According to all-powerful Wikipedia, a supernova is “a stellar explosion” that is “extremely luminous, and can cause a burst of radiation that often briefly outshines an entire galaxy.” A more fitting metaphor for this weekend's highly anticipated fight between Antonio Margarito and Miguel Cotto does not exist. The bout is guaranteed to be an explosive, vicious affair, given each man's penchant for violent encounters. And like its metaphorical counterpart, the excitement surrounding this fight has made it outshine the rest of the sport.
For one rare moment, the attention of the sport is focused where it should be: the fighters. Not controversy. Not corruption. The is a return to boxing's glory days, and we have Antonio Margarito and Miguel Cotto to thank.
For that reason, I was reluctant to offer a forecast for this matchup. It has been a long time since I've been this amped for a big fight, and as a fan of both men, it's hard for me to make a pick. The bottom line is this: we are in for a classic on Saturday night. That being said, here's my objective take on strategy, and the way it's likely to play out.
One of the aspects of Cotto's game that often goes ignored is his ability to improve between fights. Lately, Cotto has shown vast improvements in past areas of weakness. His occasionally wide punches, which were apparent in his struggles with DeMarcus Corley and Ricardo Torres, have straightened themselves out. His improved boxing skills were on display against Mosley and Alfonso Gomez. Cotto has the look of a fighter who is putting it all together. He will need all the elements of his game to be one cohesive unit against Margarito.
In this welterweight collision, Miguel Cotto needs to remember the advantages he possesses over Margarito, with speed being primary among them. Cotto is definitely the quicker man, and if he can turn this into a quick-draw type of fight, he'll own a decided advantage over the bigger, slower Margarito.
For Cotto to be successful in the biggest fight of his career, he needs to be the definitive boxer/puncher. If he tries to walk through Margarito the same way he did to Carlos Quintana, he will have major problems. He will need to keep the fight at a measured, manageable pace and maintain distance between himself and Margarito. With his shorter reach, Cotto will have to utilize more movement than he is used to, but the more he can stay out of the trenches with the brawling Margarito, the better.
You can bet the Cotto camp wore out their copy of Margarito's fight against Joshua Clottey, who took Margarito to school over the course of the first four rounds of their matchup prior to hurting his hands. Clottey showed that, if you can stay on the outside and counter Margarito's wide shots, he can be contained. If Cotto's got that right hand cocked, he could have a field day shooting it over Margarito's left.
For Margarito, the strategy is a simple one...on paper, at least. He simply cannot outbox Cotto, and to even attempt it will most assuredly end in defeat. So, in the sage words of George Foreman, “If you can't out-do a guy, do something else.”
Against Cotto, that “something else” will come in the form of a brawling, mauling, physical fight. Cotto's been in some rough fights at welterweight, namely against Judah and Mosley, but Margarito brings an entirely different style to the table. It will require sustaining collateral damage, but the Mexican star will have to force his way onto the inside and outmuscle Cotto. If he languishes on the outside for an extended period of time, he will realize the vast skill deficit he surrenders to Cotto. Basically, the more exciting the fight, the better the prospects are for Margarito. The problem is, this scenario will require Margarito to eat leather, and when the punches are coming from Miguel Cotto, bad things can happen.
If he can work his way onto the inside, Margarito needs to focus a portion of his torrid workrate on Cotto's body. Against Shane Mosley, Cotto showed that he can wane in the later rounds. If he is forced to keep up with Margarito's maniacal pace, the body shots will do him no favors late in the fight.
If Margarito can lure Cotto into a down-and-dirty dogfight, he will find his best chance for victory. Take this as a guarantee: if Margarito can average a hundred punches per round, he wins. Simple as that.
How It Will Go Down:
There's a line that Dr. Phil likes to use that might prove helpful in this situation: “The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.”
So let's take a look at what we know of both fighters, starting with Miguel Cotto. For all the vulnerability Cotto has shown (which is far less than his detractors wish to portray), the fact is that he has always been able to fight his fight. Nobody's ever been able to deter him from controlling the action in the ring. Cotto has shown a remarkable ability to keep his wits about him even in the midst of crisis. It seems nearly impossible to truly rattle Cotto in a way that takes him out of his game. While his warrior instinct is what puts fans in the seats, it's his poise and intelligence that has kept him undefeated.
That Cotto will be fighting a classic brawler in Margarito is nothing really new to Cotto. Earlier in his career, Cotto faced similar, though significantly less skilled, brawlers in Kelson Pinto and Mohamad Abdulaev. In both instances, Cotto surgically dissected his opponents from the outside, realizing that the inside would be a foolish place to be.
Granted, Margarito is light years better than either Pinto or Abdulaev, but if we had to predict how Cotto will react on Saturday night, it's a safe bet that he will stick to his gameplan and keep his distance from Margarito.
Well, then, let's take a look at what we know of Antonio Margarito. It's obvious that the man is tough as nails; nobody is debating that. But Margarito has consistently exhibited several bad habits that could lead to his undoing.
First, Margarito has shown a tendency to punch wide and over-commit to his punches. Daniel Santos, Joshua Clottey, and Paul Williams all managed to find openings and make Margarito pay. Miguel Cotto is a fighter who thrives off the mistakes his opponents make. Margarito's defense has always started with his offense, but if he gets over-excited or desperate, he could be an easy target for a sharp-shooting Cotto. From past fights, the guys who have given Cotto the most trouble have been quick-handed fighters who can counter. Antonio Margarito is the exact opposite.
Secondly, Margarito has never shown any ability to step up his game when it has mattered. He's a terrific fighter, but he hasn't been able to throw it into another gear in clutch situations. This weekend, he won't be fighting Sebastian Lujan. He won't be standing across from Manuel Gomez. He will be facing the best opponent of his career, and he will have to give the performance of his life in order to win. Can he do it?
The guess here is, no. Margarito's toughness and strength have finite limits, limits that appear to fall short of Cotto's capabilities. Cotto is too young, too versatile, and is a fighter who is coming into his own. Margarito will push Cotto to the edge, but ultimately Cotto's poise will keep him from going over.
Expect Margarito to be true to his word and come out with guns blazing from the opening bell. Expect Cotto, who has been a slow starter in the past, to match Margarito's energy level in an attempt to thwart any momentum Margarito tries to gain. Cotto will make a living off his right hand counters, but his left hook will find its home as well.
By the second half of the fight, Margarito will pick up the pace out of desperation, feeling that the fight is slipping away. He'll have some success, as Cotto might slow down from the pace it will take to keep Margarito at bay. Margarito will net some rounds late, but in the end, it won't be enough.
The fight will no doubt be exciting, with ebbs and flows throughout, but in the end, Cotto will just have too much.
The Pick: Cotto by close, but unanimous decision.