If boxing is "dead" as they say, no one told the fall months of 2013.
Starting with Floyd Mayweather's sound defeat of Saul "Canelo" Alvarez at the MGM Grand on Sept. 14, the sport has been in the national spotlight for a longer period than in recent memory.
Not always for great things, mind you. Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.'s win over Bryan Vera was the latest embarrassment for a sport that's become rife with judging controversies.
But still, boxing was helping carry a national sports conversation that includes an NFL season revving up, the MLB playoffs, college football and the beginning of the NHL season.
It's a conversation that will continue on Saturday evening, when Miguel Cotto (37-4, 30 KOs) makes his return to the ring against Delvin Rodriguez (28-6-3, 16 KOs) in a non-title HBO event. Cotto is fighting for the first time since his loss to Austin Trout last December, while Rodriguez has already scored two TKO victories this year since his own 2012 loss to Trout.
Cotto and Rodriguez are, in some ways, fighting for their careers.
A loss on Saturday would give Cotto three straight defeats in a 17-month span, during which he's precipitously dropped down pound-for-pound lists. Rodriguez is once again looking to break past the glass ceiling of his middling reputation among both lay fans and hardcore boxing aficionados.
Cotto comes in as a heavy favorite at minus-600 odds, per Bovada. But if we've learned anything since a judge scored the Mayweather fight a draw, it's that anything can happen in boxing.
With that in mind, here is a complete breakdown of how you can watch Saturday night's fight and a key to victory for both fighters.
Time: Undercard begins at 9:45 p.m. ET
Date: Saturday, Oct. 5
TV Info: HBO
Key for Cotto: Be Aggressive Toward the Body
Everyone knows what's on the line here for Cotto. A little more than a year ago, he was fighting Mayweather for a shot at immortality. Now he's one more loss away from some very likely calls for his retirement.
That's sobering for someone of Cotto's relatively young age. But he's been through some of the most grueling pugilistic endeavors I've ever seen during his career; he's 32 going on 52 sometimes.
It's also no secret that he is at a significant size disadvantage. Rodriguez stands more than three inches taller than Cotto at 5'10.5" and has a 70-inch reach compared to Cotto's 67 inches. The three-inch reach doesn't seem like an overwhelming disadvantage at first. It could be a lot worse.
More than anything, though, Rodriguez's size plays to his style as a technician. He likes keeping opponents at a distance, using a succession of jabs and crosses before coming on later in the fight. It's a Mayweather-lite strategy, if you're into those sort of analogies.
The key for Cotto, then, will be to subvert those tactics. The Puerto Rican has built his career around being the aggressor, knocking his opponents down and out with power combinations and perfectly timed counterpunches.
He'll need to make it clear from the outset that Rodriguez isn't going to dictate the pace of the fight. Getting inside and striking solid blows to the body early will serve multiple purposes. Cotto will score points with the judges by landing punches, and he'll slow down Rodriguez and possibly set up the KO shot to the head if Rodriguez gets too comfortable protecting his body.
There is no way Cotto wins if the pace is deliberate. He would share the same fate as he did against Mayweather and Trout. Getting inside position on Rodriguez is easier said than done—it's often a recipe for quick jabs if done incorrectly—but finding a weak spot and scoring early rounds will go a long way toward getting Cotto back into the conversation about elite fighters.
Key for Rodriguez: Do Not Get Overwhelmed By the Big Stage
At age 33, Rodriguez won't have many more opportunities like this one should he lose on Saturday. For some fans, his biggest claim to fame prior to fighting Cotto was either being Trout's whipping boy last year or being a regular fixture on Friday Night Fights.
This isn't someone with a long, storied career filled with pay-per-view bouts. Taking on Cotto is an audition for Rodriguez to enter a different strata of boxing—to get title opportunities and, more importantly, the increased riches that come along with them.
How will he handle the opportunity this time around? It remains to be seen. For Rodriguez or any fighter of his caliber to say there isn't a level of nerves that comes along with last chances, he would be lying. I'm not sure whether his discomfort against Trout was more a testament to the former's uptick in class of opponent or the latter's ascent.
What I do know, however, is that Rodriguez can't have any nerves against Cotto. The worst possible trait to have against an aggressive fighter of Cotto's ilk is the absence of confidence. He'll pick that weakness apart early and start pummeling Rodriguez with a series of power punches.
Tentativeness to the aggressive pugilist is akin to throwing your pet goldfish into the ocean with chum and then getting angry when a great white eats it.
We already have a good idea of how Rodriguez will try to win the fight. He'll look to land a higher percentage of his punches, control the tempo and use his reach to slowly but surely capture the scorecards. He's a far more methodical fighter than Cotto. But there's a difference between coming out with a conservative strategy and delving deep into a shell that lasts the entire fight.
If Rodriguez can stick Cotto with a couple of jabs early and then come on strong as the night progresses, we could see an upset here. If he never turns on the jets, he may not even make it to the scorecards.
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