The year 2017 has witnessed several top-level fighters walk away on top and on their own terms -- Andre Ward, Juan Manuel Marquez (though his final fight was three years earlier) and Floyd Mayweather being three. WBO super welterweight titlist Miguel Cotto hopes to join them by beating Sadam Ali at Madison Square Garden, his spiritual boxing home away from home where he has compiled a record of 8-1 (5 KO) since June 2005. The last time he fought at the "Mecca" he scored a stunningly dominant decision over Sergio Martinez to capture his fourth divisional crown, the first Puerto Rican to achieve such an honor.
In Ali, a Brooklyn resident of Yemeni extraction, Cotto is facing a once-beaten fighter who is making just his second appearance at MSG (he decisioned Francisco Santana on the Wladimir Klitschko-Bryant Jennings undercard in April 2015). While Ali will have some support, it will be drowned by a tidal wave of nationalistic pride and sentiment. Will the crowd get its happy ending? Or will the rigors of "The Sweet Science" inflict a sour sampling of chronological reality?
Struggles Against Stars, Succeeds Against Others
All of Cotto's five defeats have come against fellow champions in Manny Pacquiao, Antonio Margarito, Mayweather, Austin Trout (who notched the only MSG defeat for Cotto) and Saul Alvarez. The three most recent losses came against "Money," "No Doubt" and "Canelo," and in those fights the per-round margins were telling (15.9 vs. 11.6 overall, 3.7 vs. 3.1 jabs, 12.2-9.4 power) as were the connect percentages (29%-24% overall, 16%-15% jabs, 40%-29% power).
But against non-superstars like Delvin Rodriguez, Daniel Geale, a crippled Martinez and a tough but outclassed Yoshihiro Kamegai in his most recent outing, the numbers flip heavily in Cotto's favor (23.2 to 10.5 total connects per round, 6.0 to 2.4 jab connects, 17.2 to 8.1 landed power shots per round and percentage leads of 44%-25% overall, 40%-17% jabs and 46%-30% power). The Kamegai effort showed that Cotto had plenty left in the tank as he threw a career-high 809 punches (69.9 per round) and landed & attempted a career highs for power punches (251 of 601). He out-landed Kamegai 339-156 overall, 88-11 jabs and 251-145 power and created enviable percentage leads of 40%-23% overall, 37%-8% jabs and 42%-26% power. He exceeded 30 total connects per round five times (topping off at 38 in round two) and landed 20 or more in every round except the 11th where he landed 18. Moreover, he exceeded 40% power accuracy six times and landed 50% twice (in the seventh and 12th rounds) while Kamegai was mired in the 20s in eight of the final nine rounds.
Even in his late 30s, Cotto remains effective against a lesser level of fighter. The only question is whether Ali qualifies as a lesser light or whether he can lift his game to a higher level. Given his history, Cotto should provide a fitting litmus test.
Since suffering a stunning TKO loss to Jessie Vargas for the vacant WBO welterweight belt in March 2016, Ali has gone 3-0 with one KO win against opponents with a combined 67-22-4 record, a .720 winning percentage. His first fight back saw him drop and dominate a passive Saul Corral en route to a 10-round decision that saw him lead 155-56 overall and 131-42 power while averaging 64.7 punches per round to Corral's 27.8. Corral enjoyed brief moments of success in rounds eight and 10, but it wasn't nearly enough to derail the Ali train.
As for his most recent fight, a 10-round decision over Johan Perez, Ali experienced a bit more resistance as Perez was busier (64.2 per round to Ali's 46.2) and stayed in the fight until Ali staged a surge in the final two rounds (31-18 overall, 26-14 power) to nail down connect leads of 114-103 overall and 95-74 power as well as 25%-16% overall and 35%-18% power. The scores were wide (98-91, 97-92 twice) but he did little more than what was expected. Will he raise his level here?
Inside The Numbers
Cotto, in his last 10 fights (at 152 lbs or higher), landed 39.7% of his power punches. Ali's known as a boxer, but landed just 3 jabs per round among his 14 landed punches per round in his last 5 fights.
Ali may live in Brooklyn, but Cotto reigns supreme in the hearts of the Puerto Rican fans who will flood MSG and cheer on their legend. Despite being 37, Cotto remains an effective fighter who can beat everyone except the very best. And Ali, who's fought at 149 lbs. or lower in 25 of his 26 fights, isn't among the very best, especially since he has a dodgy chin. Cotto may not have gotten the opponent he wanted for his finale, but he will get the result he wants: A later-round TKO victory and a fitting send-off into retirement.