When Miguel Cotto and Canelo Alvarez face off Saturday night on HBO Pay-Per-View, it won’t be to decide who the pound-for-pound king is. That honor goes to a fella they call “Chocolatito,” Nicaraguan punching machine Roman Gonzalez. But there is something huge at stake — the title of biggest attraction. In the wake of Floyd Mayweather’s retirement, and with Manny Pacquiao ready to follow him onto the golf course, or in his case, Senate seat (golf course), Cotto and Alvarez remain as boxing’s biggest superstars. Gennady Golovkin’s popularity has risen greatly over the past couple of years, but as his somewhat dismal pay-per-view numbers last month proved, he’s not quite there yet.
Cotto is there. He’s been on this stage many times before, with varying degrees of success. After getting pounded by Antonio Margarito and Manny Pacquiao, he scored wins over Ricardo Mayorga and avenged his loss to the “Tijuana Tornado.” He gave a good showing against Floyd Mayweather before appearing to age terribly against Austin Trout, who at that time was considered a top fighter at 154 lbs. But Cotto went and hired 125-time trainer of the year Freddie Roach, and he’s been bashing skulls ever since. One of those skulls belonged to reigning middleweight champion Sergio Martinez. Depending on whom you asked, Cotto had either transformed into a murderous killing machine, or Martinez’s patched-up knee shattered like he was Mr. Glass as soon as he tried planting on it. Either way, Cotto is the champ. And either way, the winner of this fight will be the lineal middleweight titleholder. But the winner will also become boxing’s premier draw.
Canelo’s status as a money maker is helped by a solid combination: personality and fighting style. He’s certainly not defensive-minded, and it really pisses him off when his opponent is. He wants a scrap, a toe-to-toe battle where he can find his man without having to do all that pesky, cutting-off the-ring stuff. In his last few fights, he’s alternated from dreadful to brilliant, and it’s easy to see a pattern emerge — he fought Floyd Mayweather, who reduced him to Johnny Depp in “Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas,” swinging at bats that weren’t there. Then he fought Alfredo Angulo, whose strategy appeared to be little more than trying to use his cranium to break Canelo’s hands. Next up was Erislandy Lara, who avoided contact like Canelo was in the later stages of leprosy. And finally, Canelo utterly destroyed James Kirkland this past May, when the two fighters packed the house at Minute Maid Park in Texas. To recap, scrappers = Good Canelo. Pure boxers = Bad Canelo.
Cotto doesn’t have the boxing wizardry of Mayweather, nor does he desperately avoid a firefight like Lara. But he can move. He was able to outbox Shane Mosley in what is probably the biggest win of his career to date, and he easily avoided Margarito’s firepower in their rematch. The question will be, what style will Cotto use this time around? It’s one thing to successfully dump truck a guy like Delvin Rodriguez, or even Daniel Geale. But those guys were there to be beaten. Alvarez is miles better than them, and he won’t be so easy to push around. In fact, Cotto will have to make sure that he isn’t the guy getting bounced all over the ring by his much younger, and presumably stronger opponent. After that, he’ll have to figure out a way to make it into the later rounds without disappearing.
Despite his recent rejuvenation, Cotto’s career is winding down. He’s 35 years old, and he’s been in a couple of brutal fights, ones in which he came out very much the worse for wear. But if he defeats Alvarez, he’ll be in for a couple more massive paydays before he finally shuts it down. He never quite had the type of career many thought he would when he first arrived — we’ll say he’s the Philip Rivers to Mayweather and Pacquiao’s Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. But he’s given us some fantastic, drama-filled nights. Saturday will very likely be one more.
At just 25 years old, Alvarez already has been in more professional fights than Cotto. That’s what happens when you turn pro right around the time your voice starts cracking. He’s poised to take control of the reigns that his promoter, Oscar De La Hoya, left behind. He probably won’t win every fight, because he’ll probably take the ones nobody expects him to. But he needs to win this one against Cotto. Not only would it complete the passing of the torch, but it would solidify his standing as one of the best fighters in the sport. Being lineal middleweight champion of the world at 25 doesn’t hurt either, even if Golovkin remains the most feared fighter in the division.
And maybe Canelo would agree to a fight with Golovkin. Even if he demands a completely unnecessary catchweight, Golovkin would eventually acquiesce, even if he currently says otherwise. Those types of demands can be made when you’re the sport’s cash cow.
Cotto vs Alvarez couldn’t have come at a better time. The two kings, Mayweather and Pacquiao, are leaving the throne, with the fetid stench of their fight still lingering. Cotto and Canelo can clean up the mess, and one of them can throw on the crown.
And then hopefully defend it properly.