This is the division where dreams go to die, where you better be high on somebody’s best pound-for-pound fighter list, or you better get out of town.
The 140-pound division has become one of boxing’s toughest playgrounds, the last place you want to be if you can‘t outbox Floyd Mayweather, out-gut Arturo Gatti or out-punch Kostya Tszyu.
Welcome to the junior-welterweight class of 2005, a top-heavy division where Ricky Hatton lives and where Miguel Cotto plans to make a stand.
Cotto (23-0, 19 KOs) is scheduled to defend his WBO junior-welterweight title against Muhammad Abdullaev (15-1, 12 KOs) on June 11 at Madison Square Garden on HBO. It’s on the same night as Mike Tyson’s fight against Kevin McBride in Washington D.C., but that fight is for the curious and the occasional fan, people who get a kick out of watching car wrecks and natural disasters.
The real fight that night is in New York City.
For Cotto, this is one of those rare chances for redemption, though he won’t really come out and tell you that. Abdullaev beat him in the 2000 Olympic Games in Australia on his way to winning a gold medal, and that loss kept popping up on a recent conference call with Cotto.
“So Miguel,” someone asked. “Since Abdullaev beat you in the Olympics, is this a chance for you to get some revenge?”
Cotto patiently explained it wasn’t about getting even.
And then there was the all important question. “Does the fact that he beat you as an amateur make this fight that much more important to you?”
Cotto, through a translator, apparently isn’t too concerned about what happened five years ago in Sydney when the two fighters were wearing head gear, bigger gloves and fighting under amateur rules.
“I just remember that I connected some great punches in that fight that were never counted,” Cotto said. “But you’re going to see a big difference on June 11.”
Since those amateur days, Cotto says he’s fought tougher guys than Abdullaev, developed a sense of what a professional should do, and he’s learned to take a fight one round at a time.
Cotto said “The Olympics is over,” no doubt tired of answering the same question. “It’s time to open a new chapter, and we’ll do that on June 11.”
Still, you wonder what he thinks about that loss late at night.
“We’ll see what he brings,” Cotto said of Abdullaev. “And I’ll keep the pressure on him like I do every fight. He‘s in for a rude awakening. He‘s not fighting that same 19-year-old kid.”
Someone asked Cotto, who is Puerto Rican, if he felt any pressure to slip into the limelight left behind by Felix Trinidad, who claims to have retired again.
“There are a lot of great boxers on the island right now,” Cotto said. “But if they decide I’m the next (hero) of Puerto Rico, I’ll be humbled by it.”
There’s still a little ways for Cotto to go. By the time June is over, Cotto will have fought Abdullaev, Hatton will have fought Tszyu, and Mayweather will have taken on Gatti (June 25).
“Come June 26, we’re going to have seen a lot of movement in that division,” said promoter Todd duBoef, president of Top Rank, which promotes Cotto. “We’ll get an idea where the division is going.”
And who is going to bring it.