Cotto listens to trainer Steward as Manny gets Miguel's hands ready. (Chris Farina)
For Miguel Cotto, the easy part of the job comes on Saturday night. Defeating Ricardo Mayorga? No sweat—at least when you compare it to the challenge Cotto’s been facing leading up to the fight.
No, I’m not talking about training for the bout (although when you add it all up, that’s a lot more hard work than just the 36 minutes between the bells). I’m talking about selling the fight. For Cotto, that’s where the pressure is on. The reason: He doesn’t have any reliable help.
In his biggest past pay-per-view events, Cotto has had a partner. From Shane Mosley to Antonio Margarito to Manny Pacquiao, the buy rates reflected the fact that both combatants had cachet and that the matchups themselves were intriguing. This Saturday, we’ll find out how much Cotto is really worth because he’s essentially selling a pay-per-view all by himself.
Sure, Mayorga and his promoter Don King are out there doing plenty of carnival barking. But what that does for the most part is just get the fight attention and give the journalists who listen in on their conference calls something to write about. It doesn’t necessarily convince people to reach into their wallets—at least not in mass quantities.
For the discerning customer, this pay-per-view is all about Cotto; he has no supporting cast. Mayorga has been living off a couple of wins over Vernon Forrest for eight years, failing to establish so much as a two-fight winning streak since.
As for the televised undercard, is Miguel Vazquez vs. Lenny Zappavigna going to sell any extra PPVs? How about Pawel Wolak against the well-publicized but stylistically unappetizing Yuri Foreman?
Probably the biggest seller on the undercard is someone who wasn’t on it until a few days ago. An almost menopausal Christy Martin pulled out with an injury, so professional football player Tommy Zbikowski slid in. No joke, I think this PPV could sell extremely well in the Baltimore area thanks to the presence of the Ravens safety. Or at the very least, the Maryland bars showing the fight will be crowded from 9 p.m. to about 9:15.
But in the end, this is a pay-per-view with one star fighter. It’s such a tough sell that it was being peddled largely on the strength of its promoters, King and Bob Arum. In fact, they teamed up for an entire teleconference all about their four-decades-long relationship. That makes for a fine talking point. But if it’s supposed to be more than that, if it’s supposed to be a selling point, then they’re in trouble.
So what does it all mean? It means when the pay-per-view numbers come in, we’re going to find out just how big a star Miguel Cotto is.
Right now, we know of two fighters who can carry a PPV all by themselves: Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather. Both can easily reach a million buys with a top-flight opponent and, increasingly, it seems Pacquiao can do it without a top-flight opponent.
Cotto might just be the third most bankable star in boxing right now. It’s probably either him or Juan Manuel Marquez. (Nonito Donaire is rising fast, but seemingly isn’t there yet.) Still, it remains to be seen whether Cotto is capable of doing serious business in a fight that fans aren’t taking all that seriously.
“Miguel can carry a pay-per-view if you don’t set the bar too high and if the expectations are not what they are for the other guys,” opined veteran boxing broadcaster Rich Marotta. “He needs an opponent who creates some interest in his own right. I think 250,000 buys would be the upper end for this kind of a fight, a fight where he’s the headliner.”
Former Boxing Writers Association of America President and TV/radio analyst Tony Paige has a similar numerical range in mind with regard to Cotto-Mayorga.
“It seems like every pay-per-view fight on this level does around 300,000 buys, it’s always the same people buying it over and over again,” Paige said. “I’d expect 250,000 or so for this fight. It’s nice that King and Arum are getting together—but if they were fighting on the undercard, then I think people would really buy it.”
Alas, Arum and King will not be swapping leather. But you know who will be? Middleweight champion Sergio Martinez and Sergei Dzinziruk, live on HBO, at the same time the Cotto-Mayorga card is going down. As if Cotto’s sales mission wasn’t challenging enough, he has to overcome a competing fight card that doesn’t come with its own price tag.
Paige feels that’s not a major issue: “If you’re paying for Cotto-Mayorga, you record the HBO show or you watch it on a replay.”
Marotta disagrees: “I think in today’s economy, having another fight card up against this is a significant issue.”
However, Cotto fans might be passionate enough about their man to overcome that. Though Cotto doesn’t have the outward charisma of fellow Puerto Rican stars Felix Trinidad or Juan Manuel Lopez, his countrymen have generally supported him. And you could make the case that his fan base has only grown since he started suffering losses. His TKO defeat to Antonio Margarito was so clouded in after-the-fact controversy that some fans don’t view it as a loss while nearly everyone developed sympathy for Cotto. And in losing to Pacquiao, Cotto showed the sort of bravery that fight fans love and respect.
Plus, leading up to the Pacquiao fight, Cotto was featured on HBO’s 24/7 series, which helped the quiet, stone-faced warrior show a bit of personality and connect with fight fans on a level he hadn’t previously.
But the most important contributor to Cotto’s value as an attraction is his fighting style. The man simply doesn’t make boring fights. Hell, he created compelling action with Yuri Foreman across the ring from him. There’s a little bit of the Arturo Gatti factor in effect with Cotto, as his ability to put butts in seats and convince remote-control operators to click “purchase” doesn’t necessarily correlate with his wins and losses.
In today’s boxing world, the gulf between the second most bankable fighter and the third most bankable fighter is vast. But Cotto might just be at the top of that second tier. If he exceeds PPV expectations in the Mayorga fight, doing it almost all by himself while going up against a major HBO show, he will have proven himself to be the number-three draw in the sport.
That Cotto will defeat Mayorga is, to me, a foregone conclusion. The extent to which Cotto can carry Mayorga, and the rest of this PPV event, is far less certain. It’s those numbers, not the time of the stoppage or the scores on the judges’ cards, that have me most intrigued.
Eric Raskin can be contacted at RaskinBoxing@yahoo.com. You can follow him on Twitter @EricRaskin https://twitter.com/#!/EricRaskin and listen to new episodes of his podcast, Ring Theory, at http://ringtheory.podbean.com.