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Cotto-Mosley: Youth Will Be Served
Photo copyright by Holger Keifel
By Thomas Hauser
Some of boxing’s most memorable battles have been contested in the courtroom, not the ring.
In June of this year, a Swiss banker, a lawyer, and a media-savvy superstar were locked in legal combat. Then mediator Daniel Weinstein intervened.
“Once the mediator broke our logjam,” Bob Arum later proclaimed, “the animosity just melted away. It had a cathartic effect, where you rid yourself of any bad feelings you’ve harbored for years.” Richard Schaefer (now an American banker, having been granted U.S. citizenship) and Oscar De La Hoya (the most golden of fighters) concurred.
Not everyone swooned over the settlement. Kenneth Bouhairie called it “three Richie Riches deciding to play nice in the sandbox” for their own financial gain. But for boxing to thrive, the best have to fight the best in the ring, not out of it. And the rapprochement between Top Rank and Golden Boy was an important step in that direction.
On November 10th, the truce between boxing’s two most powerful promoters paid its greatest dividend to date when Miguel Cotto and Shane Mosley faced off against one another at Madison Square Garden. For hardcore boxing fans, it was the most anticipated fight of the year.
Mosley is a gracious man who embodies the best traditions of the sweet science. There was a time when he stood beside Roy Jones at the top of boxing’s pound-for-pound rankings. He’s not there anymore but still battles with the ambition and purpose of a younger fighter on the rise.
Shane has always been willing to go in tough. In his youth, speed and power were his greatest assets. Then he moved up in weight, slowed a bit, and his power failed to increase in tandem with his size. “Welterweight is my best weight now,” he said recently. “I was at my worst at 154. People say I’m not the same fighter I used to be; and at 154, they’re right.”
“When I started my rise,” Mosley continued, “my thing was, ’I can’t lose. I have to make a living from this, and no one can beat me.’ Then you’re on top and you cross over a barrier where you’re not working out as much as you should because you’re only fighting twice a year and the fire goes out a bit. I’ve been up and down a little, but I’m still a force to be reckoned with. At this point, I don’t have to prove anything to anybody anymore. I’m just proving it to myself.”
Cotto, by contrast, is a fighter whose greatest days are presumed to lie ahead.
Jake LaMotta once said, “The first thing you gotta do if you want to be a fighter is fight.” Cotto fights. He isn’t a one-punch knockout artist. He’s more like a wrecking ball that demolishes buildings, blow by thudding blow. The left hook to the body is his money punch, but his arsenal is more varied than many people realize. “Everybody looks fresh in the first round against Cotto,” says cutman, Miguel Diaz. “Then he beats them up.”
Cotto is all business in the ring and seems to be that way out of it too. While other fighters are out bragging, he’s in the gym working. “Miguel doesn’t say a lot in English,” notes promoter Bob Arum. “But he’s not very verbose in Spanish either.”
Meanwhile, Cotto observes, “Every boxer is going to get hit. Everyone is going to get hurt sometime during a fight. It’s just a question of what are you going to do with it. Each time I fight, I try to do my best and a little bit more. With hard work, I always reach my goals.”
As Cotto-Mosley approached, the stakes were high. A win for Shane would further define his legacy and put him in line for yet another multi-million-dollar payday. A Cotto triumph would lift Miguel from the status of a star in the Hispanic community to the verge of being a mainstream superstar.
Mosley partisans pointed to the fact that Shane had fought elite opponents throughout his career and been knocked down only once as an amateur or pro. Cotto, by contrast, had faced softer competition and been rocked by Demarcus Corley, Ricardo Torres, and Zab Judah.
Jack Mosley (Shane’s father and trainer) expressed confidence, declaring, “Cotto hasn’t faced anybody like Shane, period. Shane is just too powerful and too fast for Cotto.” Jack then went a bit overboard and proclaimed, “Cotto is worried sick about fighting Shane. You can look in his eyes and tell. He knows he’s not as strong as Shane. He knows he’s not as fast as Shane. And Shane hits just as hard, if not harder. I don’t know what Bob Arum was thinking when he said, ‘We’ll fight Shane.’”
Shane was more understated but equally confident, saying, “Cotto is going to be tough; he’s going to be strong; but I’m just too fast. If I’m moving around, giving him little angles here and there, it’s going to mess him up. He’s not going to be able to throw his shots the way he wants to. A lot of Cotto’s fights, he beat guys by his will to win. Mentally, he breaks guys down and they fold in the later rounds. But I think I’m the best at this weight and I have to beat Cotto to prove it. Miguel is a great fighter, but so am I.”
Team Cotto, of course, had a different view of the proceedings. It acknowledged that Shane would be the toughest fighter Miguel had faced and that Shane had fought the tougher competition. But unlike Cotto (who is undefeated), Mosely had lost four times. He had never faced an opponent who brutalizes foes the way Miguel does. And Cotto is a better fighter at 147 pounds than he was at 140. “Miguel is peaking now,” Arum said. “He’s stronger now than he was before. At 140 pounds, we were depriving him of muscle and power.”
Also, Cotto’s backers were encouraged by the issue of age. The numbers were self-evident. Shane Mosley, age 36. Miguel Cotto, age 27.
“They’re thinking that Shane’s age is going to be a factor,” Jack Mosley said, seeking to downplay the nine-year differential. “He’s too old; he isn’t going to be able to sustain. That’s what they’re hoping, but they’re wrong.”
Jack might have added that, at 36, Shane was the same age that Bernard Hopkins was when he beat another Puerto Rican idol (28-year-old Felix Trinidad) at Madison Square Garden in 2001. But in boxing, when an aging star meets a young fighter on the rise, the younger man usually wins. Shane himself sounded an ominous note when he acknowledged, “Before Oscar fought me the first time, he’d never fought anyone as fast as he was. I was too fast for Oscar the first time. The second fight was closer because I was slower, so he was just as fast as I was.”
Bottom line: Cotto was a 6-to-5 favorite in a fight that, on paper, looked to be everything a fight should be. “Maybe Mosley is the ultimate stepping-stone,” Eric Raskin wrote. “Or maybe Sugar Shane is too good to be anybody’s stepping-stone. Nobody knows for sure, which is why Mosley-Cotto has Fight of the Year buzz.”
When fight night arrived, there were 17,135 fans in Madison Square Garden hoping to enter a time warp and experience championship boxing the way it used to be. Their wish was fulfilled.
Cotto-Mosley was a tense drama fought at a high level of skill between two brave warriors. Round one was largely tactical with each man evincing respect for the other. Cotto actually outjabbed Mosley, which was a bad omen for Shane. Then the action heated up, with Mosley landing the cleaner harder blows for several rounds but Cotto landing more of them.
Mosley tried to fight with Cotto. “I love to stand and trade,” Shane has said. “But that’s not what I do best.” Miguel absorbed everything that Mosley threw and kept coming forward, seeking to impose his will. By round six, Shane appeared to be slowing down, even losing form. He was missing by more, and there was less sting on his punches when they landed. Each man was pushing himself as hard as he could. But Cotto seemed impervious to pain and fatigue.
In round seven, Mosley changed tactics. For the next two stanzas, he boxed (or ran, depending on one’s point of view). His offense seemed motivated by a desire to keep Cotto off him rather than to inflict damage. He did his best to avoid exchanges.
Then, in round nine, the fight turned. Shane came out aggressively and Cotto became the counter-puncher in the face of Mosley’s assault. Now Miguel was fighting more defensively than ever before as a pro. Round ten was more of the same. Cotto was the fighter seeking to avoid exchanges. A rally in round eleven gave Miguel a much needed point on the judges’ scorecards. Shane had the edge in round twelve.
It was a remarkable display of will by both men. Each fighter landed 248 punches. The decision was fair and unanimous in Cotto’s favor: 116-113, 115-113, 115-113. In a just world, Miguel will now receive pound-for-pound consideration.
As for what comes next; it should first be noted that these are heady times for Top Rank. Over the past six weeks, its fighters have won three major fights.
On September 29th, Kelly Pavlik dethroned Jermain Taylor to become middleweight champion of the world. Forget the other belts. Pavlik is boxing’s true 160-pound king and the first genuine ruler in that division under contract to Top Rank since Marvelous Marvin Hagler. Next, on October 6th, Manny Pacquiao won a 12-round decision over Marco Antonio Barrera to solidfy his standing as a superstar. Now Cotto has beaten Mosley. And the victories are all the sweeter because, although Arum snagged Pacquiao late in the fighter’s career, Pavlik and Cotto have been with Top Rank since their first pro bout.
“We build fighters at Top Rank,” Arum says. “We build them step by step so, by the time they fight for a title, the fans know who they are and they’re ready to win. It takes time. The process moves slowly and can be frustrating for the fighters. But if a fighter is patient and does his job in the ring, that patience pays off in the end.”
Pavlik’s next fight is a contractually-mandated rematch against Jermain Taylor on February 16th. Most likely, Pacquiao will enter the ring on March 15th against an opponent to be determined. Golden Boy would like to match Juan Manuel Marquez against Manny, which could lead to some interesting negotiations amongst Arum, Richard Schaefer, and HBO.
Cotto’s plans are on hold pending two variables. First, he must wait for the outcome of the December 8th mega-event between Floyd Mayweather Jr and Ricky Hatton. And second, like a lot of people in boxing, he’s waiting to see what Oscar De La Hoya wants to do.
The current plan is for De La Hoya to fight in Las Vegas or Los Angeles on May 3, 2008. The presumption is that, if Hatton beats the odds and topples Mayweather, De La Hoya-Hatton will follow. If Ricky loses to Floyd, the best fight for boxing would be Cotto against either Oscar or Mayweather.
“Mayweather will never fight Cotto,” says Arum. “Cotto would run him out of the ring, and Floyd knows it. There’s no chance that Floyd will take the fight.”
As for Cotto against De La Hoya; Oscar has said in the past that he won’t fight Miguel. “I promised my wife that I wouldn’t fight any Puerto Ricans,” he told ESPN.com in August. “So I don’t think so. The fight would be great. We would stand toe-to-toe. But I can’t do it. It’s not because I would be afraid of Cotto or not want to fight. It’s out of respect for Millie. She sincerely asked me not to fight Puerto Rican fighters, so I have to respect that.”
But De La Hoya is a money guy. De La Hoya versus Cotto would be HUGE. And there have been other instances when Oscar said he’d never fight a particular opponent (e.g. Floyd Mayweather Jr and Fernando Vargas) and later changed his mind. Thus, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that De La Hoya-Cotto will happen if “the Puerto Rican people” plead with Millie to allow it.
“If it takes something extra to make it happen,” Arum says helpfully, “I’ll have Cotto apply for Israeli citizenship.”
Should De La Hoya and Mayweather both decline to fight Cotto, Miguel will probably see action in March followed by another appearance at Madison Square Garden in June on the eve of the Puerto Rican Day Parade. But whatever comes next, Cotto is moving into territory occupied by Jose Torres, Carlos Ortiz, Wilfredo Benitez, and Wilfredo Gomez in the collective Puerto Rican heart. Is he as popular as Felix Trinidad? Not yet. But he’s as good a fighter.
“It’s two different stories, me and Felix,” Cotto said several days before he fought Mosley. “The comparison with Trinidad is good; it’s a compliment. But people know we are different. My personality; I can’t do anything with that. I’m a shyer person than Tito. That’s my way. I’m not Tito. I’m Miguel Cotto.”
That’s good enough.
“Miguel is a great young man,” says Arum. “He has a great personality. I don’t want him to be a phony. I don’t want him to be what he isn’t. Besides, if Miguel were more outgoing, he might not be as good a body puncher.”
Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.