HBO Boxing Insiders Eric Raskin and Kieran Mulvaney preview Saturday's Miguel Cotto vs. Yoshihiro Kamegai fight, analyzing what Cotto's retirement plans mean, how career-long layoffs will affect both combatants, and what style of fight gives Kamegai his best chance. They also talk about the "StubHub magic" potential of the co-featured bout, Rey Vargas vs. Ronny Rios.
By Eric Raskin
Miguel Cotto is all fighter. He’s so much a fighter at his core, in fact, that the only way he knows how to announce his retirement is by signing to fight. In the same late-summer stretch that saw Wladimir Klitschko, Juan Manuel Marquez, Tim Bradley, and Shane Mosley all decide, for various reasons, to step away without entering the ring one last time, Cotto is verbally indicating that he’ll join them – but not until he gets one or two more punch-ups out of his system.
On Saturday, Cotto, closing in on his 37th birthday and more than 21 months removed from his last bout, will touch gloves at the StubHub Center in Carson, Calif., with Yoshihiro Kamegai in the first show of the Puerto Rican warrior’s farewell tour. It’s going to be a brief tour; Cotto has promised he’ll be retired by the time we turn the calendars over to 2018, so it’s Kamegai and maybe one more, if the right fight can be arranged by December. If not, maybe Cotto-Kamegai is goodbye. However many hooks Cotto (40-5 with 33 KOs) has left in his quiver, he’s allocating them across this Saturday and maybe one more Saturday after that, and then he’s out.
Of course, it’s a boxing retirement, so there’s always reason for skepticism. Even Cotto’s trainer, Freddie Roach, isn’t totally sold. "Miguel will retire at the end of the year, but I wonder if he will remain retired," Roach recently told BoxingScene. "If [Gennady] Golovkin beats Canelo [Alvarez] and then Cotto faces him, I think it would be a great fight, on a historic level. And if he wins that, he'll want more I think. But first, he has to deal with Kamegai."
How much of a challenge will dealing with Kamegai be? The Japanese veteran has compiled a record of 27-3-2 with 24 KOs – solid numbers, though against dramatically lower competition than what Cotto has faced. He lost a competitive decision when he stepped up to face Robert Guerrero in 2014, dropped decisions when he couldn’t match the skills of Johan Perez or Alfonso Gomez (a fighter Cotto crushed nearly a decade ago), and turned in career-best performances in two all-action fights in 2016 against Jesus Soto-Karass – the first scored a draw, the second a one-sided eighth-round stoppage that earned Kamegai this opportunity.
At age 34, coming off a career-long 350-day layoff, a dangerous offensive fighter but a subpar defensive boxer, Kamegai is a sizable underdog. But he is resilient; Kamegai has never been knocked out or even knocked down as a pro, so while Cotto figures to reach his chin early and often, there’s no guarantee said chin will notice. It’s supposed to be a get-well fight for Cotto following his 2015 points defeat to Canelo Alvarez, but he’s had fights like this go awry before. Slick southpaw Austin Trout, who upset Cotto in 2012, knows a thing or two about that.
“Of course, Miguel Cotto, if he’s motivated, you have to give him a big edge in this fight,” Trout told Inside HBO Boxing. “But the beautiful thing about boxing is everybody has a chance. Kamegai didn’t just start boxing. He’s been doing this for years. When you have experience, you have a chance. And Miguel doesn’t only lose to skilled boxers. Remember, Manny Pacquiao went straight to Cotto, took it to him. So did Antonio Margarito. He has been beaten by people who come at him. So Kamegai’s style could give him a chance.”
Then there are the matters of Cotto’s age, wear and tear, and ring rust. His latest hiatus from getting paid to fight has gone on nearly twice as long as Kamegai’s at one year, nine months, and five days. (Helping to reduce the rust: Cotto went through most of a training camp for a planned fight with James Kirkland this past spring.)
"He shouldn’t be too rusty," Trout says. With Miguel’s experience, he knows how to fight. I don’t think he’ll all of a sudden forget how to fight because he was off for almost two years. "But how old is Cotto going to be on the night of the fight? That’s the question. Cotto’s gone through some wars. He’s fought the best. How much does he have left? I’ll say this, though: He looked good against Canelo. He looked sharp, he fought well. Canelo was just younger and a little stronger, but Miguel fought well against him."
In general, Cotto has fought extremely well since joining forces with Roach immediately after his loss to Trout. He’s gone 3-1 with 3 KOs and has shown no drop-off in skill at his advancing age. Boxers who use their feet and angles, like Gomez and Perez, give Kamegai fits. Kamegai fights at a fast pace; he throws a lot, lands a lot, and gets hit a lot. In the Soto-Karass rematch, 493 of their 562 combined landed punches were power shots. If Cotto fights smart and avoids a brawl, and hasn’t lost multiple steps since the Canelo bout, Kamegai probably has not much more than the proverbial puncher’s chance.
But that isn’t dampening his enthusiasm in the least.
“For me to fight someone I’ve been a fan of since I was 20 years old is an honor,” Kamegai said. “I look forward to fighting him, and I’m out here to win this fight. I don’t speak English well, but I do speak boxing, and I plan to put on a very entertaining fight.”
But can he do more than entertain against the Hall of Fame-bound four-division titlist? We’ve seen plenty of top fighters over the years get beaten into retirement in what they thought were reasonably safe fights. Images flash to mind of Ricky Hatton stumbling against Vyacheslav Senchenko, Arturo Gatti crumbling against Alfonso Gomez, and most recently, Bernard Hopkins tumbling against Joe Smith Jr.
You’re always one punch from disaster in boxing. But in his mind, even though he knows the end is near, Miguel Cotto isn’t quite one punch, or even one fight, away just yet.
“Miguel has given the game a lot,” Trout says. “He’s a future Hall of Famer. He doesn’t have to prove anything. I’m happy for him if he’s able to retire on his own terms. That’s what you want for every boxer.”
In the co-featured bout on Saturday evening, fans will be treated to the sort of fight with the potential to extend the StubHub Center’s reputation as a magnet for magnificent warfare. Freddie Roach isn’t the only iconic trainer working a corner on this night, as Nacho Beristain’s undefeated Mexican junior featherweight Rey Vargas (29-0 with 22 KOs) meets SoCal contender Ronny Rios (28-1 with 13 KOs), who’s won five in a row since an upset loss to Robinson Castellanos that looks better with every subsequent Castellanos appearance. It’s essentially a pick-’em fight and a high-class clash of styles between aggressive puncher Vargas and skillful boxer Rios.
"I am thankful that Golden Boy Promotions has gotten this fight for me," said Rios, "and I expect a tough, tough war from Rey." The respect is largely mutual. "I know Ronny Rios is an extremely tough challenger," Vargas said. "But he has never tasted power like mine, and I am confident I will come away with the victory."
HBO Boxing Insiders Eric Raskin and Kieran Mulvaney celebrate their 200th episode by looking back on the careers of recently retired warriors Wladimir Klitschko, Juan Manuel Marquez, and Tim Bradley, discussing their most memorable fights, best performances, and Hall of Fame credentials.
By Kieran Mulvaney
Abel Sanchez steers the Audi along the empty roads, the early morning sunlight glinting through the trees and dappling the road. The air is crisp and clear, and for it being 6 AM at an altitude of roughly 7,000 feet, the morning is surprisingly and pleasantly warm. On a day like today, Big Bear exudes an irresistible charm.
By Kieran Mulvaney
Austin, Texas, April 2009. The small knot of reporters standing in a hotel lobby was in town to cover a Golden Boy Promotions fight card headlined by the controversial and ultimately tragic Venezuelan lightweight Edwin Valero. But at this particular moment, the thoughts of Ramiro Gonzalez – formerly a sports writer for Mexican newspaper La Opinion, and subsequently a media liaison for Golden Boy – were on a younger boxer south of the border, and he wanted to share what he knew.
"In a Hall of Fame career, Timothy Bradley brought out the truth in the ring from his opponents and himself for all fans of sport," said Peter Nelson, executive vice president, HBO Sports.
"Tim is a family man and role model with a big heart -- and no one who saw Tim Bradley fight could refute he has one of the biggest hearts among those who compete between the ropes. From his 'Fight of the Year' clash with Ruslan Provodnikov to his other career-defining victories over the likes of Juan Manuel Marquez and Manny Pacquiao, we are proud to have been linked to his legacy. We wish Tim well in the next chapter of his life."
HBO Boxing Insider Eric Raskin is joined by guest co-host Rafe Bartholomew as they ask and answer questions about all of the fight cards on the loaded August/September HBO Boxing schedule, including the Sept. 16 Canelo Alvarez vs. Gennady Golovkin mega-event and the Sept. 9 "Super Fly" tripleheader featuring the rematch of Srisaket Sor Rungvisai vs. Roman "Chocolatito" Gonzalez.
By Eric Raskin
Wladimir Klitschko, Ph.D., is a man of science. He’s deliberate. He makes calculated risk-reward decisions at every turn. And by putting such consideration and reflection into every decision, he always put himself in a position to land on the correct one.
In the wee hours of Thursday morning, the long-reigning former heavyweight champion announced he was ending his career, a verdict reached only after engaging in the same methodical contemplation he employed throughout that career. And it was, in keeping with Klitschko’s track record, the correct decision. Wladimir is retiring at precisely the right moment, with diminishing amounts left to give and absolutely nothing left to prove.
Klitschko last fought on April 29, when he and Anthony Joshua drew 90,000 fans to Wembley Stadium and treated them to the most dramatic heavyweight championship fight in decades. It was undoubtedly Wladimir’s apex as an entertainer and action hero, and by getting off the canvas three times and always punching back, he enhanced his legacy even as he fell to an 11th-round stoppage defeat. As much as he hungered for a shot at revenge, he had to know that 41-year-old fighters rarely improve upon their previous performances. He also had to know that the odds were long that he’d find another chance to leave a final impression like this.
“I deliberately took a few weeks to make my decision, to make sure I had enough distance from the fight at Wembley Stadium,” Klitschko said in his official statement. (In fact, he took more than three months.) “As an amateur and a professional boxer, I have achieved everything I dreamed of, and now I want to start my second career after sports. I would have never imagined that I would have such a long and incredibly successful boxing career.”
Wladimir’s pro career was indeed long (nearly 21 years) and incredibly successful (64 victories in 69 fights, 25 of those wins in “world” title fights, about half of those in fights with the legit lineal title arguably at stake).
But his legacy is complicated.
He’s a no-brainer first-ballot Hall of Famer. But it’s probable that none of the opponents he defeated will ever see their names on the Hall of Fame ballot.
He was a massive attraction in Europe. But he was partially responsible for a huge drop-off in interest in the heavyweight division in America.
He was a dominant champion. But much of his reign was spent in co-dominance with a man he promised his mother he’d never fight.
The period from 2003, when Lennox Lewis fought for the last time, until 2017, when Joshua went through hell to impress upon Wladimir that fighting is a younger man’s game, will be known in the annals of heavyweight history as the Klitschko Era. Had Wladimir ruled for that long all by himself, he’d have a shot at getting chiseled onto the heavyweight Mount Rushmore. Instead, a good chunk of that run has asterisks attached because he couldn’t truly be The Man until his brother retired for good — and, unfortunately for Wlad, popular opinion suggests that the sturdier Vitali would have been favored had they fought.
His brother aside, however, Wladimir fought everyone who mattered from 2004 to now. It was one of the weakest heavyweight classes ever, sure, but the staggering quantity of B-level names adds up to an A-level resume. There was Chris Byrd, Ray Mercer, Jameel McCline, Samuel Peter, Byrd again, Calvin Brock, Sultan Ibragimov, Hasim Rahman, Ruslan Chagaev, Peter again, David Haye, Alexander Povetkin, and Kubrat Pulev. Some wins were stirring, like the knockdown-filled first fight with Peter and the explosive KOs of Brock and Pulev. Some were painful to watch, like the cautious jabbing clinic against Ibragimov and the clinch-at-all-costs slog against Povetkin.
Then there were the defeats. Joshua was a proud one. The loss to Tyson Fury in 2015 can mostly be chalked up to age. But between the ages of 22 and 28, Wladimir got TKO’d by Ross Puritty, Corrie Sanders, and Lamon Brewster, none of whom are remembered for much besides beating Wladimir Klitschko.
As unsightly as those defeats are on Klitschko’s record, they made it possible for him to become quite possibly the most exceptional reclamation project in boxing history. With the help of Emanuel Steward, who taught the 6-foot-6 Ukrainian how to use his height and barely get hit, Klitschko racked up Hall of Fame numbers in the years after many observers had told him this brutal business wasn’t for him and he should retire before he gets hurt. It’s easy to forget now, but after the Brewster collapse in 2004, Klitschko was rotting roadkill, and no fans were slowing down their cars to take a look. All he did after that was win 22 straight over 11 years, including an uninterrupted 9½-year title reign. The magnitude of Wladimir’s rebuild, and the discipline and self-belief it must have required, are remarkable.
It speaks to Klitschko’s extraordinary physical gifts, of course. He had freakish athleticism and skill for a man his size and the slight misfortune to follow Lennox Lewis, the only other heavyweight in history who could stop Wladimir’s particular collection of talents from feeling unprecedented.
But in equal measure, Klitschko’s post-2004 run speaks to his character. There was no more classy champion in this generation. He treated opponents with respect. He treated the sport with respect. When David Haye unveiled a T-shirt depicting Wladimir and Vitali’s severed heads, when Tyson Fury went batty in superhero outfits at press conferences, when Shannon Briggs chased him on land and sea yelling “Let’s go champ!” Klitschko kept his cool and took the high road. Wladimir was an ambassador for boxing, for intelligence, for decency – and you have to assume he’ll continue to be as he focuses on fatherhood and his next career.
The argument will rage on long after Klitschko is gone as to where he ranks among the all-time greats, in large part because we never got to see him against a fellow great in his prime. Had Wladimir come along in the Golden Age of the 1970s, there are those who think he’d have used his size to beat Joe Frazier and even Muhammad Ali, and there are those who think he’d have crumbled against Earnie Shavers or Jerry Quarry. Klitschko retires now at 41, with a record of 64-5, 53 KOs, to become part of that great sports debate that never ends.
There are some fans who miss the Klitschko Era already, and there are others who are thrilled for it to finally be over. The boxing world will move on; all champions have successors. But it figures to be a very long time before we’re treated to a heavyweight champion as dignified and as admirable as this one.