I watched the Floyd Mayweather/Miguel Cotto fight last night. Thankfully, due to the wonders of Internet piracy, pay-per-view fights have joined music and movies in my list of things that only suckers pay for. Otherwise, I would have been mildly pissed at throwing in my share towards the $69.95 retail price at a friend’s house, because this fight was a goof.
The undercard did not redeem it too much, either. That freakish redheaded Mexican guy (hey, just like Louis CK!) Saul “Canelo” Alvarez beat the bag out of poor Shane Mosley. If Mosley doesn’t retire after this, someone needs to get themselves appointed his legal guardian and get an injunction against him ever stepping into the ring again. To me, he appeared punchy in interviews leading up to his fight with Mayweather in 2010. I didn’t begrudge him that fight as he made 6.7 million dollars. I figured he would take it as a last hurrah and retire. Watching that fight and every fight he’s had since, has been sad, as you see his brain cells evaporate before your eyes. Every unnecessary shot he took was a step closer towards dementia. He was kind enough to serve as a bit player in the turgid Russian novel that has been the lead-in to the anticipated fight between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao by fighting Pacquiao as well, thus allowing all of us hapless spectators the chance to grade Floyd and Manny on their respective abilities towards Sugar Shane. With all due respect to Canelo Alvarez, he is not in Mayweather’s or Pacquiao’s league. You would not have known that by Saturday’s fight, as he beat Mosley just as convincingly as either of them did. Fittingly enough, Alvarez took that as his cue to call out both of them. With the way Golden Boy is pushing him, it may well happen soon enough.
The Mayweather/Cotto fight was anticipated by boxing purists because Mayweather did not require a catch weight and fought Cotto at 154 lbs, as opposed to the 145 pound limit that Pacquiao fought him at. Many fans argue that Pacquiao fought a drained Cotto at 145 lbs (two pounds below the actual welterweight limit of 147 lbs), and, for what’s worth, Cotto has fought every fight since that loss at 154. Mayweather also agreed to Cotto’s preference for heavier 10 ounce gloves, as opposed to the 8 ounce gloves that he has fought with in almost every other fight in his career.
Cotto had only two losses to his name going into this fight, one to Pacquiao, and one to Antonio Margarito, which is now disputed since before his following fight Margarito was caught putting plaster in his hand wraps by the wily trainer Nazim Richardson. Seeing the damage that Margarito did to Cotto’s face, it’s not hard to believe that he may have had plaster in his wraps during their fight as well.
Despite the caveats about Cotto’s two losses, it was hard for me to think of him as a genuine threat to Floyd. At this point, Cotto is damaged goods. Whatever weight restrictions he may have been laboring under, his face after his fight with Manny tells a story very similar to his fight with Margarito.
This fight, like many in the last few years, happened not because fans were clamoring for it, but because it was one of the few possible match-ups available. Ever since Mayweather came out of his Michael Jordan-esque retirement in 2009, boxing fans have been waiting for a fight between Mayweather and Pacquiao. They have been fighting many of the same people, and dispatching them all with maddening ease. Their styles are total opposites which would make a fascinating match up. Pacquiao is an unorthodox offensive machine and Floyd is one of the best defensive fighters ever. I understand the logic of prolonging the fight. Whichever one of them loses this dream match-up will start taking a big pay cut. In the years since this fight was first proposed, Manny and Floyd have each made over 50 million dollars not fighting each other. I am not saying whoever takes a loss will go back to $800,000 purses, but the mystique that they each currently share will be transferred to only one of them.
Whether it is fair or not, Floyd is perceived as being more protective of his legacy than Manny. A lot of this is due to what comes out of Floyd’s own mouth. He has said he’s better than both Sugar Ray Robinson and Sugar Ray Leonard. Much of his justification for those remarks has been that he is undefeated and they have losses on their record. Anyone who buys that argument is short-sighted and spends too much time looking at stats and not enough time watching actual fights. Having losses on one’s record is a sign of elite competition. A great fighter will take a loss, learn from it, and then become a better fighter because of it. That is why Muhammad Ali, with five losses, is perceived as a better fighter than Rocky Marciano who retired undefeated. With the exception of his last two regrettable fights, Ali avenged every loss he ever had. And his victories over Joe Frazier, Ken Norton, and Leon Spinks were all the more exciting and great because they came after losses. People like their heroes with a touch of mortality, it proves their humanity and helps define their greatness. However he wants to spin it, Floyd’s greatness is undefined, because he has never really been tested.
In his last few fights, Floyd has seemingly tried to counter both his image as a dull, defensive fighter, and the contrast that presents with Manny Pacquiao’s action filled contests. Floyd’s natural style is counter punching. He is an expert at the boxing style known as the “shoulder roll” or “Philly shell“, where a fighter stands sideways with their lead shoulder facing the opponent, chin tucked into their shoulder, and the other hand held high in front of their face. Essentially, most incoming punches are either blocked with the lead shoulder or the other hand. It is a truly spectacular defensive style, and one that takes a large amount of natural skill and quickness to pull off successfully. Many times it is hard for a casual observer to see how effective it is and that many apparently hard shots did not actually connect through the weave of darting shoulders. However, it is a much less visually dazzling way to win a fight than Manny Pacquiao’s multi-angled offensive dive-bombing. Especially now, in this era where MMA and Ultimate Fighting are more popular than boxing, much of the subtler parts of the sweet science are lost on fans who just want to see brawls.
Floyd has begun to realize this and has tried to change his style and engage his opponent more. This fight with Cotto was the most aggressive example to date. Floyd spent most of the fight on the ropes. This is not playing to his natural strengths at all, and when his opponents are so far beneath his abilities, it almost comes across as patronizing. Whatever his weaknesses are, Floyd Mayweather is not a dumb fighter. If he had really thought that Cotto had any chance at all of really hurting him, he never would have gone to the ropes. This was not some Ali-like maneuvering as a way to ride out punches that could legitimately hurt him, but a way to make a mismatched fight more interesting. Floyd is not strong enough to really hurt Cotto at 154 pounds, so if he had fought the entire fight in the middle of the ring, it would have been a strategic display of counter-punching with Floyd picking apart Cotto round by round and not hurting him too badly. Since Manny had slugged Cotto’s face into hamburger, Floyd knew if he didn’t produce some sort of similar battle, he would pale in comparison. So, he went to the ropes in order to produce a more exciting fight. Sure enough, by the middle of the fight, Floyd had a bloody nose. Sitting on his stool between rounds, having Q-tips shoved up his nose, he grinned at the camera, as if to show us how proud he was that he was giving us a real fight. It just felt very calculated to me. The fight was never close and the outcome was never in doubt.
Floyd’s gambit worked. After the fight, many boxing websites talked about how close and exciting the fight was and how the bloodied Mayweather slugged it out. Perhaps I am just cynical and impossible to please, but it just felt to me like Floyd was giving us a simulacrum of an actual slugfest. While his ability to keep Cotto at just enough of an arm’s length to produce an exciting and action filled fight, but not ever be close to being in danger, is fascinating and sign of greatness in its own way, there is something about it that feels antiseptic and cold. If I am paying 70 dollars, I want to watch genuine danger. I want to feel the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and have no idea whose going to win. I can’t fault Floyd for that, it’s much more indicative of the state of boxing in general that really compelling match-ups between truly elite fighters are becoming rarer and rarer. And, it’s hard to say who is at fault in the endless stalemate in negotiations between himself and Pacquiao.
Until they fight each other, Floyd will always fall short when compared to Manny Pacquiao. They both fight and defeat the same people, but Manny does it in a way that is naturally more exciting. I have little doubt that Mayweather could beat Pacquiao. It’s hard to picture Manny’s offense being quick enough to penetrate Mayweather’s shoulder roll. I would pay money in a heartbeat to see this fight. They could probably charge 80 or 100 bucks for pay-per-view and still set a record number of buys. But, the window is closing. If it doesn’t happen in the next two years, it will become the greatest fight that never happened. And that could be the final nail in boxing’s coffin.