If I were a fighter—which I most definitely am not—and if I were in peak condition—which I most definitely am not—I would probably be a welterweight. And I would definitely be ducking Miguel Cotto at all costs.
Cotto is precisely the kind of fighter who would terrify me. The night before my fight with Cotto, I wouldn’t sleep a wink, seeing visions of him walking me down, winging left hooks that shatter my ribs. In my visions, he wouldn’t be swollen and oozing blood, because nothing I could do with my fists would actually put a scratch on him, but even if he was swollen and oozing blood, he’d be impossible to discourage. Maybe he’s not the fastest guy out there. Maybe he doesn’t have the trickiest moves. Maybe he isn’t very hard to find. That’s fine. Fast, tricky, elusive fighters aren’t the ones who make you wake up in a cold sweat. Destroyers like Miguel Cotto are.
If Floyd Mayweather, the all-around pound-for-pound best fighter alive, were signed to fight Cotto, he probably wouldn’t be nervous like I would. Mayweather, unlike me, knows how to defend himself, he’s had 38 professional fights and 90 amateur fights, and he’s so calm and poised in the ring, you get the sense there’s no opponent out there who could make him lose sleep. Mayweather probably doesn’t fear Cotto at all.
But he should. Because Cotto is the one fighter at 154 pounds or below whom I would favor to beat Floyd Mayweather. And not just BEAT Mayweather. BEAT UP Mayweather.
Mayweather, the best fighter to come out of the 1996 Olympics, recently beat Oscar De La Hoya, the best fighter to come out of the 1992 Olympics. But that was largely because the ’92 Olympian was a few years past his best and didn’t quite have the right style to tame Mayweather. But the best fighter to come out of the 2000 Olympics, Cotto, is in his prime right now. And he just happens to have the perfect style to defeat the best fighter from the previous Olympiad.
Can Mayweather be outboxed from the outside? I believe he can, but it would take a perfect performance from an elite fighter to do it. For four rounds, Zab Judah showed that it can be done. For about eight or nine rounds, De La Hoya was doing it on roughly even terms. But to focus and do it for all 12 rounds, to keep the jab pumping under the watchful eye of Mayweather’s counter right, apparently requires a boxer a notch above Judah and De La Hoya. And there aren’t a whole lot of those out there at the moment.
So the real prototype for a fighter who can beat Mayweather is one who can follow the blueprint laid out by Jose Luis Castillo. Castillo was significantly slower than Mayweather, as Cotto is, but in their first fight, he walked “Pretty Boy” down, kept putting leather to his body, cut off the ring, and controlled the later rounds en route to losing a disputed decision. And importantly, nothing Mayweather hit him with could slow him down.
In a pound-for-pound sense, Cotto’s chin is not even close to Castillo’s, but Cotto is a significantly bigger, stronger man, and since he stopped torturing himself to make 140 pounds, his jaw has looked considerably more sturdy. If Judah’s power wasn’t enough to convince Cotto to back off, I think it’s reasonable to theorize that Cotto will be able to walk through Mayweather’s best punches without being thrown off course. Mayweather, after all, should probably still be at 140 himself, where his punches would have more sting. Both he and Cotto are in their physical primes—Mayweather at 30, Cotto at 26—but Cotto is at his prime weight. Mayweather is not.
As far as I can tell, Cotto has the perfect set of attributes to defeat Mayweather. And perhaps the most important attribute of all is this: Cotto wants to FIGHT. He hungers to be in a two-way battle, taking some punches, getting busted up, and shaking it all off to land his wicked hooks. Mayweather has no such desire. He wants to BOX. Try to drag him into a fight, and he’ll try to drag you into a boxing match. Against most opponents, Mayweather can impose his will and fight his fight. But Cotto can impose his own will unlike anyone Mayweather has faced yet. And when it comes down to heart and guts in a brutal firefight, I don’t like Mayweather’s chances against Cotto. Did you see the way Cotto reacted to that nasty cut on his lip against Judah, or to the gash over his eye opened up by a head clash? He DIDN’T react. For him, bleeding is no more of a concern than sweating.