Note: This story appears in the June 2012 issue of THE RING magazine, which is available now on newsstands or in our new digital format.
There they sat, center stage in a Hollywood theatre, on red and gold thrones. Miguel Cotto and Floyd Mayweather Jr. touting themselves as “ring kings” during their pre-fight hype tour. Mayweather talked about Cotto’s ring brilliance, his opponent’s status as one of the greats.
Because Manny Pacquiao wasn’t on stage, listening to Mayweather’s words brought Hamlet to mind: “How like you this play?” “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”
There was disappointment around the May 5 matchup between Cotto and Mayweather because it seemed during the winter as if Mayweather vs. Pacquiao had at least a marginal chance of happening. Most people in the know didn’t give it much of a chance at all, of course, and soon enough winter turned into discontent.
In late December, Mayweather pleaded guilty to lesser charges that would avoid felony prosecution for allegedly assaulting his ex-girlfriend, Josie Harris, in September 2010, and was slapped with 90 days in jail. He was supposed to start the sentence in early January, but the judge agreed to postpone it until June 1. The undefeated boxer was cleared to fight on May 5.
Boxing fans speculated that the news might mean Mayweather would finally fight Pacquiao. Not long after his sentence was delayed, Mayweather took to Twitter and challenged Pacquiao: “Manny Pacquiao I’m calling you out let’s fight May 5th and give the world what they want to see.” “My Jail Sentence was pushed back because the date was locked in. Step up Punk.”
Bob Arum, Pacquiao’s promoter, traveled to the Philippines with a list of five potential opponents, including Mayweather, to present to his prized client. Nevertheless, Arum said that fighting on May 5 would not work for Pacquiao because Arum wanted to build a temporary 45,000-capacity outdoor arena across from the Wynn Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip to stage a mega-showdown. The ticket buyers to the new venue would create an additional $30 million for the fighters, he said.
By refusing to fight on May 5 and proposing a new venue, however, Arum put Mayweather – his jail stay looming – into an awkward position, and the negotiations went downhill with both sides accusing each other of various misunderstandings. Pacquiao and Mayweather eventually talked on the phone but they couldn’t decide on how to split the proceeds of the potential “fight of the century,” and the negotiations, if they were ever serious in the first place, stopped. Just to make sure the childish banter continued beyond the failed negotiations, Mayweather announced: “I’m fighting Miguel Cotto on May 5th because Miss Pac Man is ducking me.”
The fan outrage and interest in Mayweather-Pacquiao has seemed to grow less intense with each failed negotiation, as fans feel suckered and betrayed yet again.
And so, this being the boxing business, Pacquiao went a logical route and decided upon a June 9 fight against Tim Bradley, an excellent, undefeated boxer who thus far has been memorable for not being so memorable. Bradley is a young, determined, world-class fighter who has been studying Pacquiao for years, and he knows that dethroning Pacquiao will give him a chance to make a bigger name for himself. Mayweather decided to fight Cotto, a dangerous veteran who has looked very good of late against relatively weak competition. While disgusted fight fans were upset that Mayweather and Pacquiao are willing to ignore their desires and not fight each other, it must also be said that both Pacquiao and Mayweather are facing legitimate contenders. But do they pose a serious danger to the real ring kings?
Most people are discounting Cotto’s chances more than Bradley’s hopes, but the Puerto Rican star has much more than a puncher’s chance. It seems as if fandom’s discounting of Cotto is a result of emotional distress over the Pacquiao-Mayweather non-fight rather than a true examination of Cotto’s skills and intangibles. He has consistently faced world class opponents, he has better than good hand speed, and – most importantly – he has the ability to change his strategy mid-fight, a necessary skill against master tactician Mayweather.
OK, OK, Cotto’s last three fights were against a guy with a bum knee (Yuri Foreman), an older fighter on the slide (Ricardo Mayorga), and a Cyclops (Antonio Margarito). But he beat them handily. Before Foreman, Cotto fought Pacquiao but couldn’t keep up with the Filipino’s ghost-like speed and aggression, and the general thinking is that Cotto won’t match up with Mayweather’s ghost-like defensive speed. There are two counter arguments to that logic: Cotto had to significantly come down in weight (144) for the Pacquiao fight (he will be fighting Mayweather for a junior middleweight title), and he had become sloppy with his footwork and balance, something he has corrected. Look back at the Pacquiao fight: Cotto would throw a combination but he would lose his balance. Run the tape of his most recent fights and you’ll see a guy who is throwing seven or eight punches with his feet working in concert, and his weight is balanced. A major key in this fight, and something that makes it intriguing, is whether or not Cotto can maintain his balance against a slippery fighter like Mayweather.
Cotto is also a physical pressure fighter who won’t be intimidated by Mayweather, who uses his left elbow as a sickle to disarm and frustrate his opponents. He is so quick and deceptive with the foul that no referee—for some reason—seems to catch it. Of all Mayweather’s recent opponents, pitbull Cotto is strong enough to push that elbow down, if he isn’t caught in the jaw with it. Mayweather, now 35, hasn’t seemed to age (he takes so few punches that he is probably more like a 28-year-old fighter), but in his last several fights he has been less inclined to take a purely defensive strategy. Going backward and moving laterally becomes more difficult with age, and Mayweather looks slightly less effective in his ability to move everywhere except forward.
Cotto also won’t lose the fight before he steps through the ropes. Mayweather beats many of his opponents before they enter the ring, of course. He uses what I call an anti-bootcamp strategy: He builds up his opponents and then slowly tears them down as the fight approaches. Cotto has been through the grind of HBO’s 24/7, he has won world titles, and he isn’t likely to let Mayweather’s psychological warfare impact him.
As for Mayweather’s psychological state of mind: Jail time is in the near future and that would weigh on anyone, most sports fans have shown frustration about the non-fight with Pacquiao (it isn’t easy to constantly play the villain and hear the catcalls), and Cotto will be his toughest opponent in several years. This is no young, inexperienced fighter like Victor Ortiz.
So, yes, Cotto is a dangerous person to face. He is a master ring tactician and harder puncher than people give him credit for, but—as the old axiom goes—you can’t teach speed, and Mayweather has a huge advantage in the quickness department. Yes, Cotto’s footwork has improved since Emanuel Steward worked with him on it, but if Mayweather is a younger fighter than his age, Cotto is probably older because of the brutal fights he has experienced. Mayweather will surely cross him up, and Cotto’s gloves will probably be hitting more air than flesh as Mayweather grinds him down, round after round.
No, it’s not Mayweather vs. Pacquiao, and that’s a shame—more boxing comedy than real tragedy. Whether someone wants to spend hard-earned dollars in this economy on a pay-per-view fight, which in many ways keeps the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight in permanent purgatory, that is the fans’ call. But from a boxing standpoint, it is a legitimate fight, and yet the clear favorite on May 5 is Sir Mayweather.
Hamlet, errrr, Mayweather will survive and wear the crown on May 5. If Pacquiao can do the same on June 9, and the two men can finally come to terms, this era’s legitimate ring kings could-maybe-possibly meet in the ring. Boxing conspiracy theorists might believe this is a well-hatched master plan by Pacquiao and Mayweather to keeping increasing interest in them while they pad their bank accounts. (But if they don’t win, both of their reputations will be seriously diminished.)
Perhaps, as Shakespeare once said, “Though this be madness, yet there is method in it.”
But probably not.