#1 Floyd Mayweather (39-0) vs. #2 Miguel Cotto (31-0)
So it's all come down to this.
A showdown between Floyd Mayweather and Miguel Cotto has all the makings of a classic. Two, young, undefeated fighters placing it all on the line to determine the true king of the welterweights. This would be the biggest fight in all of boxing.
To go with all of the subplots, storylines, and inevitable episodes of 24/7, Mayweather-Cotto would present a fascinating stylistic matchup. Mayweather has long been boxing's boy genius, a prodigious talent whose career has been defined by skill more than savagery, by cunning more than concussions.
In Cotto, he finds a complete antithesis: a fighter driven by passion, whose talent is surpassed only by his gladiator mentality. Cotto's relentless nature figures to stretch Mayweather's wits and wiles to the absolute limits.
Mayweather's blueprint to victory centers on making this fight as surgical and precise as possible. Floyd's made a career out of making punchers look foolish (Diego Corrales and Phillip N'Dou to name but two), but Cotto presents a much more difficult assignment.
Mayweather will win or lose this fight based upon how well he uses his unparalleled ring intellect. He needs to make the ever-pursuing Cotto miss and miss often. However, there will be moments when Mayweather will have to stand and return fire. If he doesn't, Cotto will simply run him out of the ring. The key for Floyd is to choose these moments intelligently and make them matter. His punches must carry the type of commitment they've been lacking in recent fights if he hopes to discourage Cotto in any way. He needs to get Cotto's respect, like Ricardo Torres and Demarcus Corley, but without paying the same price they did.
For Cotto, the name of the game is pressure. Dogged, unrelenting pressure. He needs to be in Mayweather's grill from the start, making him work every second of the fight. Floyd consciously avoids fighting at a busy pace to minimize the chances of being forced to abandon his strategy. Miguel needs to get inside and fluster him with the type of rough stuff Ricky Hatton couldn't do. He'll probably have committed Jose Luis Castillo's plan to memory: track Floyd down, whack him to the body, and, most importantly, make him fight. A winning scenario for Cotto isn't easy, though. He can't just wade in mindlessly, just as you wouldn't run wildly across an empty field to close in on a sniper. Cotto must remember that he's in with a man who is a master at exploiting mistakes. Despite evidence to the contrary, Floyd can hurt Cotto, and Miguel needs to remember that.
So how would the fight unfold? Supporters of Mayweather are quick, as well as correct, to point out that he is a better fighter than the one who narrowly defeated Castillo twice in 2002. He has settled into his identity as a pure boxer and has not deviated from it for a single moment.
For Mayweather, however, victory against Cotto will not be achieved through pure boxing. There is no question that Floyd is the more gifted fighter of the two, but he will have to stand his ground at some point in the fight. Other boxers who were successful in making Cotto look vulnerable first had to put themselves in harm's way. Corley, Torres, Judah, and Mosley all had to assume the risk of absorbing Cotto's best in order to land their own blows. Mosley was the only one able to see the distance in this game of Russian roulette. The question is whether Floyd, a fighter who takes safety-first to new levels, would be willing to take these risks.
As for Cotto, can he make up for the disparity in talent with his strength and fighting spirit? Ultimately, his determination will have to be the intangible that will turn the tide and make this a winnable fight for him. Even with a will as strong as Cotto's, would it be enough against the best fighter in the world?
The feeling here is, yes, it would be. The fight would be an ugly one, with more misses than clean blows for Cotto, and truly damaging punches being rare for Mayweather. Eventually, it would come down to who wants it more. While Mayweather has gone on record as saying he'd be willing to die in the ring, it doesn't really seem like he means it. At least, not as much as Cotto does. Whereas Mayweather has had nary a moment of competitive suspense in the last several years, Cotto has been to hell and back on several occasions, proving he'll do whatever it takes to win. In a close fight, especially one that he wants as badly as this, Cotto would be more likely to let it all hang out.
I can already hear the Mayweather fans protesting this prediction.
The Pick: Cotto in a split decision, by the closest of margins.
TSS Welterweight Tourney Champion: Miguel Cotto