The qualities welterweights (147 lbs.) Miguel Cotto and Antonio Margarito share — destructive punching, commitment to offense over defense, refusal to back down and all the other things I outlined here — are among the reasons their fight Saturday is the kind of potential battle that has connoisseurs of the sport dizzy with anticipation and ought to compel anyone with a passing interest in boxing to hie thee to a television that night.
But Cotto and Margarito are not entirely the same, and their differences are another major reason their fight intrigues. I don’t just mean their in-ring styles. For instance, Margarito has a kind of lust for combat that leaves him nodding and smiling when he gets hit cleanly, and in his last fight, he was so enjoying the pummeling he was laying on Kermit Cintron that after he knocked him down, he was standing in the neutral corner waiving his arms up and down as if to lift Cintron with a kind of voodoo so that he could beat him up some more. Cotto, by contrast, behaves in there like a merciless machine — his expression never changes no matter what, and with his tendency toward low blows, you get the impression he’s been programmed to win at all costs.
No, it’s more than just demeanor. The fundamental differences between Cotto and Margarito as boxers will influence the outcome. And those differences warrant a discussion of the keys to the fight.
Size And Distance
Margarito is going to tower over Cotto in there. At 5’11” and with a 73″ reach, he has a four inch height and six inch reach advantage over Cotto. Boxing norms dictate that Margarito would therefore want to fight from a distance to make use of those advantages, but Margarito usually excels on the inside, where his looping, lower-speed volume of punches can find their target easier. Cotto is clearly at his best on the inside, too. Body punchers in general, and Cotto is definitely a body puncher, can often get their shots off easier from close distance.
But don’t be surprised to see Cotto fighting mostly from the outside. Against Shane Mosley last year, who had a seven inch reach advantage, Cotto boxed extremely effectively late in the fight from a distance for long stretches. That may be one area where he has an edge on Margarito. He’s pretty used to fighting taller fighters, even from back in his days as a 140-pounder, so that’s not daunting in and of itself. Word out of Margarito’s training camp is that he’s working on his outside game, too; if he can show dramatic improvement there, Cotto may be in a world of trouble. Right now, Margarito “fights small” by leaning over and trying to get on the inside, so he somewhat neutralizes his advantage. Who controls distance to their greatest comfort is going to be a major factor in this fight, and one that is related to several other factors, too.
Body Punches, Uppercuts And Jabs
Three kinds of punches will have particular importance in Cotto-Margarito: body punches, uppercuts and jabs.
Cotto and Margarito are both exceptional body punchers. Cotto has the edge in that category. He’s the best at that in the world right now. Once, all the way back in 1996, Margarito was knocked down by a body punch. That incident probably doesn’t mean much now, but another boxing maxim is that it’s a great idea to throw body punches against long, tall fighters, since their rib cages are such large targets. Margarito should know. Just last year, his body punching was a factor that helped him catch up to the 6’1″-plus Paul Williams late in their fight, although ultimately Margarito fell short on the scorecards. Against Mosley, Cotto seemed to tire. How much body punching had to do with that is unclear, but if Cotto can be worn down, body punching is one way for Margarito to do it.
If Cotto is the sport’s best body puncher, Margarito may own the game’s best uppercut. He throws it often and from all kinds of angles, and when it lands, heads go flying back. Zab Judah in 2007 landed his far quicker uppercut frequently against Cotto, stunning him with it at times. Really, both Cotto and Margarito are vulnerable to uppercuts, since they are so often hunched over. Cotto doesn’t throw his very often, but it’s a pretty good punch for him when he does.
The punch of Cotto’s that has become a real weapon is his jab. It’s fast and punishing and he used it to disrupt Mosley’s rhythm and really surprise him with its speed and effectiveness. Cotto could use it against Mosley as a weapon in and of itself, but like any good jab, it could help him set up the rest of his offense and get to his most comfortable distance. Margarito’s jab, which has been a focus in training camp, hasn’t traditionally done much of anything. He’d usually rather just walk through big punches to get where he wants. But, again, if he can make it effective Saturday, he can deeply enhance his outside game and chip away at Cotto’s cognitively dissonant advantage there.
Technique, Speed And Defense
Margarito has a diverse offense — he’s pretty good with every kind of punch except maybe the jab — but Cotto is by far the more polished of the two. Margarito is a brawler with some skill; Cotto is a heavy puncher with increasingly impressive boxing skills. Margarito’s punches are wide and thudding. Cotto’s are short and crisp. Margarito tries to turn every fight into a stand-and-trade war of attrition. Cotto can win both boxing matches and brawls. Margarito is flat-footed and plodding. Cotto is significantly lighter on his feet. This technique advantage is so decisive that many boxing observers consider this the main reason Cotto is likely to win. Factor in Cotto’s deceptive speed and Margarito’s slower hands, and it gets worse for Margarito.
Neither man is a defensive wizard, which is where things get equalized a little more. Margarito gets hit with basically everything everyone throws at him and he doesn’t care in the slightest, because it’s all about his offense. Plus, aside from a strange incident where he was stunned by the not-so-heavy-hitting Josh Clottey last year, Margarito’s chin has been granite for years and years and years. He practically laughed off the punches of Cintron, one of the most explosive hitters in the sport. So why should he care about defense? Nonetheless, this is another thing he’s been working on in camp. Cotto has the edge in defensive ability, and he’s more conscientious about it, but he also gets hit plenty. Compubox figured out that Cotto was very vulnerable to the power punches of Mosley and Judah. Because Cotto’s chin is made of more uncertain stuff, that is potentially more troublesome.
Cotto’s Fatal Flaw: His Chin
In 32 fights without a loss, nobody’s been able to outbox or outslug Cotto. Mosley tried both. No luck. That said, Cotto’s shown in the past he is vulnerable to big punches. At 140 pounds, Cotto nearly got knocked out several times over the course of his fight against Ricardo Torres, the biggest puncher he had faced in his career — and it wasn’t the first time Cotto’d been rocked at the weight. His chin has been sturdier at 147, although Judah shook him up early. Of course, Judah shakes everybody up early, as he did future Hall of Famers like Floyd Mayweather and Kostya Tszyu, so that’s not all that unexpected. Nonetheless, Margarito, while no one-punch knockout artist like Torres, is the biggest, strongest puncher Cotto has ever faced.
Margarito’s Fatal Flaw: Movement
Set aside Margarito’s first three losses, which all came when he was between 16 and 18 in Mexico’s brutal “throw ’em to the wolves at a young age” tradition. Every fighter since who has really caused Margarito trouble since did so by moving constantly, strafing with punches, then getting out of harm’s way quickly. That’s how Williams beat him. That’s how Daniel Santos beat him, in large measure. Clottey did a little of that, too, before injuring his hand and losing momentum, although Clottey’s defensive style of coming in behind his gloves held high was also important. Honestly, I think Mayweather, and to a lesser extent, Mosley, would pick Margarito apart ruthlessly because of their excellent movement. Cotto’s footwork has gotten fancier in each successive fight. It’s not ultra-fancy, though, like Mayweather’s or Mosley’s. If it’s fancy enough, Margarito’s not going to have a fun night.
Both Margarito and Cotto have shown a tendency to get cut, in particular Margarito, and Cotto’s face-demolishing style has led more than a few writers to predict the fight will be stopped on cuts in his favor… Once, Margarito started slowly and wore down his opponent late, although he has started extremely quickly after his loss to Williams, a huge improvement in his game that could pay major dividends against Cotto, who usually is the one wearing down his man late…¬ Cotto’s 26; Margarito’s 30. Both have been in a lot of grueling fights, but Margarito, despite being in what usually would be a boxer’s physical prime, has been fighting as a pro for a lot longer than Cotto, and can’t possibly be the fresher of the two… Despite a longer resume, Margarito’s quality of opponent pales in comparison to Cotto’s. Two wins over Cintron, a lucky break against Clottey and wins over a slew of lesser if still formidable contenders are as good as it gets for Margarito the last few years; Cotto’s wins over Mosley and Judah are the recent highlights and are a better pair than Cintron and Clottey, but the list of current, former and future champs he’s defeated is extensive. Generally, the boxer who’s beaten better competition is better equipped in fights like this one… Maxboxing’s Doug Fischer once said that Margarito is such a fiend in the gym he has a tendency to overtrain, which can leave a fighter sluggish and slow, and Fischer’s as big a follower of Margarito’s career as exists, so he would know. Word is that Margarito’s been staring at video of Cotto all day long as he trains as motivation, so Margarito’s overtraining is a distinct risk…