Photos: Will Hart, Ed Mulholland
By Kieran Mulvaney
It would be easy to say that youth and size ultimately prevailed at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas on Saturday night, and to some extent – perhaps a large extent – that would be correct. But Canelo Alvarez did more than simply impose his strength on a valiant, aging warrior as he overcame Miguel Cotto to win a unanimous points decision and annex the lineal middleweight championship. The 25-year-old Mexican also showed skill and poise that belied his years, particularly in the form of an impressively subtle defense that frustrated Cotto’s efforts to land power punches for much of the night.
Cotto (40-5, KOs 33), started brightly enough, bouncing on his toes and looking to land his vaunted left hook behind a stiff jab, but Canelo telegraphed his intentions for the night with a digging hook to the body and an overhand right that sailed behind Cotto’s left hand and just missed his jaw. In the second, the Alvarez overhand right found its target while Cotto struggled to reach his. Canelo kept himself largely at just the right distance to force the shorter man to stretch with his punches, and deftly moved his head a fraction out of range whenever Cotto threatened to land.
The effectiveness of Canelo’s defense was underlined by the CompuBox punch stats, and particularly the poor success rate of the Cotto jab – the punch off which Cotto’s offense operates. Cotto threw 374 jabs, but connected with just 54 of them, a paltry 14 percent. His power punch figures were somewhat better – 75 of 255 landed, or 29 percent. But Canelo’s power punches were the offensive story of the night, as he landed 118 out of 298, nearly four of every ten he threw.
Indeed, from early in the contest, as Cotto sought to circle and box behind the jab, Alvarez focused almost exclusively on power punches, ripping left hooks and overhand rights from mid-distance. And while Cotto blocked many of them early, those that made their way through landed with authority.
Cotto remained undeterred even after Alvarez (46-1-1, 32 KOs) began to impose himself. The veteran decided to alter his tactics, step into the danger zone, and fire off combinations before moving out of the way. To at least some at ringside, that created the impression that Cotto was succeeding in winning battles by scoring with flurries, even if the overall feeling remained that Canelo’s heavier punches were winning the war. The problem for Cotto was that his punches largely bounced off Alvarez, whereas the Mexican’s always seemed to carry more weight.
By round 8, Alvarez was marching forward without evident concern for what was coming in the opposite direction. He was by now finding success not only with his overhand right, but also with a short uppercut that exploded off Cotto’s jaw with increasing frequency as the Puerto Rican moved closer.
Cotto to his immense credit, remained willing to brawl, but continued to come off second best in the exchange of power punches. Entering the final round, Alvarez was unreachable on all three scorecards, but neither man knew that as they both laid it all on the line with a series of furious exchanges. A left hook from Alvarez appeared to hurt Cotto, who retreated and seemed content to make it to the final bell, until he suddenly uncorked a pair of hooks of his own as the final bell rang.
Even those ringside who saw it as a close contest scored it for Alvarez, and so did the three judges, who had it 117-111, 118-110 and 119-109.
The wide spread of the scores upset Cotto and his trainer Freddie Roach.
“Wow!” was Cotto’s sole comment on the cards. After the decision was made, Cotto went right to Freddie and said, "Are you OK? That’s all that matters."
“We thought it was much closer than the scorecards showed, added Roach. “It was a very competitive fight.”
“I have a lot of respect for Miguel,” said Alvarez. “He is a great champion and a great fighter. We knew going into this fight that it would be a difficult journey, but I feel that I was the faster and stronger fighter tonight. I wasn’t hurt by his punches.”
In a sign of the mutual respect shown by both men throughout the promotion, Canelo went to Cotto’s locker room afterward, hugged Cotto’s family and team and said to the dethroned veteran: “I admire you.”