquez: It would be a matter of Pacquiao winning his fight on June 9 [against Timothy Bradley] and Mayweather winning Saturday. Then they would have to agree on a purse and what percentages each would get. But after how awful Pacquiao looked in November, I think that whole business will collapse.
Martinez: No, I don't see it with Pacquiao. I don't think anyone in his inner circle or the world of boxing can see with clarity whether that fight will ever become a reality.
5. If Cotto loses, will this be the end of the road for him?
Morilla: It should not be. Nobody should ask Cotto to end his career just because he loses, at least legitimately, against the two best fighters of their era. The punishment that Cotto has received throughout his time in the ring has been considerable, but he still has a lot to give. He will recognize when his body asks him to retire.
Piñeiro: Miguel always said he would retire at 30 years old, but obviously he changed his mind and is getting into the ring to fight at 31, newly motivated with the sport and improved as a fighter. If he loses handily, he'd have to reconsider whether there is anything else out there for him. He has already won good money and is healthy, although he has received blows that we don't know what effects they will have in his future. If he loses a tight one, there would still be other alternatives, such as a possible rematch with Pacquiao.
Pilatti: For Cotto, this is not the end. To lose against the No. 1 pound-for-pound boxer is not a dishonor by any means. Let's look at this fight more than as a great battle, as a huge business, from which Cotto will emerge with about $15 million and his image as a box-office draw intact, ready for other fights with a lot of money in the purse.
Markazi: It might be the end of the road as far as being a big pay-per-view draw, but depending on how bad he loses, I think he has some more fights left in him. Cotto turned 31 in October and is undefeated since moving up to 154 pounds in 2010. If Cotto loses Saturday night, he will have lost only two fights since 2009 and both will have been against Mayweather and Pacquiao. There's no shame in that.
Sanchez: Whatever the result Saturday, Cotto already won. For this bout he will receive the biggest earnings of his distinguished career. Furthermore, to lose at the hands of Mayweather, considered by many as the best fighter of the moment and perhaps the best of all time, is almost like not losing. If we add to the mix that Floyd faces jail time in June and won't be able to fight until maybe the end of this year or beginning of 2013, Cotto doesn't end up in too bad of a position even if he is defeated.
Around the corner are the fights with Saul "Canelo" Alvarez and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., which seem attractive without taking into account his fight with Mayweather.
Marquez: I don't think it will be the end. Cotto is a good boxer, but Mayweather is a great boxer. There is no dishonor in losing to him. Cotto can fight some more in the same weight class or in another division; maybe he could go back to welterweight and face other opponents.
Martinez: No, not at all. He still has something to give to boxing, but not at the highest possible level to face Mayweather, because we are talking about the top fighter pound for pound.