By Steve Silverman
Not that Mayweather (42-0) and Cotto (37-2) aren’t capable of putting on a great show in their light-middleweight championship fight, May 5th in Las Vegas, but the boxing world is always transfixed by the best possible matchup. Mayweather vs. Pacquiao has headed that list for a long time.
The 31-year-old Cotto is the real deal and is capable of pushing Mayweather, 35, to the limit. An upset may be a real possibility. Not only does Cotto have sensational power, he is capable of launching a barrage with either hand.
The other factor working against Mayweather is that he may not respect Cotto as a fighter. You can tell that by the trash talk — of which there has been very little. The two fighters have been very respectful of each other and that’s very unusual for Mayweather. In one of the pre-fight press conferences, Mayweather spoke of his admiration for Cotto’s straight-forward and hard-hitting approach. He also used the opportunity to belittle Pacquiao, suggesting that he is barely paying attention to the opponent in front of him.
You could see that for yourself on HBO’s 24/7 series in which Mayweather is shown taking a phone call while he is in training for the fight. Specifically, he’s hitting the speed bag with one hand and talking on the phone while he holds it on his shoulder. It’s not that Mayweather isn’t hitting the bag impressively with one hand — it’s shockingly fast — but it’s just as obvious that he has other things on his mind beside the twice-beaten Cotto.
That could be a mistake. There may be two defeats on Cotto’s resume, but he has gotten revenge for the biggest defeat he ever had. Cotto lost to Antonio Margarito in July 2008, and that defeat weighed heavily on him. Cotto appeared to dominate the fight through much of the early going but Margarito kept coming and coming, and Cotto’s defensive skills were lax. Instead of blocking or sidestepping Margarito’s punches, it seemed that Cotto was intent on catching every one of those shots with his head. The fight was stopped in the 11th round and it appeared that if the fight had not been called at that moment, serious and perhaps permanent damage could have been done.
Cotto would also lose to Pacquiao in 2009 via TKO, and he appeared to be old news as a light-middleweight fighter. However, Cotto went back to work, rediscovered his power and figured out how to defend himself a little better. The psychological damage of the loss to Margarito was still impacting him, but when Cotto got revenge by stopping his rival in the 10th round last December, it was clear that the Puerto Rican champion was back. In his mind, he had avenged the worst moment of his professional career and he was willing to fight anyone.
Cotto now gets his opportunity to see exactly where he stands in the rankings. It’s one thing to get revenge over a fighter like Margarito who had a damaged eye and is fairly easy to hit, but it’s quite another to match wits and fists with Mayweather.
Mayweather’s straight right hand has been one of the most devastating weapons in boxing and there’s no stopping it. If Cotto is not quicker than Mayweather — and he is not — he’s going to get hit with that punch quite a bit. When you are getting hit in the face repeatedly and hard, you are going to have a difficult time keeping your mind on your own gameplan.
Mayweather must believe that beating Cotto is just a matter of showing up and moving quickly. “Money” knows all about Cotto’s past defeats and he plans to use those losses to help him with his strategy. And that could be the biggest issue for Cotto. He’s fighting Mayweather, a man who bitterly resents Pacquiao, and he doesn’t want to look bad against an opponent that Pacquiao previously TKO’d. He wants to beat Cotto worse than Pacquiao did, and that’s his motivation.
The only problem with that is Cotto’s power. If Mayweather goes for an early- or middle-round knockout, he could leave himself in a vulnerable position. Cotto can drop the hammer and Mayweather has never shown an inclination for being willing to take a big punch.
There could be some dicey moments for Mayweather, but he should find a way to get past Cotto. He still has designs on the mammoth pay-day that would occur if a fight with Pacquiao actually took place, and the best way to make that happen is to take on Cotto and handle him.
In boxing, as in life, you have to follow the money. That’s why Mayweather will take charge in the late rounds and keep his dream scenario of a fight with Pacquiao intact.