By Graham Houston
There are fights that look good on paper but fizzle out in the ring. Meetings between technicians delight the purist but can be lacking in drama. The most talented fighters don’t always make the best fights. Then we have Miguel Cotto. The impassive-featured Puerto Rican national superstar can box and fight and he is never boring. Pair Cotto with the wild and wacky Ricardo Mayorga and you have the ingredients for a junior middleweight contest that should be captivating for as long as it lasts.
Mayorga has been taunting Cotto since the fight was first announced. He seemed genuinely affronted when Cotto steadfastly refused to take part in the now-traditional staredowns. Mayorga even tried to present Cotto with a red rose at Friday’s weigh-in, a gesture suggestive of contempt. Cotto did his best to ignore the irritant from Nicaragua, but you sense that he was inwardly seething. On Saturday night, at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas — Cotto gets Mayorga where he wants him, in the ring, and the fans in the arena and watching on Showtime PPV are sure to be entertained.
Cotto, 30, is a massive favourite in the betting at around -1200 but there is a hint of danger here. Although Mayorga is 37 he is known to have trained hard under the direction of veteran Al Bonanni in Miami. Mayorga can be dangerous with clubbing blows that can come from all directions, and Cotto has been stopped in two of his last five fights while before this there were knockdowns (courtesy of Ricardo Torres) and a very wobbly moment (in the fight with “Chop Chop” Corley). So, Cotto can be vulnerable.
Mayorga has stopped only one opponent in his last nine fights, true, but his weighty right hand had Felix Trinidad touching down for an eight count at Madison Square Garden while cagey Michele Piccirrillo found himself on the canvas three times in the first four rounds.
Even at the age of 37, Mayorga can give an adversary a hit that they could well do without, and while Cotto is the better boxer and the more complete professional, the result is not a formality.
That said, I will be surprised if Cotto loses. He looked strong and sharp in his first bout at 154 pounds in last June’s win over Yuri Foreman, and I understand he and the great Emanuel Steward have strengthened the fighter-trainer bond in this their second camp together.
Mayorga showed he still has something left when he brutally battered Michael Walker to defeat in nine rounds last December, but the trial horse was hitting him quite easily at times, probably because Mayorga had no respect for his opponent.
It does seem that Mayorga is extremely motivated for Saturday’s fight, and Steward certainly isn’t taking him lightly. “He’s a very strange guy to prepare for and you can never underestimate him, he throws punches from all angles and for the first two or three rounds he can be very dangerous,” Steward said in a phone conversation.
Initially, Steward was working on two strategies. One was for Cotto to use a boxing, moving style, making Mayorga miss and getting him to tire himself out. The other strategy is the one that I think Cotto might employ on Saturday — to take the fight to Mayorga, back him up and in effect bully the bully.
As Steward pointed out, a fighter who is used to being the aggressor doesn’t expect his opponent to attack him.
The Foreman fight, it seems to me, was, in a way, a rebirth for Cotto after his punishing defeat against Manny Pacquiao in November 2009. Cotto boxed beautifully, and once he had taken away Foreman’s jab (by getting off first with his own left hand), the fight was over.
Although Cotto isn’t known for one-punch knockout power, he hits precisely — especially, of course, with the left hook to the body — and I think he should be able to break down Mayorga with punishment upstairs and downstairs.
I see this bout as likely to play out much the same as Mayorga’s fight with Cotto’s compatriot, Felix Trinidad, in Madison Square Garden six years ago, hectic early, but with the Puerto Rican boxer in the ascendancy from about the fourth round.
Cotto, I think, is likely to get caught a few times and perhaps even wobbled in the early rounds, but by the fifth or sixth round his superior technique and talent should have put him in command of the contest, with a worn-down Mayorga getting stopped some time around the ninth round.
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