Floyd Mayweather, Jr. Vs. Miguel Cotto: Keys To The Fight, Part II

So continues 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. Previously: the stakes of Mayweather-Cotto; the undercard, previewed; keys to the fight, part I. Next: the Rabbit Punch column takes on Mayweather.

Mind. Matter. How do Floyd Mayweather, Jr. and Miguel Cotto stack up in those categories? In the first of two parts, we compare their more mental attributes.

The (whis)keys to the fight.

Offense. Years ago, this would have been an easy call for Cotto. But over time, Cotto’s offense has become less prodigious and more deliberate, while Mayweather’s offense has ratcheted up one notch. Cotto was one of boxing’s purest offensive fighters under the training of uncle Evangelista, almost reckless in his pursuit of said offense, but first Emanuel Steward and now Pedro Diaz have made him more tactical. Some of that has been an improvement — his jab was always pretty good, but beginning in the fight against Shane Mosley and continuing to now, it’s evolved into a key weapon. But gone is the left hook to the body that was once one of boxing’s most fearsome weapons. There’s no major vacancy in Cotto’s potential arsenal, but he’s chosen to become a bit more of a surgeon’s knife than a wrecking ball. He’s content outboxing and/or countering his opponent and slowly picking him apart, as opposed to his old style of running over people. It’s hard to say which style would be better against Mayweather; you can’t be sloppy with him, but he’s also shown, however many years ago, that he can be vulnerable to the vice-like pressure of non-stop offense.

Whether by decision or because the years have caught up to him, Mayweather has opened up his offense of late. The staples of it are nearly the same, single shots rather than combinations, mainly — the jab to the midsection, the counter left hook, the right cross. It’s just that he does all of it more often than he used to. He’ll tell you that he’s trying to be more exciting, but I doubt that has anything to do with it, because that’s never been his preoccupation. I think, rather, his slightly faded legs make it so he has to do more toe-to-toe stuff, and that means he has to fire more often to hold his ground, and he’s smart enough on the inside that he can. This was the case in his fights against Mosley and Victor Ortiz. He hasn’t lost anything in the accuracy department, either, where he is historically ridiculous. Overall, Cotto has proven over the years to be the more destructive fighter, so I’m going to reluctantly give him the nod here. Edge: Cotto

Defense. On the shortlist of greatest all-time offensive fighters, Mayweather has to place somewhere very high. He’s gotten touched up a little more in his last two fights as he’s stood his ground more, but it’s really just a fraction of a change. That’s because Mayweather has perfected the shoulder roll technique of defense, where he stands at an angle with his left forearm over his stomach and right arm perpendicular to it. He also has a gift of anticipating almost every punch his opponent throws; even when he gets hit, it’s rarely flush. And he doesn’t stay in one spot too long, stepping around his opponent after an offensive sequence even if he no longer “runs” the way he used to from harm.

Cotto has slowly improved his defense as he has focused less on all-offense, all-the-time. He didn’t get hit much by Antonio Margarito in their rematch, which would be meaningless due to what a shell Margarito has become except in combination with how little Cotto got hit against Yuri Foreman and Ricardo Mayorga, too. He does it with his own footwork — his balance has gotten vastly better in recent fights — and catches a lot on his gloves. That said, he’s often still wide open, especially for the uppercut, because of how much he leans forward with space between his gloves. Defense vs. defense, it’s no contest. Edge: Mayweather

Intelligence. They don’t come much more cerebral in the boxing ring than Mayweather, who, with Bernard Hopkins’ body slowing to the point where his big boxing brain becomes less and less useful, stands nearly alone with only super middleweight Andre Ward a contender for “world’s smartest boxer.” If you have a weakness, Mayweather and his uncle/trainer, Roger, will find it. If you bring something to the ring that Mayweather didn’t expect, he’ll remove it from your quiver the very next round. If you think things are going your way, that means you’ve been set-up by Mayweather. He may say moronic things constantly, but in the ring he is, simply, a genius.

Cotto, though, is no slouch in the IQ department. I thought he had about half the right plan against Margarito the first time, that stick and move thing, but he was either too macho or too ill-informed to hold when Margarito got too close. Nobody had laid much of a hand on Manny Pacquiao after he moved up to lightweight and beyond, but Cotto made plenty of contact on the welterweight version of him. He has the craft to outbox bruisers, outbox supposedly superior technicians and find openings for his punches against faster opponents. I think there’s a case that Cotto is the smartest boxer Mayweather has faced since Jose Luis Castillo in 2002. And despite his trainer switches, he seems happy with Pedro Diaz, a combo that led Cotto to a rematch win over Margarito, when Cotto demonstrated a yet more intelligent tactical approach. Mayweather is smarter, no doubt, but the divide isn’t as wide as usual. Edge: Mayweather

Willpower. It is the persistent irony of Mayweather’s boxing career that he’s so massively insecure about preserving his 42-0 record, but is so obviously a supremely confident and unflappable fellow when he confronts trouble. Maybe it’s that death grip on the undefeated record at the core of his boxing identity that turns his insecurity into willpower; I’ve never understood it. But for as much as people think Mayweather an oversensitive and safety-first type, once he gets into the ring, he displays an admirable competitive fire that you only see in certain great athletes, a fire that has served him very, very well over his career when things get dicey.

Cotto has taken his share of lumps in the public sphere for two fights where he essentially quit, in his two losses to Pacquiao and Margarito. They are deserved lumps. But per this piece, it sure took Cotto a long time to get to the point where he relented in those bouts. In most of his other fights, Cotto has confronted trouble with bravery and guile — the cut he had to fight through against Joshua Clottey, the shaky moments against Zab Judah and Ricardo Torres. Some have seen, in Cotto’s body language for this fight, a certain resignation and lack of drive. Others see it merely as confidence. Even if he does have full belief in himself now that he said he lacked for a while after the Margarito loss, there are enough open questions about Cotto’s makeup to give this one to the man who has answered every one of them he’s faced. Edge: Mayweather

The Rest. If anyone gets cut or bruised or otherwise put in danger of losing by stoppage in this fight due to accumulated punishment, it will be Cotto. Mayweather’s face tends to stay pretty in every fight, whereas Cotto bleeds a lot… By contrast, Cotto had shoulder surgery in 2010 but otherwise hasn’t had to endure many injury dings. Mayweather’s had more than his share, although his brittle hands haven’t betrayed him in a long while. There were some rumors on the web about a Mayweather hand or wrist injury, but his team denies those rumors… Cotto will have massive fan support, given his Puerto Rican base. Mayweather, though, doesn’t mind being booed, and almost seems to feed off it. Neither man has any problem being on a big stage… Both guys aren’t afraid to play fast and loose with the rules. Mayweather likes to use his elbows and forearms, and however legal it was for him to knock out Victor Ortiz when he wasn’t looking, it showed a healthy disdain for the spirit of the law. Cotto, meanwhile, has been known to punch low when in trouble, and he bodyslammed Clottey when Clottey tied him up in a way he didn’t like. This one could get chippy, and if one person gets rough, expect retaliation… Cotto is the better finisher of the two if he hurts Mayweather, although he got over-aggressive against Pacquiao when he dropped him and could be vulnerable if he goes to crazy against Floyd. Mayweather is a cautious finisher, but he does go after his man if he gets him hurt and is pretty good at closing the show intelligently. Edge: Cotto

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.