June is a special month for the classiest of the 140-pounders out there — a time to step up or swoon.
First up is Saturday night’s bangfest between Kostya Tszyu and Ricky Hatton. Next up, the prospect’s prospect, Miguel Cotto, gets to face down the man who beat him in Sydney five years ago, Muhammad Abdullaev, on June 11. And last but not least is the June 25th slam dance between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Arturo Gatti.
As Top Rank’s Todd duBoef said, more will be known on June 26th: “There will be a lot of movement. We will know a lot more about where the division is going, about who is king and who will be the future king.”
Tszyu will be facing the wrath of English fans in Manchester. Of course, as long as they are not playing soccer, it might not be too bad. This is the same Tszyu who waited in his locker room an extra 15-20 minutes on a hot August night in 1998 when an angry El Paso/Juarez crowd chunked objects into the ring after Luisito Espinoza got a decision over Juarez’s Juan Carlos Ramirez. But this Tszyu is seven years older, a more mature, more experienced fighter. He should tame Hatton and his fans with all his power.
By the way, when he did come out of his locker room that night in 1998, he stopped Rafael Ruelas in the ninth round.
On the other end of the 140-pound fiesta is Mayweather-Gatti. No matter how much every fight fan loves the game, gutty, gritty Gatti, who can go against Mayweather in this one? He is too good, too slick, too much. This fight offers contrasts, intrigue and a ray of hope for the battlers of this world. But little else.
And then, right there in the middle is the battle of the young men on the rise, who still harbor all the hopes and dreams that live inside young fighters. They will enter center ring in Boxing’s Mecca, Madison Square Garden, and the Mecca will feature an enormous fan base for Puerto Rico’s newest and latest great hope (after Winky Wright shut out Felix Trinidad): namely, Miguel Cotto.
The drama behind the upcoming Cotto-Abdullaev began five years ago, a world away in Sydney, Australia. Strangely enough, this was only an opening round fight in the 2000 Olympics, yet it was a battle between two of the world’s great amateurs. Abdullaev won 17-7 and moved on to the next round. He eventually won the gold medal.
Cotto simply moved on.
Yet he says this latest fight has nothing to do with revenge: “I can’t think of it as personal. I’m a professional. I have a job to do. The Olympic chapter is over. Now it’s time for a new chapter.”
Abdullaev has intimated he is using a tape of that fight in 2000 as part of his training. More likely, he is just using it as part of boxing’s mind games. Still, Cotto has his own answer for that tactic.
“I know that might be what he is looking for on June 11,” Cotto said, “but he should be looking at something else. He will be in for a rude awakening if he thinks he’s going to be fighting that same 19-year-old in Australia five years ago.”
Abdullaev hopes he will be fighting that same 19-year-old, but a boxing life can take a thousand different trails as it evolves. Sometimes a great amateur makes a great professional; sometimes not. Sometimes styles simply fit certain fighters and follow them through the years. But, sometimes — actually, many times — a good amateur simply turns into a very good professional … a better pro fighter than he ever was as an amateur.
These men are still young, two dream-filled boxers at a crossroads. Is this make or break fight? Hardly. Is this important? Definitely. Cotto will continue to rise in the ranks, continue to gain more and more respect. Abdullaev might finally get onto the radar, move into the hearts and minds and souls of boxing fans.
The opportunity is there for the taking.
For his part, Cotto said he has paid little attention to Abdullaev the professional.
“I’ve seen very little of him,” Cotto said. “I don’t worry about what my opponent comes into the ring to do. I worry about what I want to do. I worry about imposing my will on him. The biggest difference he will see from five years ago is that my experience has been great. I will try to win, round by round; see what he brings in and keep the pressure on. That’s what I do in all my fights.”
Cotto went on to praise Top Rank’s veteran matchmaker Bruce Trampler, saying that Trampler’s fight choices have always been good and saying that he will be glad to fight whoever Trampler and Top Rank choose in the future.
And, in reality, this fight in the middle of this 140-pound June trilogy is all about the future.
Mayweather is established, known to be a force. Tszyu is the same power puncher he has always been. These men are champions and these men will win again — Tszyu on a Saturday night in Manchester, England, and Mayweather on a Saturday night in Atlantic City.
Center ring, next week, Madison Square Garden. That is the stage for Cotto and Abdullaev. It will be the night that Cotto continues his ascendancy, a night that Abdullaev goes back to the drawing board.
Win, lose, draw or knocked silly, this will be a special month for 140-pounders and 140-pound lovers.