By Eric Raskin
If Canelo Alvarez finds himself rocked by a punch to the chin on Saturday night, his legs momentarily stiffened, his balance undone, it won’t be the first time he’s been in those desperate straits. In fact, it won’t be the first time it happened against a fighter with the surname Cotto.
On May 1, 2010, in what was essentially the ballyhooed 19-year-old Mexican’s HBO debut (it was the opening bout of the HBO Pay-Per-View broadcast of Floyd Mayweather against Shane Mosley), Jose Miguel Cotto landed a perfect left hook to the pale-skinned prospect’s jaw midway through the opening round. Alvarez staggered into the ropes, where he ate four flush right hands from Miguel Cotto’s older brother. But Canelo stayed on his feet. He fired back. He recovered. He made it to the bell. And then he dominated the rest of the way, dropping Cotto in round two en route to a ninth-round stoppage win.
Five and a half years on, Alvarez has added 13 more wins and one loss to his record, tens of millions of dollars to his bank account, and hundreds of thousands of people to his ever-expanding fan base. And through all of that, he has avoided ever having his chin publicly dented again. Carlos Baldomir couldn’t hurt him. Austin Trout couldn’t hurt him. Floyd Mayweather couldn’t hurt him. James Kirkland couldn’t hurt him.
Only the undersized, past-his-prime, lightly regarded brother of Miguel Cotto could. Now baby bro gets a chance to finish what Jose started, get revenge for what Alvarez finished, and prove that Cotto fists are some sort of Kryptonite for Canelo’s otherwise impervious chin.
The “revenge of the brother” angle is hardly unheard of in boxing. For much of their careers, that was Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko’s collective M.O.: Wladimir avenged Vitali’s defeat to Chris Byrd; Vitali avenged Wlad’s losses to Ross Purrity and Corrie Sanders. What sets Miguel Cotto’s pursuit of revenge apart is that it has barely been acknowledged as a storyline in the build-up to the fight. Maybe that’s because Alvarez vs. Jose Cotto took place more than a half-decade ago and Canelo has since evolved while Cotto has since retired. Maybe it’s because Saturday’s fight is so compelling on so many levels that there are countless plotlines to burn through before people even recall that Alvarez fought Miguel’s brother.
Whatever the framework, it is an underlying story of this fight. Jose Cotto was perhaps a punch or two away from derailing the Canelo Express just as it was pulling out of the station.