Floyd Mayweather, Jr. Vs. Miguel Cotto: What’s At Stake

So begins our marathon coverage of one of the biggest fights of 2012, Floyd Mayweather, Jr. vs. Miguel Cotto on May 5 on HBO pay-per-view. Now: the stakes of Mayweather-Cotto. Next: The undercard, previewed.

Floyd Mayweather vs. Miguel Cotto prowls, like the green-screened lions of its omnipresent commercials, somewhere in the nether zone between respectable and tawdry, noble and a sham.

It’s a fight between arguably the best fighter in the world and another inhabitant of the top 10. It’s a fight between two of the best fighters of the last decade. It’s a fight between two of the three biggest pay-per-view attractions in the United States. That’s more than enough to make for a mega-event. But it’s about five to seven years later than when it would’ve been perfect, and it’s still not Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao, the standard against which any fight involving Mayweather or Pacquiao is judged.

It is in some of those attributes that we find what is at stake in Mayweather-Cotto.

Pound-For-Pound Supremacy

A great many have switched their estimation of whether Mayweather or Pacquiao is the best fighter in the world today regardless of weight to Mayweather; this site is one of the holdovers that has Pacquiao at #1. On overall record, Pacquiao has the better wins, but at some point recent performance and a raw assessment of each fighter’s current form has to come into play in such mythical calculations, and that’s where Mayweather has the leg up.

Mayweather has both faced the better competition of late and looked better against it. Pacquiao struggled to beat the blown-up welterweight Juan Manuel Marquez last year that Mayweather simply blew away when they met in 2009. Maybe Marquez was more comfortable at the weight the second time around, but the contrast was striking. Pacquiao beat Shane Mosley last year more easily than did Mayweather the year before, but Mayweather did it at a time when Mosley was the consensus third-best fighter in the world and Pacquiao did it at a time when few even had Mosley in the top 20. And while Pacquiao has faced very good competition since 2010, beating Marquez, Mosley, Antonio Margarito and Joshua Clottey and looking less-than-stellar against it, Mayweather has notched overall better wins against Mosley and Victor Ortiz and and looked outstanding in both victories.

We’ll once more have a “comparison” fight involving the two with Cotto, since Pacquiao beat him in 2009 over four competitive rounds and eight more non-competitive ones for a stoppage victory. As with the Mosley, Marquez, Ricky Hatton and Oscar De La Hoya fights they share, the circumstances aren’t identical. Cotto was fighting at a catchweight of 145 pounds, which might have drained him slightly from the welterweight limit where Cotto was one of the two or three best in his division, but he also was fresher then from having not taken the beating Pacquiao would dish out compared to the extra miles now when Mayweather is facing him. On the other hand, Mayweather is now moving up in weight to face Cotto at 154 pounds, where Cotto is Ring’s #1 junior middleweight. At the time before Mayweather and Pacquiao alike fought him, Cotto was on the periphery of most pound-for-pound top 10 lists.

My sense here is that, should Mayweather look at least equally impressive against Cotto as Pacquiao did, he’ll overtake Pacquiao in the pound-for-pound rankings in all but the most pro-Pacquiao enclaves. To get it back, Pacquiao will have to look especially impressive next month against Timothy Bradley, another fighter who, like Cotto, inhabits most pound-for-pound top 10s.

There is a fashion in some quarters of boxing writing today to dismiss pound-for-pound rankings as meaningless or worse, but there will always be a contingent of people that enjoy sports as a whole and boxing specifically and are interested in assessing who’s the best. And Mayweather-Cotto will play a role in that.

Pay-Per-View Records

Golden Boy Promotions’ Richard Schaefer is predicting that an upcoming Mayweather fight could break the record of 2.4 million buys set by 2007’s Oscar De La Hoya-Mayweather, to which any reasonable person should answer: Bwah-Ha-Ha-Ha. Mayweather vs. Ortiz, the last fight Schaefer said could break the PPV record, wasn’t going to do it, and didn’t come close. Mayweather-Cotto still won’t come close.

However, Cotto, because he’s a proven PPV salesman due to his record of action and his Puerto Rican fan base, does offer a legit chance of achieving the second-biggest pay-per-view buy rate for non-heavyweights. Schaefer thinks the worst case scenario is the second-biggest PPV buy rate overall, which would mean more than the 2 million buys for Mike Tyson-Evander Holyfield II, and even that is probably very unlikely. After Mayweather-De La Hoya’s 2.4 million, the next biggest non-heavyweight fight, though, is (allegedly) the 1.45 million buys for Pacquiao-Marquez III. I say “allegedly” because the last two big PPV figures, for Pacquiao-Marquez III and Mayweather-Ortiz, weren’t released by HBO but by the promoters themselves, even if there’s no explicit reason to doubt them.

I can see Mayweather-Cotto surpassing that 1.45 million figure because Mayweather more or less does at least a million against anyone, and Cotto tends to get into the 300-500,000 range depending on his opponent. There is probably overlap between those two fan bases, and my usual unofficial anecdotal research on this matter — how much non-boxing fans or casual boxing fans are asking me about it — is a bit on the side of “not much interest outside the hardcore.” And there’s at least a percentage of hardcore boxing fans who are turned off by Mayweather’s one-dimensional cartoonishness and his outside-the-ring shenanigans, who might not buy the fight.

How well the PPV does is worth more than bragging rights, as we’ll discuss a few items down.

Mayweather’s Viability At 154 Pounds

The last time we saw Mayweather above welterweight, he was a smallish-looking 150 pounds against De La Hoya. He’s never been a huge puncher, but his shots appeared to lack steam, and De La Hoya never looked afraid to be hit by them. At welterweight, Mayweather has long been thought to be on the smaller side, but he’s always had enough power to at least keep his opponents honest and make them not want to do a full-on bum rush.

Mayweather has looked a little bigger in each fight of late, though, and that is probably one of the reasons — along with Cotto temporarily fleeing Mayweather’s hated ex-promoter, Top Rank; with Cotto looking a bit on the decline; with Cotto offering a promising PPV B-side; etc. — was because Mayweather wasn’t afraid to once more test the waters at junior middleweight. It’s only natural for a fighter to pack on pounds as he ages, but he’s also appeared to gain physical strength over the years, too.

Besides each other, Mayweather and Pacquiao have struggled at times to find especially viable opponents at welterweight, having to take on people who have moved up in weight (Marquez for both Pacquiao and Marquez, Hatton for Mayweather, Bradley for Pacquiao), or having to move up in weight themselves (De La Hoya for Pacquiao and Mayweather, Margarito for Pacquiao, Cotto for Mayweather and Pacquiao), or facing opponents who never have inhabited the pound-for-pound lists (Joshua Clottey for Pacquiao, Ortiz for Mayweather). A lot of those opponents are good to world-class, mind you, but the greater range of opponents one can face, the better the chances of one of them being top-notch.

Mayweather’s other most viable opponent after Pacquiao remains middleweight champ Sergio Martinez. There’s virtually no chance that Mayweather moves up to 160 pounds to fight Martinez. But Martinez would be nearly as viable an opponent for Mayweather at 155 as he is at 160, and Martinez has said he would move all the way down to 150 for the right to fight Mayweather. There are a great many who think that Martinez would compromise himself physically in so doing, thereby making Martinez’ advantage over Mayweather — size — turn into a disadvantage. That would sour the potential of that fight. Mayweather-Martinez at at the full 154-pound junior middleweight limit — that’s a pretty nice fight. Maybe if Mayweather is explosive at 154, he’ll be more willing to make a fight at that weight next. Maybe.

Cotto’s Chance To Defeat A World-Class Opponent

As good as Cotto has been, there’s one thing he hasn’t accomplished: He hasn’t beaten a top-5 pound-for-pounder. His resume at 140, 147 and even 154 now is terrific, borderline Hall of Fame material.

It is a knock on that resume that in his only two fights against ultra-top notch opposition, Pacquiao and Margarito the first time, Cotto has been stopped. In each fight, he started with a flourish, jumping out to a huge lead against Margarito and giving Pacquiao more rough moments than he’d encountered at his peak. But he faded against Margarito in a fight that subsequently has taken on the taint of Margarito potentially cheating in that fight after being caught with loaded gloves prior to Margarito-Mosley. And Cotto couldn’t sustain anything against Pacquiao after Pacquiao dropped him in the 4th, spending the rest of the fight on the retreat.

If Cotto were to beat Mayweather, he’d put to rest his ability to beat a world-class foe, and he’d seal his Hall of Fame bid. It wouldn’t just be the cherry on top; it would be the centerpiece. Coming relatively late in his career, it would be doubly impressive.

Effect On Mayweather-Pacquiao Happening

Boxing history suggests that if there’s big money in a fight, it will happen, even if it comes later than anyone wants. There are some who believe Mayweather-Pacquiao fits into that pattern — and it’s already later than I want, and later than a lot of people want, because Pacquiao has taken on the air of a fighter who’s on the decline.

Problem is, I just don’t see Mayweather-Pacquiao happening at all. The more money Mayweather and Pacquiao make apart from one another, the less likely the fight is. During the last discussion of a potential fight, Mayweather said he wouldn’t give Pacquiao a 50-50 split, nor a cut of pay-per-view receipts. Pacquiao might not be as arrogant and vain as Mayweather, but he has often been a bear in negotiations, insisting on wringing every drop of money he can from his opponent. There’s no conceivable scenario where I can envision Pacquiao saying, “Sure, I’ll take the flat $40 million figure you’re offering.”

And it’s only going to get worse if Mayweather sets any kind of pay-per-view marks with the Cotto fight. Mayweather once agreed to a 50-50 split with Pacquiao, but that was before the fight fell apart over when and how to conduct pre-fight drug testing. Mayweather’s latest offer is as bad as it is even after the success of Pacquiao-Marquez III. You think it’s not going to get even worse if Mayweather-Cotto does gangbusters business?

And that’s setting aside the hostility between each fighters’ promotional and management team, disputes about where the fight should be held and a million other things each side could find to disagree about during negotiations.

The only way Mayweather-Pacquiao becomes more likely rather than less after this fight is if Mayweather loses. Then, he’ll probably want a rematch with Cotto more than he’ll want Pacquiao, but maybe a recognition of his own vulnerability could lead him to want the biggest cash out he can possibly get.

Just don’t count on it. It’s probably best if you go in to Mayweather-Cotto enjoying it, or not enjoying it, on its own merits, and the stakes that have nothing to do with the mega-fight that might never be.

About Tim Starks

Tim is the founder of The Queensberry Rules and co-founder of The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board (http://www.tbrb.org). He lives in Washington, D.C. He has written for the Guardian, Economist, New Republic, Chicago Tribune and more.