Miguel Cotto is, rather literally, boxing at Madison Square Garden. And he returns Saturday on Showtime to the home where he's sold tens of thousands of tickets, filled up sloshing buckets full of his own blood, broken men's faces (really), avenged dark losses and repeatedly turned the one-time "Mecca of boxing" into the world's loudest cheering section for Miguel Cotto.
What's not clear yet is whether his opponent for this fight, Austin Trout, will add to Cotto's MSG legacy. The above-linked report suggests Cotto-Trout tickets aren't moving as briskly as for other Cotto fights. It's not entirely clear why that would be: Trout is obscure, certainly, and his fights aren't always thrilling, but Joshua Clottey fit that description, too, and Cotto still packed 18,000 into the Garden for that bout, which did not suck in the end.
More than for many past Cotto opponents, boxing writers and fans give Trout a pretty good shot at beating Cotto, still arguably one of the 10 best fighters or so in the world at any weight. Cotto's losses are to Antonio Margarito in a bout subsequently marred by disclosures that Margarito had at least once loaded his gloves, and Cotto paid him back in an MSG rematch; and to the two best fighters of this era, Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, and both had to dig deep to beat him. Trout is in that second tier of fighters Cotto has faced, that of authentic divisional contenders whom Cotto always beats but rarely without it getting bloody first.
Our last glimpses of each man couldn't have left more different impressions. Opinions vary on how close Mayweather-Cotto was, but even the majority who saw it as a clear win for Mayweather would tell you Cotto tested Mayweather more severely than anyone not named Jose Luis Castillo. Trout, meanwhile, is coming off a lackluster win over Delvin Rodriguez. Cotto impressed in defeat. Trout disappointed in victory.
That victory over Rodriguez is the best of Trout's career, and Rodriguez is no slouch. But Cotto has beaten about a dozen guys as good as or better than Rodriguez, and with greater ease. Where folk think Trout has a chance is not his level of competition, but his style. Trout is a lefty with relatively quick hands, sharp defense and a stern jab. He's got a big reach advantage, and he's a real junior middleweight, of the kind Cotto has rarely fought; Cotto's resume of full-blown junior middleweight contenders is negligible after Yuri Foreman.
My own reservations for Cotto include his mindset and his ring wear. Cotto looked fresh against Mayweather, maybe as good as he ever has; he was a near-ideal boxer-puncher in that fight, looking faster than I can remember, plugging his often-leaky defense, returning to the body punching he had abandoned and alternating between pushing Mayweather to the ropes and firing combinations then backing out smartly to reset as needed. Mayweather's just better than him, is all, same as Mayweather is better than everyone. But Cotto took some heavy fire in that fight, and has accumulated a lot of it over his career, and maybe whatever freshness he found for Mayweather has wilted after the grueling battle. Cotto also was talking on Showtime's All Access program about retiring, and sometimes when boxers start talking that way, their hearts aren't in the next fight.
The Cotto we saw against Mayweather beats Trout, simply outclasses him, I think. Trout doesn't give him much of anything he hasn't seen before. Cotto has beaten good jabs. Cotto has beaten fighters with quicker hands. Cotto has beaten men with better reach, taller men, naturally bigger men. He was able to connect plenty on Mayweather, one of boxing's best defensive fighters of all time, and Trout is no Mayweather defensively. And Trout's size advantage doesn't come with any kind of power to make it so Trout is likely to knock out Cotto in a building where the judges are likely to be swayed by the Cotto cheering section, which will be 99.99999999999 percent of the audience. I see Cotto's more compact punches (Trout reaches and throws wide at times) and combinations unlocking Trout's defense. Trout says he'll be more aggressive than usual, which gives him a better chance — Trout was better late against Rodriguez once he finally increased the punch volume — and Cotto isn't likely to hurt Trout, but a more aggressive Trout also means more chances for Cottto to hit him.
If Cotto's faded and/or checked out? Trout can beat that Cotto.
I'll assume Cotto is still the Cotto we saw last. He appears oddly motivated to win a version of the alphabet belt he just lost to Mayweather and that Mayweather still has, and he's not doing this for the money, because he could've made a lot more in a Pacquiao rematch and instead took the Trout fight almost out of spite to prove that he is his own man who will take lesser fights if he doesn't get the terms he wants. Those two motives ought to be enough to keep Cotto's mind in the game. I'll give Trout up to four rounds. But it's Cotto's house, and he's going to protect it by unanimous decision.