By Graham Houston
Sometimes a boxer who isn’t too well known outside of the hard-core boxing community springs a surprise when he gets his big opportunity. I think that Austin Trout could be in this position when he defends his WBA light-middleweight title against Miguel Cotto at Madison Square Garden on Saturday, with TV coverage on Showtime. Cotto is understandably the favourite. He is far more experienced than Trout — Cotto has scored more KO wins than Trout has had fights — and he will be boxing in front of an intensely pro-Cotto crowd at the Garden, where the very popular and even adored Puerto Rican boxer has never lost a fight.
Trout is unbeaten, the younger man, and he’s a southpaw, but he has never fought at this level before or boxed on this big a stage. In his last fight, Trout was cautious and, I thought, unimpressive in outpointing Delvin Rodriguez, although one judge had Trout winning every round. I believe, though, that Trout is a better fighter than he looked against Rodriguez. Is he, however, good enough to beat Cotto?
Cotto will go down in ring history as one of Puerto Rico’s greatest fighters, a world champion in three weight divisions — 140, 147 and 154 pounds. He has been hinting at retirement, however, whereas this is the chance of a lifetime for Trout. While Cotto fought well against Floyd Mayweather Jr. in his last fight he was clearly beaten. In three previous fights at 154 pounds, Cotto won by stoppage but the opponents were a little, shall we say, suspect: Yuri Foreman was essentially a one-handed fighter, and Foreman was compromised by a knee injury; Ricardo Mayorga was a faded 38-year-old (and never boxed again); while Antonio Margarito had been demolished by Shane Mosley and had well-publicised issues with his right eye.
While Cotto was gutsy and aggressive against Mayweather, and had his moments, Mayweather dominated down the stretch, sweeping the last four rounds on the judges’ cards and appearing to buckle Cotto’s legs with a left uppercut in the last round — I fleetingly had the thought that the natural welterweight Mayweather could have stopped Cotto if he had really turned up the heat in the last two rounds.
One could argue that on Saturday Cotto will be fighting a young, fully sized junior middleweight in his physical prime for the first time. Trout seems to be settled mentally and I don’t think the crowd or the occasion will intimidate him — after all, Trout has won twice in Mexico and once in Panama against local favourites. Trout has a quiet confidence that I like in a fighter. We think of him as being a slick, safety-first stylist, but Trout did show a streak of viciousness when blowing away the Aussie novice Frank LoPorto in five rounds, although this was the only fight that Trout has won by stoppage in the last four years.
For Trout to pull off the upset on Saturday he will have to put everything together —movement, hand speed, intelligence and punch-anticipation — and be at the absolute top of his form. Cotto can move, box and punch, and he is a thinking fighter who knows how to win. He will seek to slide into position in his familiar hunched-over stance and try to beat Trout to the punch with the jab before coming on with heavy hooks and bursts of punches, doing his best to hurt and discourage Trout and get him confused and thinking defensively.
It is up to Trout to go out and seize his opportunity, to let some shots go early to let Cotto know he’s in for a fight. Trout must move without giving the appearance of running, get off with quick, crisp punches and always be ready to fire back after Cotto attacks. Trout must box with assurance and fight like the younger, bigger man that he is — if he shows undue deference, his hopes of victory will be doomed.
I think that Trout is ready, though. As an up-and-comer he sparred with the likes of Sergio Martinez, Antonio Margarito, Shane Mosley and Kelly Pavlik, so he is probably more seasoned than his record suggests. Cotto is perceived as being the puncher in the fight but I think that Trout hits with enough authority to get some respect. “I’ve hurt everybody that I’ve fought,” Trout told me in an interview last year. “I’ve never seen anybody just sit there and smile at my punches.”
If Cotto can walk through whatever Trout can throw at him, then the 27-year-old from Las Cruces, NM, will have problems. If Trout can get Cotto’s attention with his shots, though — and I think that perhaps he can — then Trout’s chances of winning will be enhanced.
This is, of course, a very tough fight for Trout, who is fighting at the elite level for the first time, against one of the biggest names in the sport. Cotto’s every success will be greeted with roars of approval from his New York-Puerto Rican adherents. It is up to Trout to seek to limit Cotto’s moments of ascendancy, to dig in and fight as well as boxing and moving. Trout will have to produce the fight of his life if he is to achieve a life-changing victory — I think he can do it.
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