Sunday, November 11, 2007

Do Believe The Hype

A fight, with power. Mosley, left, Cotto, on the right and with the right.

Another night in November, another fight that glorified boxing.


Yessir, that sure lived up to the hype.

Rarely will you see that many punches landed in fight that were clear knockout punches without anyone going down. It was exchange after exchange as Shane Mosley and Miguel Cotto did what all great, exciting fighters do: refuse to let a blow go unanswered. And they weren't pitty-pat punches, either -- both men were putting everything they had into almost everything they threw. Strategically, it was a marvel as well. How's this bit of strategy for entertainment: Cotto, the ultimate pressure fighter, spent the second half of the bout going backwards, circling and counter-punching. You know, like Mosley was supposed to do. And you know what? Cotto did it pretty well.

In a fight I scored a draw, Cotto won a close unanimous decision in the eyes of the judges. And in a year filled with legitimate fight of the year candidates, I think this warrants consideration, but ultimately it's behind in my race. Still, with all the hard, clean punching, the back-and-forth and the surprising tactical flip-flop, it was definitely worth the $50 I paid for it.

Consider, besides the bizarre sight of Cotto dancing away from Mosley's shots, the following points of intrigue. 1. Cotto was the far superior jabber. Now, Mosley's never been a true believer in the jab, but you have to admit, despite the good jab Cotto demonstrated against Zab Judah, you wouldn't have predicted that Cotto was going to outjab Mosley. 2. Mosley more or less neutralized Cotto's body attack with his movement and by concentrating on defending his torso. In fact, I'd argue that Mosley was the better body puncher Saturday night. Come on. No way you foresaw that, right? Even though Mosley always has been a good body puncher. 3. Mosley nailed Cotto with every punch he's vulnerable to and then some, including the uppercut (good idea, considering Cotto always comes forward with his head down) straight punches down the middle (which he seems to have trouble defending against for some reason) plus right hooks and lefts to the body (Cotto's hittable, but I can't recall him getting pasted much with those kind of punches before). And Cotto never went down. Never even looked like he would. Even though I questioned Mosley's power at welterweight, he really caught Cotto with some amazing stuff that made me go, "How's Cotto still standing up?"

I think we need to reexamine one very serious knock on Cotto. And despite all the evidence available to me before last night, it's a stereotype I've embraced. That is, Cotto allegedly just does one thing -- pressure, punch to the body, systematically break down his opponent -- but he does it so well it's hard to stop. There's some truth to that. But think back. How cleverly does he employ the constant switching from conventional to southpaw stance? And hasn't he been doing it for a while? Mosley said it after the fight, but I'm going to second it: Cotto's not just a good brawler, he's a good boxer as well. Cotto's got decent speed, or he never would have hit the version of Mosley that was up on his toes in the middle rounds. And he showed he can adjust mid-fight and try new things -- the aforementioned back-pedaling/counter-punching -- so he's got some good ring smarts, too. This is something like the revelation that was Manny Pacquaio's emergence as a great combination brawler/boxer around the time of the second Erik Morales fight; there may have been signs that the fiery young gun could win a chess match, but now there's proof of it.

Cotto's a superstar now. In beating Mosley, he has finally defeated a truly great fighter. I feel like I've not paid much attention to how well Mosley performed here. But I wouldn't be singing Cotto's praises so much if he'd defeated a once-good, now-old fighter. Mosley looked fantastic. It was so close they even landed the exact same number of punches. It was ridiculously even. And Cotto looks better for having come out ahead of a Mosley who was at the top of his game.

Now, if only Cotto could somehow work on that chin of his, because even after the firestorm of Mosley punches Cotto walked through, I think there are bigger-punching welterweights who could seriously rearrange Cotto's world.

Next for the winner: It really ought to be the winner of the Dec. 8 fight between Floyd Mayweather, Jr. and Ricky Hatton. I don't think either Hatton or Mayweather are the kind of welterweights who could rearrange Cotto's world with their punching power. But both pose a threat to him in a different way. And he poses a threat to them. Mayweather, as the supreme thinking man's boxer in the sport today, might very well easily dismantle Cotto; he's like Mosley 2.0. But then, Cotto, as an expert at cutting off the ring, could give Mayweather a run for his money, and with his newly-indisputable boxing skills, might chase down Mayweather, who probably doesn't hit as hard at welterweight as does Mosley. Anyway, I'd like to find out. It wouldn't be a bad consolation prize to see Hatton and Cotto square off. They're very similar, and as an admirer of body punching, I'd have to make sure I wasn't eating any Frosted Flakes during the fight, because I might spit them all over my living room as I felt sympathy pains and winced at some of the hard shots to the ribs those two would be throwing. If Hatton or Mayweather fall through, I sure wouldn't mind seeing Cotto getting a big payday against Oscar De La Hoya. And even though I think Cotto would very likely meet his maker in a fight with Antonio Margarito, it'd be an entertaining affair if it happened. Since Margarito lost to Paul Williams, though, I think he needs to win another fight or two before he gets a money machine like Cotto, since Mayweather, Hatton and maybe even De La Hoya are more deserving. Cotto seems to think the same. No matter which of those four Cotto faces next, it'll be a big, big fight.
Next for the loser: Mosley sounded very much like a man about to retire after the loss to Cotto. I can't blame him. Who needs all this kind of stuff at 36? And Mosley's a warrior who, despite his excellent boxing skills, has stood and traded fearlessly throughout his entire career. Eventually, the miles will catch up to him. The class he showed after the fight in acknowledging Cotto's excellence, plus Mosley's sterling exhibition of bravery and skill during it, mitigated my resentment of his Shane's steroid shenanigans. I have no problem with him retiring after Saturday night. I don't think he's going out a loser -- as I said, I think it was a draw. Still, if he's worried about "getting back in line" at his age, as he said, I can think of a pretty direct path. How about fighting Margarito? Or the loser of Mayweather-Hatton? The winner of either fight would be able to make an excellent case that he deserves a shot at whatever names emerge on the top of the welterweight heap by the middle of next year.

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