Tomorrow night's HBO pay-per-view main event between Floyd Mayweather and Miguel Cotto has real buzz, and there's a reason for that: Both fighters are real stars, and have real fanbases, and draw real crowds.
While Mayweather has been snidely bashed for rarely selling out his fights at Vegas' MGM Grand, where press and fantasy land rival Manny Pacquiao sells more tickets, the fact is that Mayweather really is the king of pay-per-view, and has been a bigger draw to date than Manny in that regard. It's not the blowout Floyd or his fanatical blind supporters sometimes trumpet, but it's advantage Money without a doubt, just as the ticket sales usually favor the Filipino.
But even though he doesn't always leave them hanging from the rafters if they want to get inside, that doesn't take away from the fact that Mayweather is one of a handful of fighters who can draw a real crowd in the United States. No matter where he fought, he'd draw fans. Many "name" fighters, whose tickets are far cheaper, can't draw half of what Mayweather does with grossly overpriced seats.
Miguel Cotto, though, is another draw. He's been New York's biggest boxing star of the last decade, as he's been one of the few star fighters who has even semi-regularly fought in the Big Apple, as the New York state taxes have taken their toll on how many stars want to fight there when they can fight without those taxes in Nevada or California or Texas. NYC may not be what it was as a fight city, but when Cotto comes to town, the Puerto Rican faithful show up to see their guy, the island's biggest post-Tito Trinidad star, do his thing.
Mayweather vs Cotto: Full Coverage
Preview: Canelo vs Mosley | Previews: Vargas-Forbes / Latimore-Quinatna
Weigh-In Results | 24/7 Episodes 1-3
Mayweather Greatest Hits | Cotto Greatest Hits
Purses: Mayweather $32M / Cotto $8M / Canelo $1.2M & Mosley $650K
Cotto has had a great career. Emanuel Steward said during the HBO broadcast of Friday's weigh-in that he feels Cotto is remembered more for his two losses to Antonio Margarito and Manny Pacquiao than he is for any of his wins, and he may very well be right about that. The first thing that pops into my head when I think Cotto is "Margarito," and the triumphant payback rematch is second to their 2008 classic, now a controversial, highly suspect war where many think Margarito may have been aided by loaded gloves.
After Margarito, I probably do think "Pacquiao," the man who beat Cotto in 2009, a fight that was highly competitive early before turning into a Pacquiao demolition down the stretch, with Cotto saved by referee Kenny Bayless early in the 12th round.
Miguel Cotto's best wins have come over the likes of Shane Mosley (when he still had it), Margarito in the rematch, Zab Judah, top junior welterweights like Ricardo Torres and Paulie Malignaggi. He's had a terrific career. If I had a vote for the Hall of Fame, he'd have been stamped a while back. When you add it all up -- Cotto's wins, his valiant losses against top opponents, his willingness to face the best, his titles in three divisions, his popularity, and his character -- you have what I consider a Hall of Fame fighter. A guy who deserves to be immortalized.
Mayweather is another story. When you think Floyd Mayweather, you could say "Money" is the first thing that comes to mind, but that's unfair since it's a (self-appointed and later earned) nickname. For me, I think of words like "winning," and "greatness," even "genius." Mayweather is such a brilliant tactician in the ring, always so well-prepared, so ready for anything that comes his way, and so calm, cool, and confident between the bells, that I see him as playing a different game than anyone else has in his generation, even the great Manny Pacquiao. There is an aura to Mayweather that nobody else has, and part of it is that he's never been defeated, and really has only had one debatable fight in his 16-year professional boxing career.
This is a man who has personified excellence in the ring over his time in the sport. He's won titles from super featherweight to junior middleweight, and despite some complaints about his level of opposition, he has faced great fighters, top fighters, at-the-time elite fighters, and he has beaten them all. From Genaro Hernandez to Victor Ortiz, with the likes of Oscar De La Hoya, Diego Corrales, Jose Luis Castillo, and Ricky Hatton in between, Mayweather has earned his place in rare air. He may have no true peers in the sport as stands today.
In recent fights, Mayweather's seen his legs go on him just a bit, but almost surely not enough to be a true concern. In lieu of moving the way he used to, Mayweather has become an even more efficient and calculated offensive fighter, which is almost hard to imagine given how deadly accurate he's been in his career. Contrary to the somewhat popular belief that he's a jab artist, that's never really been his style. It's always been his lead right hand, a pinpoint beauty of a punch, coming in with lightning speed always at the right time, that has led the way for him on the offensive side. That was still his best punch in September against southpaw Victor Ortiz, a big, young, strong welterweight who could have, in theory, presented Mayweather with some challenges, but as usual it was a Mayweather masterpiece, before the finish that left some thinking of him as -- gasp! -- unsportsmanlike. Or a dick, to put it more bluntly.
Cotto is not Victor Ortiz, which is both good and bad. Miguel will not have any physical advantages against Mayweather, despite some insisting that the 154 pound weight limit will give Floyd trouble. It gave him some in 2007 against De La Hoya, but Oscar was a 5'10", full fledged junior middleweight, with the frame to support it. Oscar also used his jab to great effect until it was taken away from him halfway in. That jab and Oscar's size kept him competitive before Mayweather picked him apart. Cotto has a good jab, and used it well against Antonio Margarito in December. But Mayweather and Margarito are apples and bowling balls. If by chance, Cotto and trainer Pedro Diaz expect similar tactics to work against Floyd they way they did the one-eyed, lumbering "Tijuana 50% Chance of Showers" (he's no "Tornado" anymore), they're setting up to fail.
What's good about Cotto not being Ortiz is he's not going to be in any awe of the moment. While this is Cotto's biggest fight, it's not a huge departure from his previous big nights in Vegas against Pacquiao and Margarito, or his fight at Madison Square Garden with Margarito. Miguel Cotto has been on this stage before. Victor Ortiz's previous biggest fight was in front of a couple thousand people in Connecticut against Andre Berto. It's like going to Chicago and expecting life to be at the same speed as it was when you lived in a city of 30,000.
How can Cotto beat Floyd Mayweather? I really have no idea, but the best bet would be to hope that Mayweather has aged very badly since September, which by all accounts is absolutely not the case, as Mayweather has had an unusually open training camp and has looked good to everyone who has seen him in the gym. Roger Mayweather says Floyd has trained better and harder for this fight than any other, and while Roger is not the world's greatest source for much, he's not really a liar or a hype man. The second-best bet would be to pray for a miracle.
Cotto's story now is that he's been reborn, found his love for the sport once again, thanks to his win over Margarito. That may be true, but what's going to happen when Floyd is closing in the walls and picking him off with shots? Cotto may very well be competitive early. He's a very smart, very good fighter with a lot of talent. But this is a fact: When you fight Floyd Mayweather, he's going to hit you, hard, often when you don't see it coming, and repeatedly. He frustrates his opponents more than anyone else in the sport. He does it through pure talent, and also through a willingness to stick those elbows out, put a shoulder into someone, clinch when he has to, and disrupt the rhythm of his opponents. Since Castillo in 2002, or De La Hoya in 2007 if you're nicer, he has barely been challenged at all. Mosley caught him with one good right hand before getting walked on the rest of the way.
Miguel Cotto is not a big puncher, doesn't have the concussive, one-punch power of even today's Shane Mosley. It's hard to envision a scenario in which Cotto builds up the sustained momentum that he'll need in order to win this fight. At one time in his career, he was a great body puncher, but he hasn't been that guy for years now, as he's become more and more of a headhunter. If he can revert back to zeroing in on the body, that could be a huge factor, especially now that Mayweather doesn't move the way he used to and is more willing to stand and trade (his defense being so good that he almost never gets hit clean anyway).
But expecting Cotto at 31 to become the fighter he was at 25 or 26 is probably too much. Mayweather is heavily favored in this fight for a very simple reason: He's better than Miguel Cotto. This is not a mismatch because they've put in a good fighter against a bad fighter, or a mediocre fighter, this could turn into a mismatch because it's an excellent fighter against a very good fighter, and while very good should be enough to hang in for a few rounds, Mayweather's talent should let him pull away and eventually lap Cotto. Cotto's a car with a top speed of 100. Mayweather's got a top speed of about 185.
One thing does keep running through my mind, as an aside, and it's because of the HBO connection. On their current series "Game of Thrones," there's a season two line where young Arya Stark is asked if she thinks her brother Robb is immune to death, as the legend goes. "Anyone can be killed," she says.
Don't bet on Mayweather leaving Vegas with a new record of 42-1. Expect the expected: 43-0. Mayweather by decision.
Bad Left Hook will have live round-by-round coverage of the entire Mayweather vs Cotto card tomorrow night at 9 p.m. EDT.