Puerto Rican Miguel Cotto may have been stripped of his World Boxing Council (WBC) middleweight title because of his refusal to pay the boxing organization’s outrageous fees, but the 160-pound throne will still be on the line when he takes on Mexican slugger Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez this weekend in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Alvarez (45-1-1, 32 knockouts) will be crowned new WBC middleweight champion if he defeats Cotto. In the event Cotto (40-4, 33 knockouts) prevails, the WBC throne will remain vacant and reigning interim champ (yes, despite having a regular champ the WBC still maintains an interim champ) Gennady Golovkin (34-0, 31 knockouts) will be promoted to regular champ status. Cotto chose not to keep the belt after the WBC assessed him a whopping $1.1 million in fees. Cotto was to give the WBC $300,000 as sanctioning fee and Golovkin $800,000 as “step-aside fee.” Golovkin was the mandatory challenger to Cotto’s title and the “step-aside” fee, literally speaking, is the cash needed for Golovkin to give way to the richer Cotto-Alvarez showdown.
Cotto felt he was being asked to pay too much and he also questioned the legality of the “step-aside” fee. He took a shot at the WBC, stressing that he already has so many titles in his house and does not need another belt at this stage in his career.
To some extent, Cotto is correct. More than keeping or winning another world title, Cotto’s fight with Alvarez is about galvanizing his legacy in the sport where he had won four division crowns. Cotto admits that he is knocking on the door of retirement and desires nothing less than a glorious ending. When Cotto was outclassed in 12 rounds by the feather-fisted Austin Trout in 2012, he looked the part of a shopworn fighter. Cotto’s career was resuscitated by trainer Freddie Roach and their partnership resulted in the Puerto Rican mauling Sergio Martinez in 2014 for the WBC middleweight title.
Cotto, 35, has fought only once in the last 17 months, stopping Daniel Geale in four rounds in June 2015. He nonetheless figures to be in the best shape of his career as he faces a possible retirement fight against the bigger Alvarez, who is at the prime of his career at age 25.
Alvarez is a genuine threat as he offers power in both hands and a wide upper body that figures to crowd the smaller Cotto along the ropes. The Mexican’s defense is however porous and his tendency to recklessly lunge in makes him the ideal target for Cotto’s lethal left hook. Cotto has become a better boxer-counterpuncher at the tail-end of his career and many expect him to use technique and patience in handling the dangerous bull that is Alvarez.
Cotto is likely to take a page off the strategy Floyd Mayweather Jr. used in outboxing Alvarez in 2013, but many wonder if he can keep his boxing decorum the moment Alvarez goes barbaric on offense. Cotto offers faster hands and better lateral movement, but questions abound as to how he will handle the stronger Alvarez who will be looking to bulldoze past him.
Cotto’s durability has also been sketchy in recent years. He had been battered and stopped by Antonio Margarito and Manny Pacquiao and looked unsteady at the end of his fights with Mayweather Jr. and Trout. Alvarez was badly hurt by Cotto’s older brother Jose Miguel Cotto in the early part of their 2010 duel, but he has not been threatened since.
The key for Alvarez is not be awed by Cotto’s reputation and apply incessant pressure. Alvarez has the habit of trying to wait too long against a boxer when he can already go full throttle on offense. Make no mistake, Alvarez is the smart money bet to prevail, but this only appears to motivate Cotto all the more. Cotto ardently believes that he is not just hiding behind a legendary reputation and has one more trick left up his sleeve. For his own sake, Cotto must play out this trick without a hitch comes fight time.
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