Floyd Mayweather, Jr. Will Fight Miguel Cotto May 5 — A Date Too Late, But Not So Much That It’s Utterly Worthless

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There have been times when Floyd Mayweather, Jr. vs. Miguel Cotto would have set my heart ablaze. May 5, 2012 is not one of those times; Cotto is now past his prime, and Cotto isn’t Manny Pacquiao, THE opponent that Mayweather he should have been fighting for the past two-plus years but hasn’t. Yet Mayweather is set to fight Cotto on May 5 in Las Vegas, Mayweather and his promoter Golden Boy announced Wednesday, and it’s not such a horrible fight that it doesn’t kick up a few stray embers in my chest.

One of the many problems with being Floyd Mayweather, Jr. — alongside the upcoming jail sentence, the intense hatred he engenders with a lot of boxing fans, etc. — is that when you persistently reject every dangerous-seeming opponent mentioned for you as being unworthy, it becomes head-scratching when you finally get around to fighting one of those people when they’re less worthy than at other times they’ve been mentioned as possible opponents. Just the other week, Mayweather said he wasn’t interested in Cotto because Pacquiao already beat him up, making Cotto Pacquiao’s “leftovers.” And every other year where people have wanted Mayweather to face Cotto, Mayweather has had some other reason why Cotto wasn’t worthy, like thinking Cotto is no damn good or that he didn’t bring enough money to the table. Now Cotto is still Pacquiao’s “leftovers” and every boxing fan will tell you that Cotto is in decline — some will say steeply so, others a bit more slowly heading downward.

But Cotto does have a few things going for him as an opponent for Mayweather in 2012, as opposed to 2005 (when both men were considered two of the top junior welterweights) or, really, any time prior to Cotto’s 2008 loss to Antonio Margarito at welterweight. One thing going for Mayweather-Cotto is that Cotto is, if in decline, still arguably world-class: I have him listed as the 16th best fighter in the world, of any weight, and Ring Magazine ranks him the world’s best junior middleweight. Another is that Mayweather is moving up a division to junior middleweight to face Cotto, and while Cotto is no massive junior middleweight — he’s shorter, with less reach, than Mayweather — he’s also a stocky, tank-like fellow who should have a strength advantage at 154 pounds. Another: Cotto’s style, one of intelligent pressure with good-if-not-great speed and power, at least theoretically poses a threat to Mayweather, based on past fights where Mayweather has struggled against that type of opponent, even if it’s more theory than reality at this point. And, perhaps most importantly for Mayweather, Cotto is among the most popular fighters in the United States; while there are light years between Mayweather and Pacquiao and the rest of the field as pay-per-view attractions, Cotto is definitely in third place, and he has a habit of selling out facilities in New York City, where he draws Puerto Rican fans in droves, so Mayweather’s side surely hopes the Cinco De Mayo weekend + Cotto angle somehow fires up Latin types. (Another angle to sell the fight: Mayweather usually plays the villain and Cotto the “good guy,” even though some fans will tell you Cotto is a dirty fighter prone to low blows and such, but the black hat/white hat thing is a proven Mayweather marketing tool for his bouts.)

Take all those things. Set aside the fact that Cotto isn’t Pacquiao. If you can do that and accept the idea that Mayweather has shown his own signs of decline — he’s 34 to Cotto’s 31 — and if you buy into the notion that Cotto looked refreshed after his rematch victory over Margarito in December, what with a new trainer who helped Cotto find his old self, then maybe you’ll see this fight as really worthwhile.

Those are conditions I find hard to buy or accept in sufficient quantities to make this a fight that truly excites me. Mayweather is a bit less fleet of foot these days than he used to be, but he’s still an exceptional athlete who has enough brains to make up for any loss of movement. He is a gifted marksman, and Cotto’s lack of defense makes him one of boxing’s most hittable elite fighters. Cotto hasn’t shown major power at 154 pounds, like the kind he used to carry at lighter weights, so Cotto knocking out Mayweather doesn’t seem likely — and Cotto outboxing Mayweather to a decision win sounds even more far-fetched. Cotto did indeed look refreshed against Margarito in their rematch, but part of that had to do with Margarito being even more in decline than Cotto at this point in their careers, so it’s plausible if not likely that Cotto’s apparent revival was a mirage. And while Mayweather has occasionally struggled against the kind of intelligent pressure Cotto can offer, you have to go back to 2002 and Jose Luis Castillo to find a time when struggles against intelligent pressure translated into such difficulties that Mayweather stood a chance of actually losing.

Outside of Pacquiao, though, I was bound to be disappointed by virtually anyone Mayweather chose. The one exception might have been if Mayweather fought middleweight champion Sergio Martinez at 154 pounds or higher, because then we’d be talking about a particularly interesting and potentially competitive match-up. Among available options, there were worse ones than Cotto, like a very green Saul Alvarez, a very small Robert Guerrero or just about anybody else, really.

It’s just that I wish I would have gotten Mayweather-Cotto when I wanted it, not years later. And, especially, it’s that I’m sick of saying this about everyone Mayweather and Pacquiao fights these days: “Could’ve been someone better.”

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.