By Hamilton Nolan
It is interesting that Canelo Alvarez (45-1-1, 32 KOs) and Miguel Cotto (40-4, 33 KOs) are standing on the precipice of the hottest fight in boxing, because they have very little in common. Canelo is young. Cotto is old(er). Canelo is a Mexican idol. Cotto is a Puerto Rican idol. Canelo is stout, angled, and explosive, like a robot made of fast-twitch muscle fiber. Cotto is rounded, smooth, and heavier than the scale will tell you, with punches that whistle in with the inevitability of a wrecking ball. Canelo has never been seriously hurt. Cotto has been in as many wars as anyone still at the top of the sport. They are not alike. Nor are they the sort of polar opposites that sometimes make fights intriguing out of sheer zaniness. What they do have in common, though, render all their dissimilarities unimportant: their skills are A-level premiere; they are both two-fisted knockout punchers; and they both come to fight. That is all that matters. That is enough.
Looking into boxing’s soon-to-come post-Mayweather future, those who control the sport see a new world in which the major pay-per-view stars will actually be action fighters; a world in which promoters do not have to go to all the trouble of convincing fans anew that this pay-per-view fight will be different, only to hear the gripes after it turns out to be another dazzling defensive masterpiece that lacks the bloodshed that the average fight fan expects when they shell out money. Floyd Mayweather was too good defensively to thrill the general public. Manny Pacquiao was too good offensively in his prime to find any fair fights. But the next generation of pay-per-view stars are aggressive enough to produce the wars that the public craves. One of those fighters is Gennady Golovkin, dangerous but also polished after a long amateur career. The other is Canelo Alvarez—also dangerous, but not as experienced or polished, and therefore all the more entertaining. For Canelo, unlike some more masterful and mature boxers, the enticing possibility of folly still remains.
Six years ago, after being savagely beaten by Manny Pacquiao, Miguel Cotto looked to be nearing the end of his career. Four years ago, after a surprise loss to Austin Trout, Miguel Cotto looked to be nearing the end of his career. But in between and since those fights, he has proven himself to be much more resilient than he appeared in his darkest moments. He avenged his loss to Antonio Margarito, beating him handily in dominating fashion; he performed respectably against Floyd Mayweather, even managing to land some punches on the smooth-faced wonder; and his last three fights have been demonstrations of the fact that his fabled left hook is still heavy enough to knock out respectable middleweights. Miguel Cotto, like Juan Manuel Marquez, is one of those rare ageless fighters of top quality able to walk through brutal wars and continue to function at the highest level. He is a rare breed, and he has earned his national hero status fair and square.
That said: Miguel Cotto should be viewed as something of an underdog in this fight. He is naturally smaller than Canelo. Though strong for his size, he does not possess the flashy, fiery strength of Canelo, who punches with at least a tiny flash of the sort of cringe-inducing power that made Mike Tyson so terrifying to watch. Canelo, though technically sound, has very apparent flaws as a fighter—he fights in spots, splitting rounds into very distinct periods of resting, regrouping, and attacking, which gives a cerebral and fluid opponent a natural way to confound him by disrupting this rhythm. Cotto has the savvy and experience to execute this game plan if he so chooses. But while Cotto is certainly capable of moving constantly, changing his attack, and boxing rather than brawling (see his victory over Margarito for a prime example of this), he has his own flaw in this matchup: there is no way for him to win without hurting Canelo. And even if his power does turn out to be enough to do that, there is no way for him to hurt Canelo without standing and trading punches with Canelo. And standing and trading punches with Canelo poses a much greater risk to Cotto than it does to the bigger, stronger, more explosive redhead, who can knock down very rugged middleweights with either hand, to the body or head.
To win this fight, Miguel Cotto must give the performance of a lifetime, particularly on defense. Canelo Alvarez must simply be his normal vicious self. There is a dark horse possibility that we will all find out that Canelo’s chin, which has never seriously been tested over the course of a long fight, is not as sturdy as the rest of him. But that would seem like an outside bet. A Cotto victory would give him his pick of opponents across three divisions. But a Cotto loss would not diminish his status very much, assuming he fights with the warrior’s courage he has always displayed. For Canelo, Cotto would represent the most prestigious win on his young résumé. This will be an action fight. Enjoy it. You’ll be paying to see many, many more before Canelo is done.