While often overlooked by the casual observer, home advantage in boxing -particularly in the game of predicting a winner - can be as crucial a factor as anything that goes in between the ropes. On Saturday night, the US-born titleholder fighting a Puerto Rican icon in New York City isn't just a betting underdog - he'll likely feel like the road fighter, too.
Off the back of one of those rare things - a comprehensive points defeat that did his stock no harm whatsoever - -300 favourite Miguel Cotto (37-3, 30 KOs) has been steadily backed this week to extend his formidable seven-fight Madison Square Garden winning streak to eight without reply. Away from any specific arena, that unbeaten run currently stands at nine, courtesy of a Yankee Stadium blowout of an overmatched Yuri Foreman and a four-round points win that's now over eleven years old, buried in the infancy stage of a memorable career that's since become Hall of Fame-bound. It's MSG, though, that has become Cotto's adopted home, and the memories of big wins there over Margarito, Mosley, Judah and more, only underline the size of the task in hand for his opponent.
Conversely, Austin Trout (25-0, 14 KOs) isn't just a fighter who's struggled to find a home; rather, without any major promotional backing, he hasn't allowed himself to. Trout has never fought in any one arena more than three times throughout a 25-fight sequence. That trivial fact alone is, perhaps, scarcely worthy of note, but when you learn that this dubious home-of-sorts is a low-key Albuquerque casino in his native New Mexico - not only a venue he hasn't fought in since 2007, but one clearly beneath his now-Showtime-headlining talents - you realise that Trout isn't just used to winning as the road dog, but something he's built an entire career around.
The fight that introduced Trout to the title picture - albeit the WBA ‘regular' title picture - was an away whitewash over Rigoberto Alvarez in Guadalajara. Rigoberto is, as we know, no Saul, but even so, the elder Alvarez was the betting favourite that night. Trout, a +145 underdog, got the job done in a manner highly recommended to any fighter trying to pull the upset win on the cards in an opponent's hometown - by winning at least eleven of the twelve rounds. Trout was back in Mexico just a few months later for his first defence, this time the -500 favourite against David Lopez (+300), and again won without any debate. Since then, Trout's knocked out Frank LoPorto, as he was expected to (Trout -1800), and all but shut-out Delvin Rodriguez (Trout was a firm -370 favourite) in a fight that neither man likely signed for with any realistic expectation that to the victor would go the Miguel Cotto-shaped spoils.
Few would argue that Trout hasn't earned his shot here the hard way, but many would tell you that a points nod over Rodriguez - never the easiest to look good against - in an almighty snore of a fight on a Tarver-Kayode undercard isn't quite the springboard performance Trout would have hoped for in preparation for one of the game's elite. They're probably right, of course - but that's not to say that Trout isn't ready. It's often the case that fan opinion will dictate there needs to be ‘one more fight' before a supposed contender (in this case, the contender is already a titlist) makes that final step up - the recent Guerrero-Mayweather debate being a fine case in point - and, while it would have done Trout no harm to pick up a win against another top ten guy, it's unlikely that it'd make him any more deserving than the rest of the chasing pack.
Few would argue, too, that Miguel Cotto is at least a few years removed from his fighting peak, and aged 32, he has more miles on the clock than most. At 27, if Trout hasn't quite reached his true physical potential, he won't be too far off. Matchmaking is all about good timing, and while this is a long way from a prospect-meets-gnarled-gatekeeper type of contest, there's a chance that the New Mexico man is meeting Cotto at an opportune juncture. The layers agree. In betting terms, a Trout win would be an upset, but not a massive one - Trout's +240 tag likely won't be the biggest price we see weigh in this weekend. In terms of the boxing world, though, with Cotto's true, long-established star quality and pulling power, not to mention crowd backing at MSG, a loss for Junito here would almost certainly feel a bigger shock than, numerically, it actually is.
Throughout the week, though, Cotto's price has moved from looking short, but almost backable, to a point where it's about right. At around -220, the quote looked fair for a guy of undoubted calibre, a guy who's essentially the home fighter, and a guy fresh - or, at least, at fresh as you can be - from giving Floyd Mayweather his sternest test in years. It's no surprise, then, that it's seen money. There's little of that price around now, and Cotto at three-to-one on, or possibly shorter, is likely to be what's available up until the opening bell.
For the underdog, though, it seems like an uphill task. Not known for his power, and against a man only stopped by a rampant version of Manny Pacquiao and a questionable version of Margarito, unless Cotto's grown drastically old since May, it's hugely difficult to see Trout inflicting enough punishment on Cotto to score the knockout (+1100). It's unlikely to be his gameplan, either, and the away fighter will surely invest his faith in the judges scoring a fight correctly - on his opponent's turf - once more. Trout, clearly, is very different to the aforementioned southpaw - the last that Cotto faced - and he, of course, has neither the explosive power nor speed that Pacquiao possessed that night. He can present problems from the stance, though, and should he work from range, utilising a height, and considerable five-inch reach, advantage, may find some success, particularly early. It's +500 that he takes the decision.
The compilers are more split over exactly Cotto wins - but they do think he will. There's +200 available that he forces a stoppage - which, against an unbeaten, technically-good fighter is always difficult to predict with any real conviction. There's a case for it, though - Trout, surely, won't keep the range all night and Cotto can close the gap. How Trout responds to Cotto's body attack is key and, as the shorter, seemingly stronger, man, that's surely where the Puerto Rican will be headed to negate those reach and height advantages. It's +150 for Cotto to win on the cards, but, considering that's an outcome we've only seen twice in five years (Clottey, Mosley), and that Cotto has stopped every guy at 154lb bar Mayweather, there's really an argument that those two prices should be the other way around.
Tyson Fury (-450, as short as -700 elsewhere) takes on Kevin Johnson (+600) in what figures to be Fury's first competitive outing since Dereck Chisora in July 2011. Johnson's not quite the ‘Bum of the Month' Fury predicted he'd be in with at short notice, but it goes without saying that Fury needs to win this to keep up any kind of momentum, if that's indeed what he presently has.
Daniel Jacobs (-2500) continues his remarkable in-ring rehabilitation against trial horse Chris Fitzpatrick (+1000). While it's unlikely Jacobs wins quite as spectacularly as he did last time out, the outcome would appear to be a formality here. Still, Fitzpatrick does has a win over Scott Sigmon under his belt from last year, so perhaps he shouldn't give up waiting on that call from Andre Ward just yet.