So continues our marathon coverage of one of the biggest fights of 2012, Floyd Mayweather, Jr. vs. Miguel Cotto on May 5 on HBO pay-per-view. Previously: the stakes of Mayweather-Cotto; the undercard, previewed; keys to the fight, parts I and II; a Rabbit Punch column. Next: a staff roundtable.
There are worthwhile reasons to watch a Floyd Mayweather bout that doesn’t also include Manny Pacquiao, the mega-match-up that is standing not only one foot in the grave but that is buried up its eyeballs in soil. You savor the chance to witness, in Mayweather, the boxing equivalent of a concert pianist or any other artist who does a thing nearly as well as it can be done. You despise Mayweather and his mean-spiritemd swagger and his woman-beating legal trouble and want to see him repeatedly bashed in the head until he falls unconscious or at least has the “0” from his record erased. Or maybe you simply want to see greatness tested, pushed to and then beyond its limit until Mayweather is forced to tap new reserves of magnificence.
One of the things will happen Saturday night when Mayweather faces Miguel Cotto. But which one?
Those strictly virtuoso performances don’t come as often as they once did. The last was in 2009, when Mayweather rendered all-time great Mexican Juan Manuel Marquez a helpless babe, albeit with the help of a big size gap between the two of them. After that, you have to go back to 2006 when he easily defeated welterweight champion Carlos Baldomir. There are a number of years where Mayweather’s career was lost in the wilderness of these kind of performances against opponents who didn’t belong in the ring with him, but other notable exhibitions in the genre include the Arturo Gatti wipeout, and most bewitching, the Diego Corrales technical knockout. Some of those virtuoso performances aren’t for everyone, the same way many find concert pianists less-than-thrilling. And some people expect Mayweather to make Cotto look like Gatti, that is, like a past his prime, beloved action hero playing the role of a bug having his tattered wings smashed away inch by inch in a sewing machine wielded by a master seamstress.
More often than not since 2006, though, Mayweather has at least had his greatness tested, however briefly. Oscar De La Hoya nearly scored a victory over Mayweather on the scorecards, even if I still maintain that fight wasn’t anywhere as close as the judges scored it. Ricky Hatton never stood a chance, but he had sparing moments of success early against Mayweather where it looked like he just might. Shane Mosley had him on the verge of a knockout in round 2 of their fight. And while opinions differ on Mayweather’s level of dominance against Victor Ortiz in his last fight, I saw Ortiz as more competitive through a sucker punch KO-abbreviated four rounds than did most.
Cotto is not who he once was, and even prime Cotto would have been an underdog against Mayweather, although probably not the current 7-1 underdog he is. Cotto, at 154 pounds, doesn’t punch with the authority he once did, and a great many fans and writers believe he is badly faded, his reflexes drained by one brutal, back-and-forth ring war after another. But Cotto is not Gatti. Gatti, as beloved as he was and deserves to be, was never half the boxer Cotto is. Gatti was a terrific puncher, but finding the target wasn’t always easy for him. Thus, he flailed away pointlessly at a version of Mayweather who was probably at the peak of his powers, and who was, and remains, a defensive maestro. Cotto hasn’t faced anyone as slick as Mayweather, because only people who have faced Mayweather can say that, but Cotto has yet to face an opponent he couldn’t lay a glove upon.
That means we can probably rule out a one-sided masterpiece. I say “probably” because I expected a more competitive fight between Mayweather and Marquez than we got, yet all of Marquez’ offensive mastery couldn’t amount to a thing against Mayweather. Size and speed had something to do with that. Cotto is bigger and faster than Marquez, so I’m all but discounting the possibility of an inhumane Mayweather slaughter of Cotto.
So Cotto presents something between a real threat to Mayweather and a chance for him to rise to the occasion.
Mayweather likes to say “There’s no blueprint to beat me,” and that’s mostly right. There have been glimpses, at times, of the blueprint for beating Mayweather. There was a time after the first Jose Luis Castillo fight, a fight many believed Mayweather should have lost on the scorecards, where the blueprint was to pressure him like Castillo did. But that didn’t work out for Castillo in the rematch, and it didn’t work out for Hatton. Two southpaws, DeMarcus Corley and Zab Judah, badly stunned or at least wobbled Mayweather, so the thinking became that a left-handed fighter could unlock his defense. But that didn’t work out for the left-handed Ortiz. Being able to match Mayweather’s speed, or at least get near it, helped Judah and Ortiz and Mosley but it wasn’t enough.
The one big untested glimpse of a blueprint is what we saw when Oscar De La Hoya connected to a remarkable degree on his jab. It was enough to win him rounds — a weapon in and of itself. But Mosley also hurt Mayweather initially by distracting him with the jab then delivering a power shot, and it was useful to Corley in setting up the shot that stunned Mayweather in the 3rd round. And Cotto? Cotto’s got a good jab. It’s the best one Mayweather will have met since De La Hoya.
Problem is, every time somebody pinpoints a weakness of Mayweather’s, he eliminates it. I have no doubt that Mayweather has spent this entire camp working on his defense against the jab. I doubt Cotto can win whole rounds against Mayweather with just his jab, either, because De La Hoya combined his jab with his height, and Cotto is shorter than Mayweather. More likely, if Cotto’s jab does anything to Mayweather, it will be of the Mosley/Corley variety, where he sets up a big shot that saps Mayweather’s legs. The new, more stationary Mayweather we’ve seen in his past two fights is going to give Cotto something to hit, and it could be a combination that begins with a jab.
And I can see that happening. But can Cotto finish Mayweather where others failed? Cotto, at 154, doesn’t hit as hard as Mosley did early in his fight against Mayweather. Yet a big nasty puncher isn’t absolutely necessary to wobble Mayweather, because it’s not as if Corley was the world’s biggest knockout artist. And we don’t know how Mayweather, a welterweight in recent years outside a quick stop at 150 for the De La Hoya fight, will take Cotto’s punches at the new weight.
The only other alternative for a Cotto victory is that Cotto invents some new blueprint for beating Mayweather that hasn’t yet been even beta tested, and Mayweather can’t figure out how to react. But I can’t conceive it, so I can’t put it in this preview.
It’s a common view, this one I’m about to espouse, but it’s common for a reason: It’s the easiest scenario to envision. That scenario goes that Cotto, like almost everyone Mayweather has faced in the last half-dozen years, will challenge Mayweather early. He’s good enough to do that. He might even hurt him. But Mayweather always recovers, and before long, Mayweather will adjust to whatever got him hurt, and he’ll start dismantling Cotto bit by bit. Cotto will either get stopped or make it to the the final bell knowing he lost anyway.
I’ll give Cotto two rounds of the 12. I don’t think he goes down, or is badly hurt, in the fight. But he’ll have given us one of the things you watch a Mayweather fight for: a chance to see how he reacts when challenged. It is too bad we probably won’t get to see Cotto erase Mayweather’s zero. Some don’t think as highly of Cotto as I do, but I’ve always thought he carried himself for the most part with a nobility that is absent in Mayweather, and he’s reliably produced the kind of action that makes me love the sport. It would be wonderful if he could get that one, big win that cements a career of exceptionally solid ones, but I don’t think it is to be against Mayweather.
Mayweather will go to jail afterward, and maybe he’ll come out a better man or worse boxer or both or neither. But until then, the beat goes on as of Saturday night.