When Miguel Cotto, 37(30)-2(2), meets Floyd Mayweather Jr., 42(26)-0, this coming Saturday at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, NV, Mayweather will be a heavy favorite, both in the betting and in the miles of copy that will have been written during the buildup to the event. A sizable majority expect Mayweather to win, and for good reason.
But future Hall of Famer Miguel Cotto is a live dog in this fight, and it would hardly be the biggest upset in the sport's history if he won.
Cotto is four years younger than Mayweather, but I don't make much of that number. Mayweather has always taken exceptional care of himself physically and Cotto's 31 has a lot more tough ring miles on it than Mayweather's 35 does.
The single area where I see Cotto with a significant advantage is in strength. Although he is coming up yet another division, Mayweather is actually the slightly taller, longer fighter. Cotto is naturally thicker and sturdier, and over the past couple of years 154 pounds has appeared to be a very comfortable weight for him to fight at.
A strength advantage against Floyd Mayweather Jr., in the hands of a highly skilled, strategically solid fighter like Cotto, can go a long way towards negating some of the areas where Mayweather has clear advantages.
I've got Mayweather winning a hard-fought decision Saturday night. He'll come away undefeated and nobody will really question that he deserves to be. But I think it will be tougher than expected.
This is the five-point plan for how Miguel Cotto can the close distance on the fleet-footed Mayweather, and just maybe shock the world.
There are some out there who believe Floyd Mayweather Jr.'s undefeated record is at least partial myth.
These people point to the evening of April 20, 2002, the night young Mayweather fought the rugged Mexican champion Jose Luis Castillo. That was the fight, they will tell you, where Mayweather should have lost his "O" all those years ago.
It was clearly a tough night in the ring for Mayweather, and the rematch later that year was another battle, with even closer scores from the judges.
Mayweather's camp and his fans will fairly point to the fact that he was largely performing with one arm during the first fight. And if you look on YouTube, you can find slow motion dissections of the fight where both fighters' claims to victory are argued for in the comment section.
Still, Castillo showed what you can do if you can manage to pressure the elusive Mayweather. Cotto has the tools to make that game plan work.
In fact, I'd argue that since he has a much better jab than Castillo, he might have better tools for applying a pressure game to Mayweather, and negating a lot of his substantial advantage in speed.
Floyd Mayweather has five inches in reach on Miguel Cotto. Mayweather also fights better backing up than any fighter in his generation. So as long as he has space in back of him, Cotto is going to have a frustrating time trying to land anything.
Meanwhil,e Mayweather will pick him apart with whip-quick and accurate counter-punches.
I think Cotto will have some success trapping Mayweather, but even then things won't be especially easy for him. Mayweather is an excellent infighter, his head and shoulder movement making him extremely elusive, even in close.
There's also the matter of Mayweather's oft-discussed use of his elbow in tight quarters, which is either slick gamesmanship or the most underhanded foul in the history of the sport depending upon who you are talking to.
Either way, Cotto is probably rugged and canny enough to finesse Mayweather's elbows. If he can get Mayweather against the ropes he's going to put himself in position to score big.
It's one of the oldest truisms in boxing: if you want to slow down a quick fighter, pound his ribs and bruise his organs. Make it hard for him to breath as the battle progresses. Smash his arms until they become a burden to lift.
Cotto has a history of fighting well in the later rounds, his two losses not withstanding. It's no coincidence that he's also an exceptional body puncher.
I would rate Mayweather and Cotto as pretty much even in terms of conditioning. Both of them come prepared to fight as hard as necessary, all fight long.
But over the course of 12 rounds even a handful of solid shots to the body can really add up. It might even be enough to chip away at Mayweather's speed advantage.
Even in a best-case scenario for Cotto, he's going to end up catching a lot of air when attacking Mayweather. He's got to stay patient and committed to whatever game plan he came into the fight with if he's going to have any chance to hang on and prevail.
A defensive wizard like Mayweather excels at making opponents frustrated, getting them to over commit or lose their heads. His last fight against Victor Ortiz was just a particularly vivid example.
That's why Miguel Cotto is an especially well-equipped fighter to go for the upset here. He is an extremely disciplined and patient fighter.
Floyd Mayweather Jr. is not an active puncher—he averages just under 50 punches a round, which is about twenty punches below the average for welterweights. However, few fighters have ever been as accurate with their punches.
In Mayweather's last nine fights he has connected with 46 percent of his punches, well above any other active fighters. Even more impressive is that his opponents have landed only 16 percent of their punches. That 30-point difference goes a long way towards explaining Money Mayweather's dominance.
Cotto is an accurate puncher—the precision he showed closing Antonio Margarito's eye last December is proof of that. But he's not going to be able to compete with Mayweather when it comes to percentage of punches landed.
So he is going to have to throw more punches than Mayweather, maybe a lot more.
He still has to be patient and smart about it, however. Anytime he tries to start opening up, he will be taking a risk against Mayweather.
But Mayweather's low punching volume means that Cotto will be in position to take a lot of rounds late with smart tactical flurries and selective use of wild, brawling exchanges.