By Kirk Jackson
Nov. 21st marks a day that will live in infamy. This is a date, many boxing fans have anticipated for almost a year now.
Nov. 21st marks the day Saul “Canelo” Alvarez 45-1-1 (32 KO’s) challenges the current lineal and “The Ring” middleweight champion of the world Miguel Cotto 40-4 (33 KO’s). This historic middleweight clash will take place at the Mandalay Bay Hotel & Casino, Events Center, in Las Vegas, Nevada.
The middleweight sanctioned bout will actually be conducted at a catch-weight of 155 lbs. And yes this is another chapter in the storied rivalry between Mexico and Puerto Rico.
A rivalry that includes match-ups featuring Wilfredo Gomez of Puerto Rico challenging the Mexican featherweight champion Salvador Sanchez, Gomez again against Carlos Zarate, Julio Cesar Chavez vs. Hector Camacho, Felix Trinidad vs. Oscar De La Hoya, Trinidad vs. Fernando Vargas, and more recently the developing rivalry between Roman Martinez and Orlando Salido.
Cotto starred in an installment of Mexico vs. Puerto Rico, when he battled Antonio Margarito in a controversial two fight series a few years back.
From a historical perspective, many parallels can be drawn between Cotto vs. Alvarez and Trinidad vs. Vargas; each fighter has a crowd pleasing style, power punchers, body punchers, skillful fighters and we expect a highly competitive bout.
As fans, we’re in rarified air; it’s rare to witness such a competitive high profile fight that also packs much luster and has star power. There are many variables in this fight, as there will be various factors determining the outcome of this match-up.
Each fighter has strengths and weaknesses that play into each other and it will be interesting to see how the fight unfolds.
So who will emerge victorious? Lets break down the match-up.
Often thought of as not only the most important physical trait in boxing, but in all of sports, the physical trait of speed.
There will be four different categories of speed we discuss. Hand speed, single shot speed, combination punching and lateral movement.
Alvarez and Cotto have a similar build and somewhat of a comparable style as well. Alvarez appears to be the slightly bigger man, possessing a longer reach and is a few inches taller. Alvarez is 10 years younger than Cotto who is 35-years-old, so it’s logical to think Alvarez has the advantage of speed right?
Alvarez is slightly faster in the hand speed department; his punch combinations come off slightly quicker and he holds the edge.
Cotto is known for having a tremendous left jab. As a natural southpaw, he converted to the orthodox stance.
Not only is his jab strong and precise, but Cotto has the ability to place his jab on his opponents at the right time and that is because of timing.
Timing allows you as a fighter to be effective despite being outgunned from a physical aspect when facing a quicker opponent. The instinctive rhythm, the instinct itself is an equalizer against speed demons. This equalizer enabled Cotto to remain competitive against Floyd Mayweather when they fought back in 2012.
Alvarez excels in placing punches at the right times in most cases, as he is a patient fighter. Alvarez is not the stereotypical Mexican pressure fighter; overwhelming opponents with non-stop pressure while eating punches in the process. Alvarez is the opposite of that, which works to his benefit. But Cotto should have the edge in timing and one-punch quickness.
Lateral movement is equally as important.
Sometimes Alvarez appears as though he is stuck in the mud and has displayed difficulty cutting the ring off against certain opponents. Most notably this deficiency was highlighted against Mayweather and Erislandy Lara. Cotto has quicker feet and better overall lateral movement.
Cotto will use those fights as a guideline to his performance. He is 35-years-old so he certainly will not be fleet of foot for 12 rounds, but we will see movement from Cotto and he should chose to “Box” as opposed to sit and trade shots with the bigger, stronger fighter.
Both fighters are hard hitters. Through 47 fights, 317 rounds, Alvarez has 32 knockouts, which equates to a KO ratio of approximately 68%. Through 44 fights, 309 rounds, Cotto has 33 knockouts, which equates to a KO ratio of 75%. By the numbers, there is a slight edge for Cotto.
But we must also consider the level of opposition each fighter has faced. When it comes to competition, there is the matter of opponents on a world class level and the style of each opponent also comes into play.
It’s fair to say over the course of their respective careers, Cotto has consistently faced better opposition. Zab Judah, Ricardo Torres, DeMarcus Corley, Antonio Margarito, Paulie Malignaggi, Shane Mosley, Floyd Mayweather, Sergio Martinez and Daniel Geale – Martinez and Geale appeared custom made to order for Cotto.
Entering this fight however, Alvarez has faced better opposition. Erislandy Lara, Floyd Mayweather, Alfredo Angulo, James Kirkland – Angulo and Kirkland appeared custom made to order.
Quality of opposition is important when measuring punching power. Typically when a fighter is pitted against better opposition, it’s more difficult to score a knockout.
Cotto has a record of 19-4 (16 KO’s) in world title fights and has a record of 16-4 (12 KOs) against world titlists.
Alvarez has a record of 6-1 (3 KO’s) in world title fights and has a record of 8-1 (2 KO’s) against world titlists.
Cotto has one more knockout through three less fights, faced better opposition so that means he was able to consistently apply his power against the upper tier fighters of the sport. Cotto also moved up in weight as he was doing so. It’s fair to say he has the edge in power.
Alvarez has never really had his chin tested or at least in comparison to the extent of what Cotto has endured. Oddly enough, one of the few times Alvarez looked like he was in danger of suffering a knockdown was back in 2010 against Miguel Cotto’s older brother, Jose Cotto.
Aside from Jose, Alvarez has tasted leather a few times, but never really staggered under the impact of punches. When Alvarez fought Mayweather, the recently retired Mayweather landed a few noteworthy punches that caught the attention of Alvarez, meanwhile those same punches from Mayweather actually staggered Cotto in the last round of their bout.
Speaking of Cotto, he was stopped by Antonio Margarito via 11th round TKO in their initial meeting in 2008 and Cotto was stopped almost a year later against Manny Pacquiao via 12th round TKO in 2009.
For the Cotto camp there can be an asterisk placed for each occasion. Against Margarito, his opponent may have used illegal hand wraps; “Plaster of Paris,” wraps which harden when wet and turns into a hard brick-like substance.
Against Pacquiao, Cotto endured the turmoil of a tumultuous relationship with his trainer/uncle and had to meet Pacquiao at a catch-weight of 145 lbs., which arguably drained him prior to their encounter.
Over the years the chin of Cotto has been tested and may be a little worn for wear.
An underrated trait of Alvarez is his defensive ability. Although he seldom moves his head to avoid punches, Alvarez does a great job at catching incoming punches with his gloves and parrying potentially damaging attacks.
If we take all this into account and keep in mind Alvarez is the naturally bigger fighter and younger, Alvarez holds the advantage when it comes to measuring one’s chin.
There has been times each fighter has faded late in a fight.
A major issue for Alvarez has been his level of conditioning. In the past, he was known as a fighter that would essentially fight in short spurts, pacing himself for the duration of the fight.
He has managed his breathing and conditioning better with every fight, but his shortcomings in the stamina department was noticeable in his lone loss to Mayweather.
But to be fair, virtually everyone looks bad and gets fatigued against Mayweather, Cotto included.
In each one of Cotto’s losses, fatigue was a key factor. He wore down from the consistent pressure of Margarito and Pacquiao, while Mayweather and Austin Trout utilized various tools and discovered ways to outwork him.
Cotto generally controls the pace of the fight and would wear down his opponents with body shots, effectively aiding his cause to control his breathing and fight at the pace he wants.
When he is on his toes, showcasing lateral movement and boxing, he looks masterful, but uses a lot of energy and can’t keep up that style of fighting or level of activity for long extended moments.
Just off youthfulness and lack of engaging in career defining wars, Alvarez is in better shape heading into this match-up and has the slight edge when it comes to physical endurance.
But, Cotto has the mental edge. Having participated in more wars, highly competitive bouts with Mosley for instance, where the outcome was seemingly determined in the waning moments of the championship rounds; Cotto knows how to keep his composure and possesses mental strength.
When Alvarez has been under duress, when he has faced adversity in some cases, he has a tendency to get frustrated.
When there is frustration, there usually is a trail of mistakes to follow soon after. Those mistakes can change the complexion of the fight. And remember, Cotto also made Alvarez wait for this fight. He wanted to dictate the terms in which this bout took place.
Cotto was already making chess moves before the fight was finalized. Cotto has the edge when it comes to mental endurance.
Many observers assume Cotto has the experience edge in this match-up and although that may be the case, the disparity between the fighters experience wise isn’t that significant.
As a professional, Alvarez has actually boxed more rounds than Cotto, 317 to 309.
Alvarez is also a ten year professional, having turned pro at age 15. He’s been beating up on adult men since he was a teenager. He learned a lot of tricks to the trade and developed into a very skillful fighter.
Cotto is a professional veteran of 14 years. Although he has three less fights and eight less rounds of ring experience, he has more experience as an amateur having participated at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games.
We’ve already discussed the overall level of opposition Cotto consistently faced throughout his career. With the extended amateur experience and wealth of overall experiences, that is critical and will factor into the fight.
Cotto has had to adjust to more styles and as he as transitioned as an older fighter, across different weight classes, adjusting is critical and relative to success. Ask Floyd Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao and Bernard Hopkins.
As you age and your physical skills diminish, you have to find alternative ways to win. Alvarez is at the peak of his physical prime and has yet to face that challenge, while Cotto is at the twilight of his career and has been dealing with that. Cotto has the edge of experience and ring intellect.
The trainers can be the variable x factor. As we know, Cotto is trained by Hall of Fame trainer Freddie Roach and Alvarez is trained by Jose and Eddy Reynoso.
The trainers actually may not make that much of a difference from a tactical standpoint, but Roach is a reassuring presence in Cotto’s corner. The chemistry between the two is uncanny and one of the better trainer/fighter relationships in all of boxing.
Golden Boy Promotions President Oscar De La Hoya and former rival Felix Trinidad, who remains immensely popular at Puerto Rico’s champion, picked Alvarez to emerge victorious. Alvarez is actually the betting favorite despite being the challenger and the popular pick to emerge victorious.
Alvarez has youth on his side and is regarded as the torch bearer of the sport in wake of Floyd Mayweather’s recent retirement and the impending retirement of Manny Pacquiao.
Cotto is 35-years-old, coming close to retirement, has a family, is an owner of many promotions and businesses and aims to expand sometime in the near future. No one can question Cotto’s heart; He took a beating from a man with brick-gloves.
As he ages, at what point does he question whether it’s worth it to train and torture his body; to enter the ring and endure punishment in efforts to achieve the goal of victory? Will he be able and willing to make the physical sacrifices necessary to get the job done?
Miguel Cotto looks rejuvenated, but is it a testament to clever match-making? Or is there still enough tread on Cotto’s tires to overcome the obstacle that is Saul “Canelo” Alvarez?
This will be a war of attrition. Not just from a physical standpoint, but from a mental standpoint in which Cotto has the edge. He will have learned from what Floyd Mayweather and Erislandy Lara did in their encounters with Alvarez.
Cotto will not make the same mistakes Alfredo Angulo, James Kirkland, and many others made against Alvarez; he will not stand in front of Alvarez and trade shots.
Alvarez is a big puncher and a creative puncher who can rattle off precise punches in succession and if he is allowed to tee off you’re as good as done.
Cotto will utilize his jab to set up his offense and defense. He will jab to control the pace of the bout and use it to establish range. He has to be mindful of Alvarez’s uppercuts, right hand counters; heck his overall counter-punching ability.
Cotto will have to use his patented left hook and consistently land body shots in attempt to physically wear down the younger fighter. He will have to utilize movement and angles to deter Alvarez from moving forward and finding his rhythm.
In order for Alvarez to win, he has to consistently place pressure on Cotto; physically punish Cotto with punches and mentally force flashbacks of Margarito. But that is not Alvarez’s temperament; it’s not his style of fighting.
Cotto has enough ring savvy to make the necessary adjustments and will do enough to keep Alvarez second-guessing, while scoring enough points to earn a victory in the process.
Cotto retains his middleweight title and wins a close, competitive bout via majority decision.