Feature Story

Cotto: Forward to Margarito

By Graham Houston

Beating an outclassed opponent comfortably on points is perfectly acceptable, but to get him out of the fight is even better, and Miguel Cotto saved the best for last when hammering Ricardo Mayorga in the final round.

The exciting finish was just what Cotto needed. For 11 rounds we wondered if he had carried his punching power up with him to the junior middleweight division — and then Cotto landed a left hook that might have dropped anyone in the 154-pound weight class.

It was the type of finish that should send Cotto confidently into a projected rematch with Antonio Margarito.

Some might consider Cotto and Margarito to be diminished fighters, seeing as Manny Pacquiao pasted them both. I believe the rematch is a fight that fans would want to see, though. For starters, there is the compelling backstory: Were Margarito’s handwraps loaded in the first fight?

I wasn’t on site in Las Vegas last Saturday but those present say that Cotto’s expression was icy when Margarito addressed the media at the post-fight press conference.

Puerto Rico vs Mexico! Revenge! Unfinished business! The ingredients are in place for a colourful event.

Margarito, although his past exploits will now inevitably be viewed with suspicion, showed a huge heart in his fight with Pacquiao, which for me was a form of redemption. Cotto, meanwhile, has come back in fine fashion after the Pacquiao hammering, outclassing Yuri Foreman and now Mayorga in junior middleweight title fights.

Working with master trainer Emanuel Steward has seen Cotto not so much reinvent himself as get back to the classy-boxing style of his early career.

Against Foreman, he was able to press forward and dominate with superior strength and power as much as technical superiority against an opponent who couldn’t hurt him — and once Cotto started to outjab Foreman the fight was over.

In the Mayorga fight, we saw Cotto box and move the way he did when exercising control over Carlos Maussa — something of a Mayorga-type wild swinger — more than seven years ago.

Mayorga came into Saturday’s fight in tiptop condition and he showed durability, but his aggressive surges were sporadic, while Cotto was methodical and consistent.

Cotto jabbed beautifully, but his hooks and right hands merely had Mayorga shaking his head as if in contempt. Cotto’s face remained expressionless, though, as he gave a calculated, unemotional display of boxing. He clearly was not going to let Mayorga rattle him with gestures of disrespect: When Mayorga motioned to Cotto to come to him and slug it out in the third round — the Puerto Rican craftsman coolly kept piling up the points.

I thought that Cotto was under semi-serious pressure in the seventh round, when Mayorga made his biggest rush of the fight and landed some heavy-handed rights and left hooks, including clubbing blows to the back of the head. Otherwise, this was something of a boxing lesson.

By the 11th round I was getting a bit restless. Cotto had been boxing well, and he had won almost every round, but the explosiveness I had expected to see hadn’t been forthcoming. In the 12th, though, Cotto finally connected with a full-leverage left hook just when the fight looked sure to go the distance.

I think that Mayorga, although a bit bruised and swollen under the right eye, had made up his mind that he had taken the best that Cotto could throw at him, and thus wasn’t mentally or physically ready to absorb the fight-ending blow.

Although Mayorga got up and indicated he had injured his left hand (a dislocated thumb, apparently), make no mistake, he was a hurt fighter, blood showing inside his mouth, and there was a still a long way to go in the round.

With Cotto closing in to inflict some more damage, I don’t blame Mayorga for signalling to referee Robert Byrd that he wished to retire, after 53 seconds of the 12th.

Had Cotto won a widely scored, unanimous decision it would have been, for me, a decent enough, but slightly disappointing, result — but the stoppage, although it came late in the contest, provided a satisfying exclamation point.

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