Back around 2006 and 2007, when Miguel Cotto was tearing through the 140 and 147-lb weight classes, I would have bet the house on Miguel Cotto to beat Floyd Mayweather, Jr.
Cotto was made to pose a challenge to a fighter with the defensive brilliance that defines Pretty Boy Floyd.
When I first saw a full Cotto fight back in 2004 (they typically didn’t last long), I was mesmerized. I couldn’t believe the blend of power, speed, and accuracy. Offensively, he was a gift from the boxing heavens. What he lacked in defensive skills he made up for with aggressiveness and explosive punches from all angles.
Cotto is and always has been a brutally hard puncher. He didn’t necessarily have the one-punch knockout power of Tommy Hearns’ right hand, but he hit hard. And with both hands. If you don’t believe me, ask Paulie Malignaggi. Better yet, just do a Google search looking for photos of his smashed orbital bone after fighting Cotto. Or ask Carlos Quintana, a solid, technically-sound southpaw who Cotto fought for an interim welterweight title back in 2006. Quintana seemed to be winning the early rounds against Cotto, but it was Quintana that looked like he was on the wrong end of a street fight after just four rounds. Cotto went on to stop him on a chilling body shot.
The body shot. Cotto’s most potent weapon.
As his career evolved, Miguel Cotto continued hammering opponents with great body shots while improving on his ever-suspect defense. In 2007, he faced Shane Mosley, who still had plenty left in the tank at this point, in what was by far the stiffest test of his career. In a performance that lifted him into the boxing elite and pound-for-pound lists, Miguel Cotto boxed and landed heavy power punches utilizing both an orthodox and a southpaw stance. He landed on the inside, and he landed from the outside. In the late rounds, he was landing significant power punches to win the decision while moving backwards. He was out-boxing Shane Mosley. This was when Shane Mosley was still “Sugar” Shane Mosley.
This hungry version of Miguel Cotto would have been a nightmare for Floyd Mayweather, Jr. He would box, throw heavy leather with both hands, and constantly attack from all angles with great accuracy and subtle speed. Oscar De La Hoya was mildly successful in being able to pressure Floyd even though Oscar was well past his prime when they fought. Oscar even won that fight on one questionable scorecard. If Cotto had him on the ropes at this point, he would have ripped Mayweather’s body until he was able to land up top. I just know it.
Unfortunately, the beating Cotto suffered at the hands of Antonio Margarito in their first fight has really taken a toll on him. I firmly believe that it was the lack of body punches from Cotto that made the difference that night. Margarito seemingly landed more body punches than Cotto threw. Would a few of Cotto’s devastating body punches have turned the tide? Who knows? But as a Cotto fan, I sure would like to have seen a few. Cotto’s stoppage loss to Manny Pacquiao was as much a result of the Margarito beating as it was attributed to the fact that Joe Santiago was not equipped to be training Miguel Cotto for a Manny Pacquiao fight. He offered absolutely no tactical advice throughout that entire fight when some adjustments absolutely had to be made. Manny Pacquiao is the best fighter in the world, and you simply can’t beat him without making adjustments.
Even if it seems like he’s mentally recovered, having now stopped Margarito in their December 2011 rematch, this is not the same Miguel Cotto. He’s slowed down a bit, lost his patented aggressiveness, and has become somewhat of a counter-puncher at this point. Even in the second fight against Margarito, it looked eerily similar to the first. Cotto landed at will, but he simply couldn’t hurt the bigger man who kept stalking forwards. The only difference in the second fight was that Margarito has regressed dramatically. In addition to clearly having career-threatening eye issues, he has been a shot fighter since Shane Mosley knocked him around in a one-sided drubbing (in Margarito’s first fight defending the title he won from Cotto… insert hand wraps scandal here).
Cotto still allowed himself to be backed into the ropes, but Margarito was simply too slow to stop him from rolling out of danger this time. Floyd Mayweather, Jr. will not let you off the hook if you make a mistake. He’ll make you pay like he did to Victor Ortiz. If anything, he’ll bait Cotto into making mistakes by setting traps that only Floyd can set.
Floyd Mayweather, Jr. is one of the most polarizing figures in any sport today, but his greatness lies in the ring. He is the most dominant, technical, skilled, and natural defensive fighter I’ve ever seen. Floyd is always aware of exactly where he is in the ring, and is simply a master of his craft. Outside of punching power, Floyd Mayweather, Jr. does not lack a single boxing skill.
Mayweather’s brilliance was on full display as he was just entering the prime of his HBO career in a fight against another defensively-limited fighter in Arturo Gatti. He laid such a savage beating on Gatti that it was hard to watch. As a fan of the fight game, seeing big punches doesn’t make me squeamish. However, this was the single most one-sided beatdown I’ve ever seen in a sanctioned fight. Gatti was never Pernell Whitaker defensively, but seeing what a prime Floyd did to a faded Gatti was mystifying. He’d land six hard power punches cleanly by the time Gatti had the sense to cover up or return fire. It is his accuracy as much as it is his hand speed that makes him such an elite fighter.
All Mayweather has done since that fight is dominate. Granted he hasn’t necessarily fought the best boxing had to offer since then; Floyd Mayweather hasn’t been in more than a few mildly competitive fights. That speaks more to his greatness than his selection of opponents.
I want Miguel Cotto to prove me wrong more than anything, but all I can see is the same outcome as his fight against Manny Pacquiao. It will be competitive for awhile, but Mayweather will take control around round five like he always does. He’ll largely coast en route to a one-sided victory (if he stops him, it will be a TKO in the 11th) with precise right hands landing repeatedly. In all likelihood, we can add Miguel Cotto to a growing list of fighters that could have once given Mayweather a good fight, only to get their chance once they are past their athletic prime.
I sure hope Manny Pacquiao doesn’t make that list as well. It’s a sad truth in boxing, but the one fight everyone wants is Floyd vs. Pacman. It is the only one that has questions to be answered. Where does that fight take place? In the center of the ring? On the outside? Who’s the stronger man? These are questions we all want to know now while both fighters still seem to be at the peak of their pugilistic prowess.
Personally, I think Manny would beat Floyd Mayweather. I don’t think it’s fair to use the transitive property when comparing their respective fights vs. Juan Manuel Marquez. Styles definitely do make fights, and JMM and Manny were made to fight one another.
While Victor Ortiz posed no threat to Floyd, seeing him get off combinations with Floyd against the ropes (although only landing with his head), I’m convinced that Manny could employ the same strategy but land with effectiveness. Ortiz is a very good prizefighter, but Manny is a once-in-a-lifetime fighter. So is Floyd Mayweather. They both are deadly accurate with extremely fast hands. It’s so rare for the two best fighters of a generation to be in the same weight class, and it would be an epic shame for us to really not know who wins that fight until one of them is past their prime. Come on, Bob, come on Floyd, come on Manny, make it happen.