Photo by Ismael Gallardo/RBRBoxing
Let’s start by stating the obvious–Miguel Cotto is no middleweight, at least, no more of a middleweight than Roy Jones Jr. was a heavyweight. Standing 5’7,” he was stretching things as a junior middleweight. Yet, Miguel Cotto is the middleweight champion of the world. He owns the lineal title, earned by beating the living hell out of Sergio Martinez, himself a blown up 154 pounder.
And while there’s nothing wrong with him jumping up in weight, earning a fat paycheck and wrenching the title away, the problem lies with his choice of opponent for this Saturday night on HBO. Daniel Geale is not a terrible fighter. He’s a solid, if unspectacular middleweight contender. But he’s the guy that Gennady Golovkin absolutely destroyed last July in three rounds. Somehow, he’s now a modest upset away from becoming the next lineal champ. And it’s all Cotto’s fault.
How the hell did it come to this?
Cotto had been campaigning at 154 lbs. since 2010. He had taken two horrific beatings in his last four fights at welterweight, losing first to Antonio Margarito, and then a couple of fights later to Manny Pacquiao. He decided to make the jump, scoring wins over Yuri Foreman and Ricardo Mayorga before adding his sweet revenge against Margarito. He then dropped two in a row, first to Floyd Mayweather in a surprisingly competitive fight by Mayweather’s standards, and then to Austin Trout. The southpaw Trout easily outboxed Cotto, and it seemed like he might be on the way out as a top fighter.
But Cotto, who to this point had forged a remarkable career despite never having an elite trainer, hired Freddie Roach in 2013. Fighters who switch trainers this late into their careers often have less-than-inspiring results. That saying about teaching old dogs new tricks rings pretty true in the boxing ring. Roach vowed to get Cotto back to his most destructive ways–when he was a vicious body puncher with a wicked left hook.
His first trial came against Delvin Rodriguez in October of 2013. And while it should be noted that Rodriguez is far from awe-inspiring as a fighter, Cotto beat the living shit out of him using the exact formula Roach told us he would–he fired devastating hooks and ran his man right out of the ring. The third-round knockout was a damn fine indicator that Cotto was reinvigorated.
The Martinez fight came next. Martinez had been clamoring for a Cotto fight for years, claiming Cotto had disrespected him in a brief exchange when the fighters met outside the ring. Martinez’s noted knee troubles were well documented, but his camp assured us that he was now back to his bouncy, unorthodox ways. Freddie Roach wasn’t buying it.
Freddie was right. While Martinez looked like he’d had cement tied to his shoes like a mafia hit, Cotto blitzed him from the opening seconds. It was a one-sided massacre, and when the fight was stopped in the 10th round, Cotto emerged with the lineal belt. We figured it would be a one-time affair, with Cotto stepping back down to the junior middleweight division after a shockingly successful campaign with Roach. But the Puerto Rican superstar had other ideas.
When Roy Jones made the jump from light heavyweight to the heavies, he was clearly doing it for history, and because he was bored. It happens to a lot of successful fighters, especially guys like Jones, who dominated the sport for years and hadn’t really broken a sweat doing it. He needed something to get up for, and the historical context behind a win at heavyweight provided the juice he had been lacking.
He dominated the fight with John “Huggy Bear” Ruiz, and made history, becoming the first former middleweight titleholder to win a heavyweight belt in over 100 years. Of course, the real heavyweight champ at the time was Lennox Lewis, who towered over Jones and was worlds better than Ruiz. Jones made the venture up a one-off performance, dropping back down to 175 for his next fight.
Cotto’s win didn’t have the historical relevance of Jones’ feat. But it did provide him another great payday and another notch on his hall of fame career. He started negotiations for a massive fight at 154 pounds with Canelo Alvarez. The mere idea of the fight had fans salivating, but this is boxing, so of course the whole thing blew up and fell apart like Martinez’s knee.
So Cotto stayed put. Maybe it’s unfair to ask him to take on middleweight monster Gennady Golovkin, who would hold major size and strength advantages over him. But Cotto knows damn well that Golovkin is the best in the division, and yet he has absolutely zero intention of fighting him. The excuse that a battle with Golovkin isn’t a big-money fight is rendered moot when you fight a guy from Australia that Golovkin just beat to shit.
Cotto has never ducked anybody, so it’s hard to blame him for taking a pass on Golovkin and what would almost certainly be a brutal knockout loss. But by staying at middleweight and fighting lesser foes, he’s holding the belt hostage. If he’s going to avoid GGG, how about getting the hell out of the division so that another champion can be crowned?
He’s one of the bigger stars in boxing, so Cotto probably feels like he has earned the right to do as he pleases. But by avoiding the top dog in the division on top of keeping the belt, he’s alienating fans and losing some of that goodwill he’s spent his career building up.
Hopefully after this bout with Geale, he finally does come back down for an epic battle with Alvarez. If in six months he’s taking on Sam Soliman, we’ll collectively vomit and then wish horrible things on Cotto. Regardless of his recent choices, Cotto is a lock for the hall of fame, a guy who fought the best and gave fans some incredible battles. His place is secure.
It would be nice if he remembered how he got there.
Header photo by Mikey Williams/Top Rank