(Miguel Cotto, standing, Delvin Rodriguez, falling; photo credit: Chris Farina, Top Rank)
Miguel Cotto salvaged an action-free HBO card in the main event Saturday with a throwback performance against Delvin Rodriguez, electrifying the audience in Orlando, Fla. via the kind of bodypunching that drew cringes of sympathy and via the kind of aggression that left Rodriguez helpless along the ropes barely into the 3rd round.
It's tempting to shout, "COTTO IS BACK, BABY!" and there's grounds for it. This was the relentless ribcage hunter of old, as promised by new trainer Freddie Roach. I felt foolish during the one-sided affair for thinking Rodriguez, a big, long junior middleweight with fringe top 10 credentials, would offer up some competition to a Cotto who has shown signs of fading both physically and mentally late in his career. Looking at what transpired, it's possible that Rodriguez was made to order for this kind of Cotto performance and I was wrong about what Rodriguez offered. But I'm more inclined to think I was wrong because of some combination of matchmaking and execution — 25 percent to 75 percent. Cotto was landing thudding shots to the body with both hands from the very 1st round, and the history of Cotto suggests that he's more than capable of scoring this kind of knockout against capable competition when he's this focused on attacking rather than playing clever boxer-puncher, albeit at lower weights.
The end of the 2nd round actually was the end of the fight, because Rodriguez was out of it after a left-right combination that had him holding up his glove to his head as the bell rang like, "What just happened to my brain?" Rodriguez tried to hold at the very beginning of the 3rd, but Cotto wasn't to be denied — he trapped Rodriguez along the ropes, threw a right to the body that forced Rodriguez to lower his guard to defend against it and then came upstairs with a left hook that had him in a dangerous place. Cotto landed a couple more but the ref was already stepping in to stop it, and did. Maybe it was a touch early, but Rodriguez was looking awfully incapacitated there when it ended, so there's no cause for a big to-do.
Whatever percentage of this was about Cotto as opposed to Rodriguez, it got the job done: Cotto now sells as a top match-up for the likes of middleweight champion Sergio Martinez, junior middleweight cash cow Canelo Alvarez or Floyd Mayweather again. The second two men are on Showtime and aligned with Golden Boy, whereas Cotto is seemingly back with Top Rank and its ally HBO, so Martinez is more feasible. If Cotto can shrink back down to welterweight, as some have long suspected, the universe of options gets even more attractive: Winner of Juan Manuel Marquez-Timothy Bradley, anyone? Manny Pacquiao-Brandon Rios? Yeah. Cotto doing what he did Saturday night just opened up a world of possibilities.
On the live undercard, ultra-talented lightweight Terence Crawford struggled to impress against ultra-reluctant Andrey Klimov in a 10-round shutout victory. My view is that Klimov shouldered most of the blame for fighting so timidly for eight rounds that his corner actually told him he was fighting like a "coward." (Klimov fought harder in the last two rounds, not that it made much of a difference.) Crawford caught some clean shots trying to force the action, when Klimov could be bothered to throw punches. Crawford outclassed him easily and could've coasted to a win with a far more anemic output, and didn't; at the same time, he also could've stood to force the action even more, as he showed by hurting Klimov with an aggressive series of shots in the final seconds of the bout. When you're this good and your opponent is this overmatched, you're going to catch some heat when you don't massacre them. The sentiment on Twitter was far more negative toward Crawford than my own, so this performance didn't help him. While I was of the "meh, I can live with it" sentiment with the choice of Klimov of an opponent, we've reached the point with Crawford now where he needs to take on a real serious contender, a Raymundo Beltran type.
The final leg of the action-less undercard, we covered here. I failed to mention that Wladimir Klitschko got $17 million to be an anthropomorphic, belligerent curtain, or that one of the judges scoring the fight actually was wearing an electronic ankle bracelet in an accidental metaphor for how boxing judges these days are criminals roaming among us, robbing boxers. But, hey. Vintage Cotto.