Miguel Cotto and Joshua Clottey meet tonight in an intriguing twelve-round welterweight bout that appears nearly even going in. In his last fight, Cotto returned from his controversial loss to Antonio Margarito and looked sharp dismantling Michael Jennings over five rounds in New York. The truth is, however, that Jennings was terribly overmatched and that Cotto appeared to be in sparring session mode at times.
Joshua Clottey, however, is no Michael Jennings. A legitimate threat to any fighter who steps into the ring with him, Clottey is bigger and stronger than Cotto, and enjoys slight height and reach advantages. Cotto, 33-1 (27), is a better boxer and a more fluid puncher. The question here is whether or not he has recovered fully from the Margarito disaster. Cotto took serious punishment from a big welterweight whose gloves may or may not have been doctored. At the end of the fight, Cotto resembled a man who had just been discovered after tumbling down a steep ravine overrun by stones and thorn bushes. There is no telling how much the carnage he suffered at the hands of Margarito took out of him. Certainly his bout against Jennings, courageous but nothing more, proved little. Tonight Clottey, 35-2 (20), will reveal just how much Cotto actually has left as an elite boxer.
Clottey is a world-class fighter who sometimes seems to drift in the middle and late rounds of a fight. Often, Clottey appears to be cruising in the ring, rarely losing control of a bout outright, but concentrating on blocking and parrying. His bout with Richard Gutierrez was a real struggle at times, and Clottey appeared to be on the verge of a disqualification due to repeated infractions throughout the fight. Make no mistake, Gutierrez is one tough hombre, but he is a fairly limited brawler without the class to trouble elite welterweights. After his loss to Clottey, Gutierrez was subsequently stopped by Alfred Angulo and, in his last fight, dropped a decision to neophyte Antoine Smith on ESPN2.
In addition, Clottey has not shown power against the best of his opposition. He has scored only one knockout dating back to early 2005. Too many undistinguished fighters have gone the distance with Clottey: Marcos Primera, Marlon Thomas, and Christian Joseph. Even Diego Corrales, who began his career as a junior lightweight, managed to last the distance with Clottey despite the fact that he was floored twice and looked as if a stiff breeze would bowl him over in the ninth and tenth rounds.
Clottey also likes to fight dirty once in a while, as he showed against Gutierrez, and headbutts will be a real threat to Cotto. Brittle hands, which may explain his knockout drought, have also plagued Clottey throughout the years. He bruised his left in his last bout, against Zab Judah, and hurt both hands against Antonio Margarito in 2007. That night Clottey took control of the early rounds before his hands gave in and he rode out the rest of the fight in obvious distress. Clottey has a nice counter right uppercut, but he is essentially a one-handed fighter, doubling and tripling up left hooks to the body and the head. His jab is also effective. If his left hand is injured tonight, he will have little chance of defeating Cotto.
Defensively, Clottey is the far superior fighter and also owns the sturdier chin. Cotto has had some very rocky moments over the years, including a near KO loss to Ricardo Torres in 2005. He also soaked up punishment from Zab Judah and, most distressingly of all, was wobbled by DeMarcus “Chop Chop” Corley, a mediocre puncher at best. Clottey does not get hit cleanly very often and he has never been stopped. He picks off blows with a high guard and returns fire with left hooks and uppercuts when his opponent is through rallying. In this way he resembles his countryman Ike Quartey, who would let opponents unload on his forearms and gloves before coming back with vicious combinations. Unlike Quartey, however, Clottey has the tendency to remain in a defensive stance for too long. Allowing Cotto to run off pinpoint combinations–many of which will be punctuated by hard left hooks to the body–is not the wisest strategy to adapt, and it remains to be seen if Clottey has adjusted that flaw in preparation for this fight. If he has, and if he lets his hands go more freely than usual, Cotto is in for some serious trouble. It seems unlikely, however, that, at age 32 and with more than 14 years as a pro, Clottey will change much. In that case, Cotto will probably look to exploit this tactical error by moving his hands more than usual.
Cotto is the more versatile of the two fighters, but his ability to box effectively from a southpaw stance will pose little problem for Clottey, who easily handled Zab Judah and Shamone Alvarez, both lefties, in recent fights. Cotto is slightly faster, slightly more skilled and has faced better opposition than Clottey has. He is also a two-handed puncher and has superior footwork.
Clottey will pressure him from the opening bell and Cotto will look to use movement and a persistent jab to outscore and outmanuever Clottey. If Cotto can avoid cuts incurred by headbutts, follow a stick-and-move game plan, and throw enough punches to keep Clottey off-balance, he should be able to win a hairline line decision in what is essentially a hometown fight for him. But this bout is hardly a formality for the Puerto Rican superstar, and an upset is a distinct possibility.