“Brutal is an adjective that you can often apply to a Miguel Cotto fight . . . It’s not something you’d generally apply to a Shane Mosley fight.”
You’re already a serious star when you can sell out Madison Square Garden twice in six months. But despite being an unbeaten word champ with a fast-growing reputation, Miguel Cotto had never faced anyone as good as Shane Mosley. It was the kind of match up that needs no promotion; everyone was predicting a classic.
When fans talk about why they love Cotto (and we all seem to), they’ll rave about how he’s a proper fighter with a “duck no-one” warrior spirit. That’s all true but focusing on spirit can distract from the Puerto Rican’s skills. Most assumed that Cotto would have to rely on his toughness and youth to get him past the legendarily slick Sugar Shane. Instead, he outboxed him (Scott’s excellent end of year review of the fight is here).
When the fight posters called the contest “Fast and Furious”, everyone thought they knew who was which. Then Cotto turned up with the quick hands, regularly beating Mosley to the punch and catching him with shots out of nowhere. Cotto had refused to accept that he had to be slower and had instead gone away and improved. He also defied expectations of his style. While at times he rumbled forward in traditional Cotto fashion, he was also willing to wait for opportunities. This patience gave Mosley less to work with and when he was forced to take the initiative, he found himself on the end of Cotto’s smart counter-punching. By the end of the night, Cotto had shown that he was far more than the brawler some had portrayed him as.
That famous spirit still played its part though. Watching a highlight reel of Mosley’s many cracking right hands would leave you struggling to believe that he lost. These were powerful clean shots, every one of them capable of turning a fight. Yet again and again Cotto not only absorbed them with barely a change of expression, but also fired back. Mosley’s moments of success were getting him no closer to victory and at times he looked desperate. Meanwhile Cotto was composed throughout, calmly and methodically getting it done.
It’s easy to play down the scale of Cotto’s achievement by pointing to Mosley’s age but it does both a disservice. While no welterweight is at their very best at 36, this was not an old-looking Mosley. He was excellent for most of the fight and the close cards reflect that; he just never really looked like finding a path to victory. Following through on his pre-match promise to go toe-to-toe with Cotto was a mistake but even when he shifted to a cannier approach, Cotto could still handle him.
It was an excellent fight, high on both action and quality. It’s so good that watching it a decade on, I still feel like I should be standing up to join in with the crowd’s many ovations. It was a respectful fight. No taunting, no dirtiness, just two great fighters respecting each other and the sport. Mosley ended the night by telling Cotto: ”Good luck champ. You're a real warrior."
Despite the nine year age gap, their careers shadowed each other. Both went onto fight and come up short against the two greats of the era, while it was the keen eyes of Mosley’s coach, Naazim Richardson, that spotted Margarito’s infamous knuckle pads that had so affected Cotto. Ten years on, you can still make a case for this being the best win of Cotto’s career. He’s had a good career but has he beaten anyone better than Mosley that night? If you’re feeling nostalgic about Cotto’s imminent farewell, this is the fight to watch and remind you why he’s heading to the Hall of Fame.