By Thomas Hauser
*Note: WBC title on the line for Canelo Alvarez only after Cotto allegedly failed to pay a WBC sanctioning fee.
Sports thrive on a fervent fan base, but too few fighters today matter to more than a handful of fans.
Miguel Cotto (from Caguas, Puerto Rico) and Saul “Canelo” Alvarez (Guadalajara, Mexico) matter to a large fan base. And their November 21 encounter (which will be televised exclusively live in the UK by BoxNation) shapes up as an important chapter in the storied ring rivalry between Puerto Rico and Mexico.
There was a time when Cotto was near the top of most pound-for-pound lists. But over the past seven years, he has won only eight fights. Now 35, he has suffered hellacious beatings at the hands of Manny Pacquiao and Antonio Margarito (whose gloves, most likely, were loaded) and inflicted some hellacious beatings on other fighters. His record stands at 40 wins against 4 losses with 33 knockouts.
Why is Cotto, who is financially secure, still fighting?
“Part of it is Freddie,” Miguel answers, referencing his current trainer Freddie Roach. They began working together in 2013 after Cotto suffered back-to-back losses to Floyd Mayweather and Austin Trout. Since then, Miguel has won three fights in a row.
“Freddie made me work harder than I had ever worked before,” Cotto says. “He made me feel that I am better as a fighter than ever before. I feel because of Freddie that there is still more in boxing for me to do.”
Skeptics note that Cotto’s three wins under Roach’s tutelage came against Delvin Rodriguez (an ideal comeback opponent), Sergio Martinez (who hadn’t fully recovered from knee surgery), and Daniel Geale (who, a year earlier, had been crushed by Gennady Golovkin).
Either one believes in Cotto’s resurrection or one doesn’t. Things should become clearer on November 21.
Alvarez, now 25, began fighting professionally when he was fifteen years old and has amassed a 45-1-1 (30 KOs) record. His sole loss came two years ago, when he was thoroughly outboxed by Floyd Mayweather. His most impressive victories have been against Austin Trout and Erislandy Lara. On May 9 of this year, Canelo bludgeoned James Kirkland into submission for a third-round knockout. The draw came in his fifth pro fight when he was sixteen years old.
Initially, there was talk of Cotto-Alvarez being contested at Cowboys Stadium in Texas. Selling out the 100,000-seat venue would have been a powerful statement. But Team Cotto thought that Texas was “too Canelo.” And Team Alvarez thought that Madison Square Garden was “too Cotto.”
Thus, the fight landed at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.
“If I could have fought any fighter in history,” Cotto said recently, “I would have loved to fight Julio Cesar Chavez. But Chavez is not fighting anymore, so I will fight another Mexican fighter instead.”
A number of intriguing economic issues tie into the fight. One is whether the fallout from the May 2 Mayweather-Pacquiao fiasco will negatively impact on pay-per-view buys. Another is whether Cotto-Alvarez will outperform the September 12 match-up between Mayweather and Andre Berto (which generated between 400,000 and 450,000 buys). During a November 10 teleconference call, Oscar De La Hoya (Alvarez’s promoter) predicted 1,500,000 “or more” buys for Cotto-Alvarez. That number is fantasy.
Meanwhile, Golden Boy saw two of its three flagship fighters knocked out last month (Lucas Matthysse by Viktor Postol and David Lemieux by Gennady Golovkin). That leaves Alvarez.
Both camps are confident.
“I know Canelo is a strong boxer,” Cotto said during an August 13 teleconference call. “But this fight is just another fight. Canelo is just another name to me.”
Roach elaborated on that theme, saying, “I’ve wanted this fight for a long time. Canelo is a young guy. This is a big step up for him, and I think we're just too smart. Miguel will take him to school. Canelo starts out fast. I expect the first few rounds will be rough, and then Miguel will take the fight over. Canelo has no advantages. He's not a better puncher. He's not a better boxer. I think we're much faster. There is nothing that he does better than us. Nothing. The plan is for Miguel to outbox him. But Miguel will go toe-to-toe if Canelo forces the issue and we have to.”
Team Alvarez is equally confident.
Jose "Chepo" Reynoso (Alvarez's manager and co-trainer) sloughed off Roach’s comments with the observation, “Freddie Roach has some very good fighters, and he trains them for their fights. Some win and others lose, like everyone else. I consider him as a good coach. We are not famous or anything, but we know how to work.”
To that, Alvarez added, “Cotto has had an illustrious career. I've always liked watching him fight, his style, his boxing. It's a great honor for me to be fighting a fighter like Miguel Ángel Cotto. This is a fifty-fifty fight.”
Actually, in the eyes of the betting public, it’s not a fifty-fifty fight. Alvarez is a 5-to-2 favorite.
One can look to common opponents (Floyd Mayweather, Shane Mosley, Lovemore Ndou, Alfonso Gomez, and Austin Trout) in seeking clues as to the end result. But as Alvarez noted, “Styles make fights. Cotto might have done better against Mayweather, but I did better against Austin Trout. All fights are different. All styles are different.”
That said; in Alvarez’s five most recent bouts, he has fought Austin Trout, Floyd Mayweather, Alfredo Angulo, Erislandy Lara, and James Kirkland. That’s three boxers and two bangers, who, at the time he fought them, had a composite ring record of 143 wins, 5 losses, and 2 draws. And Canelo won four of those bouts.
In late-August, Puerto Rican icon Felix Trinidad added fuel to the Alvarez fire when he picked Alvarez to beat Cotto.
“Anyone can go with whatever boxer they want,” Miguel said in response. “I'm not going to lose any sleep over it. Felix can choose whoever he wants to win. The night of the fight, it’s just going to be Cotto, Canelo, and the referee.”
Forget who’s promoting which fighter, wearing which belt, and predicting who does what. This is Miguel Cotto versus Canelo Alvarez.
Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at email@example.com. His most recent book – A Hurting Sport – has just been published by the University of Arkansas Press.