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Cotto-Canelo has the buzz, now must deliver in the ring

Miguel Cotto and Canelo Alvarez have taken the hype away from even Floyd Mayweather. But can they deliver when it matters?

John Lamparski/Getty Images

Miguel Cotto and Canelo Alvarez hit four cities in five days to promote their upcoming November 21 HBO pay-per-view showdown, starting in Los Angeles in August 24 and ending in Bayamon, Puerto Rico on August 28, with Mexico City and New York in between.

Cotto (40-4, 33 KO) will be defending his WBC and lineal middleweight championships against Alvarez (45-1-1, 32 KO) in a highly-anticipated fight that was nearly made for the spring of this year, before Mayweather-Pacquiao talks advanced, taking the desired May 2 date, adding to Canelo accusing Cotto of dragging his feet.

Instead of fighting one another earlier this year, they both took stay-busy bouts, Canelo smashing James Kirkland in three rounds in front of a raucous crowd at Houston's Minute Maid Park on May 9, and Cotto taking out former titleholder Daniel Geale in four rounds on June 6 at Brooklyn's Barclays Center.

The big pay-per-view clash between the two is heading to the city that can most afford it, and that is Las Vegas. What the fight could conceivably lack in "local" charm it will make up for by the fact that in renewing the Puerto Rico vs Mexico rivalry, the two star fighters are once again tapping into something that brings out the hardcore fans to even the most expensive fights. And since this is a fight that the boxing world has asked to see for a couple of years now, atmosphere won't be lacking at Mandalay Bay.

"The world is talking about this fight," said Oscar De La Hoya, Canelo's promoter at Golden Boy, during the stop in Los Angeles. "The rich history between Mexico and Puerto Rico makes this truly exciting."

Mexico City, of course, turned out big to support the 25-year-old Alvarez, who still seems boxing's best bet for a bankable superstar following the reign of Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao as the backbone of boxing's business in the United States.

"I am very grateful that I am always welcomed here in Mexico and shown great respect," he said. "The support of Mexicans is unmatched. It is an honor to fight Miguel Cotto."

In New York, where Cotto, 34, has become a record-setting draw at Madison Square Garden, Roc Nation President Michael Yormark said, "This is a matchup of epic proportions, can't-miss action styles and passionate fans bases, as is evident by the crowd here today."

Cotto was also a big hit at home in Puerto Rico, obviously, and kept it simple and short, as he usually does. "I'm going to get this victory for all Puerto Ricans around the world," he said.

While Floyd Mayweather gears up for a supposed retirement fight on September 12 against Andre Berto, it seems that Cotto-Canelo is already the fight that has captivated the boxing world for the busy fall months, which comes as no real surprise. Unlike Mayweather-Berto, where a polarizing star faces an opponent few deem truly worthy of their time or money, this fight pits two of the sport's most popular fighters, and two of its most passionate, hardcore fan bases.

Canelo Alvarez v James Kirkland Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

The hope now is that this will be the rare mega-fight of the modern age that lives up to the hype once the bell sounds. While the promoters and fighters may be happy enough simply to bring the fans there, those fans are itching for a big fight that gives them what they actually want: action, drama, and the best against the best.

The third part is already locked in. But while this fight is easy to hype as "all action styles" coming together, boxing fans know that Alvarez can at times be a bit overly cautious or cerebral, at least in terms of providing high-action fights. When in with fighters he overmatches in skill -- like come-forward, no-defense plodders such as Kirkland or Alfredo Angulo, or undersized but incredibly brave Josesito Lopez -- Canelo can look sensational. But when matched against those who make him think, who knows their way around the ring, Alvarez isn't really a highlight reel fighter.

When he faced Floyd Mayweather in his 2013 and lost a clear (and comically misjudged by CJ Ross) majority decision, the reality is that either Canelo's game plan was rotten to the core, or he simply couldn't adjust or think on his feet, and froze in the moment. And he had trouble with a couple of other technically sound and crafty fighters in Austin Trout and Erislandy Lara, too, in 2013 and 2014. He won both of those fights by decision, but nobody left thinking they'd seen a great action fight.

Even Canelo's 2012 gimme win over a washed-up Shane Mosley, who says he was also injured going in, didn't showcase Alvarez as an action fighter. He dished some out to Mosley, but even in a reduced state, Mosley's ability to adapt and survive was apparent, and Canelo never exactly lit him up, even though he landed a lot of good, clean shots.

Cotto is a smart fighter, better defensively than he gets credit for being, and a guy who has been in with the best. He fought Mayweather and gave him some actual competition in 2012. He beat Shane Mosley in 2007, when Mosley was far better than he was by the time Alvarez got to him five years later. He was thrashed by Manny Pacquiao in 2009, in a fight where he'd essentially trained himself for no particularly good reason. He's shown an ability to deal with adversity in his career, coming back strong after losing to Antonio Margarito in 2008, and after losses to Pacquiao in 2009, and Mayweather and Trout in 2012.

Working against Cotto, however, is that in all candor, his last five years have been exceptionally well-managed, save for one fight, and it's easy to argue that though he's been beating familiar names, he's also been beating carefully selected opposition.

He returned from his loss to Pacquiao to beat Yuri Foreman for a junior middleweight title in June 2010 at Yankee Stadium. Foreman, though unbeaten and a titleholder at the time, was a mediocre fighter, at least at the world level. He was a fringe contender who snuck in the back door and became a "world champion," which happens fairly frequently these days.

Miguel Cotto v Antonio Margarito Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

After that, Cotto decimated a pair of washed-up brawlers in 2011, stopping a haggard Ricardo Mayorga in 12 rounds, and a one-eyed Margarito after nine. Having rehabbed his brand, he landed the fight with Mayweather, lost a competitive bout, and then looked to a fight with Austin Trout, which was supposed to be a tune-up for a fight with Canelo in 2013.

Instead, Trout outfoxed Cotto over 12 at Madison Square Garden, the first and thus far only time Miguel has lost at that building. Following 10 months off, he came back to beat Delvin Rodriguez, then a one-legged Sergio Martinez, and finally Geale.

Of all of those wins, if we consider the state the fighters were in at the time and not just their name value, what is the best victory? Is it Geale, who 11 months earlier had been torched by Gennady Golovkin? Geale, certainly a "solid pro," on the downside of his career, too? Is it Yuri Foreman, who was only charitably considered even top 10 at his weight, and then injured his knee during the fight? Was it a spirited but handicapped "Captain Ron" version of Margarito? Sergio, who was so clearly in no shape to fight that the fight became a tragic farce in round one?

Neither fighter comes into this bout as sparkling as the promotion wants you to believe, but that's boxing promotion for you. Mostly, though, this fight should be seen optimistically. At their best, both men are ferocious body punchers who look to go on the attack first and neutralize their opponents. Alvarez should have a notable size advantage, as he is naturally bigger than Cotto, and he may look to exploit that early, or at least see if Cotto can really handle some heat.

At the same time, it's not hard to see Cotto coming out hard and testing Alvarez's resolve, and looking to put the younger, bigger fighter on the back foot right away. Mentally chin checking him, so to speak, to see if Canelo might again lock up and spend too much time thinking about doing something, rather than actually executing.

Will Cotto-Canelo be a classic? TV ads and press releases will say yes. Reality begs to differ. But this has the legitimate chance to be as good as they say, and to bring the true big fight feel, which is almost as important as any furious exchange can be when it comes to how we remember a "great fight."

It's a lot of hype. On paper, the fight deserves it. But nobody remembers the build-up.

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