Just How Significant Is Cotto-Canelo?


By Sean Crose

This Saturday, I, like many others will be tuned in to see Miguel Cotto battle Saul Canelo Alvarez for the lineal and WBC middleweight championship of the world. It’s one hell of a matchup, really. Cotto is completely rejuvenated since teaming with Freddie Roach. His body attack is back, and so is his confidence. As for Canelo – the man is a true warrior, someone who isn’t going to let his weight drained performance against a legitimate all-time great like Floyd Mayweather ruin what could be a terrific career.

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Yup, this is a good one. Add that to the fact that this bout continues boxing’s Mexico-Puerto Rico rivalry and the whole thing becomes all the more exciting. How significant is this fight, though? It’s a great matchup, sure, but is it a significant, relevant matchup? And by relevant, I don’t mean relevant to the moment, I mean in regards to the big picture. Are either of the men battling for the middleweight championship of the world at the level of all-time great middleweights? Are they even middleweights at all?

It’s good to keep in mind that there’s basically two types of high profile matchups in the boxing business – those that are relevant and those that are simply entertaining. As has been recently noted, Mike Tyson’s fights always seemed like big deals, but many of them – especially after he got out of prison – were ultimately small potato affairs.

Peter McNeeley, for instance, was a brave and funny guy, but he certainly didn’t warrant a pay per view date based on his skill level. His fight with Tyson could have easily been on free tv and brought in a boatload of eyeballs. Instead, it made a mint on pay per view. The matchup wasn’t a scam, because people knew what they were buying that night over twenty years ago. It just wasn’t a relevant bout.

And, in fairness, there’s nothing wrong with a high profile fight that ultimately doesn’t amount to much in the way of overall relevance. No one would argue, for instance, that Gatti-Ward wasn’t more satisfying to watch than Hagler-Leonard. Or Tyson-Spinks. Or Mayweather-Pacquiao. All those fights pretty much answered the question of who’s the champ, but none really delivered in the drama department like Gatti-Ward did. It’s why you see Gatti-Ward referenced in the internet today more than you do Tyson-Spinks.

So yeah, high profile B-level matchups are fun. The upcoming Carl Frampton-Scott Quigg fight could be a barn burner. While Frampton’s camp has made it clear it’s not willing to challenge its man beyond the Quigg level (Guillermo Rigondeaux is clearly out of the question for them), the Quigg bout could and should be rewarding on its own merits. Cotto-Canelo, however, is not Frampton-Quigg. Nor is it Santa Cruz-Mares. It’s a fight between two men the public has been told are the absolute best in the business. And that’s where things become problematic.

Both Cotto and Canelo’s handlers have tap danced around the issue of Gennady Golovkin. That’s not good when both men are being sold as legitimate greats. Manager Barry McGuigan can get away with making excuses for Frampton avoiding Rigo, because Frampton hasn’t proven himself. Both Cotto and Canelo, however, have shown they can play with the top level guys over and over again. So, what’s their excuse for being coy about GGG?

Truth be told, they shouldn’t need to have an excuse, since both men aren’t really middleweights and Golovkin is. Cotto-Canelo is for the middleweight championship of the world, however. That means both fighters are now left in a less than flattering light. PPV hasn’t been good to boxing recently as it is. Giving fans another reason not to cough up money for Saturday’s fight doesn’t bode well for the people behind this card.

One gets the feeling the whole affair might come across as being more honest if the middleweight title was taken out of play. Cotto has essentially admitted he’s not a middleweight, so why shouldn’t he just give the championship up at this point? It’s not like he isn’t bringing down a mint for this card. Besides, if Canelo wins, he can take his time in facing GGG down the road – like we’re told he’s going to – without any real repercussions from fans.

On the other hand, should Canelo win on Saturday, it will look terrible if he declares a fight with GGG will have to “marinate” a while. Canelo, after all, is the guy we’re told is willing to take on all comers. And, frankly, there’s enough coy businessmen in the fight game at the moment as it is.

One would hope the World Boxing Council sticks to its guns by continuing to insist that the winner on Saturday – no matter who it is – must fight GGG so long as he wishes to remain champion. Cotto and Canelo should be allowed to rematch each other a hundred times without facing Golovkin if they want to – but they shouldn’t do it with the WBC middleweight title in play.

Nor should they do it with the lineal middleweight championship in play. I suspect, though, that perhaps that particular title will lose significance if the middleweight champ simply refuses to fight at middleweight while lacking the recognition of a major sanctioning body. Indeed, being “the man who beat the man,” which is what owning a lineal title means, becomes less and less meaningful as time moves on if you don’t accept legitimate challenges.

None of this, of course, should take away from the fact that Saturday is a high octane matchup that – hopefully – a great many will tune into. It’s too bad, though, that a gray cloud, however small, has to hang over the entire affair. Unless the winner intends to face Golovkin sooner rather than later, the middleweight championship of the world really shouldn’t be at play. Indeed, its presence is now actually proving to be a distraction to what otherwise is a very interesting matchup.

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