Miguel Cotto and Joshua Clottey square off on Saturday night in what might be the best matchup the welterweight division has to offer.
This is no slight against boxing's most talented weight class. Instead, it's a testament to matchmakers and two eager 147-pound fighters who have already faced most of the other top welters out there.
Shane Mosley? Cotto handled him in November 2007.
Shamone Alvarez? Clottey took care of the then-undefeated prospect a month later.
Paul Malignaggi and Carlos Quintana were both given their first losses by Cotto, and former division poster boy Zab Judah was stopped by both men.
The only name missing from the list is Antonio Margarito, who defeated both men in fights marked with asterisks.
Clottey controlled Margarito for four rounds before breaking his hand. He ended up dropping a 12-round decision for only his second career loss.
Margarito gave Cotto a resounding beating that forced him to quit on his stool late in the fight for his only career loss. However, in his next fight, Margarito was caught lining his wraps with plaster in order to punch harder in a fight with Mosley.
The welterweight division is in a state of flux. Despite his loss to Cotto, the 37-year-old Mosley sits atop the division. Margarito is sitting out a long suspension and will be at least 32 when he returns to the ring.
After stopping one generation of welterweight prospects (in addition to the undefeated fighters, Cotto also took out young Contender star Alfonso Gomez), Cotto and Clottey need to wait until Andre Berto and Isaac Hlatswayo are ready for prime time.
So, for now, the two fighters are made for each other. Cotto is the hard-hitting superstar who still has something to prove. Clottey is the defensive specialist who has traveled a long road looking for recognition and respect.
Miguel Cotto is the sport's latest Puerto Rican champion. This weekend's fight is scheduled around New York City's Puerto Rican Day Parade—the third time in four years that a Cotto fight at Madison Square Garden has been the keynote event for the festival.
Fans of all nationalities are drawn to his power. Eleven of his 13 title fights have ended in knockouts.
Just as compelling is Cotto's vulnerability. His chin has been criticized, and plaster-aided or not, his retirement against Margarito raised questions about his heart.
Beating Clottey won't be enough for Cotto. He needs an impressive win in front of his people and in the face of the criticism.
Complicating matters is the drama that has surrounded Camp Cotto in the weeks leading up to the fight.
Camp was moved from Cotto's island home to North Florida after the fighter had a highly publicized falling out with his uncle and career-long trainer, Evangalista Cotto. Reports have the two exchanging blows in a brawl that started in the gym and continued at home.
Cotto will enter the ring on Saturday with his former nutritionist, Joe Santiago, manning the corner.
The pressure of looking good in front of a partisan crowd and turmoil in the corner—Joshua Clottey couldn’t have authored a better scenario for the fight.
At 32, Clottey is old enough to be a member of the old welterweight guard, but he’s new to the big stage, thanks to a long battle for attention.
Clottey spent the first seven years of his career fighting in his home country of Ghana, with a few trips to Great Britain interspersed.
When he finally made the trip across the Atlantic, he found that defensive styles and a harder-than-expected left hook are not what the sport’s biggest names are looking for when making a match.
Everything from his ring walk (usually an intricate dance routine that takes several minutes) to his career-long search for a nickname (he now wants to be known as “Grand Master” after experimenting with “Hitter” and “Satan”) is a desperate plea for attention from the boxing public.
Clottey tried and failed to get bouts with some of the sport’s biggest names, and some of his biggest victories have been at the contract signing table, not in the ring.
“The guys don’t want to fight me, and I keep complaining about that all the time,” said Clottey at an April press conference for the Cotto fight.
Once Clottey was able to get a big name in the ring, he showed why avoiding him was a good idea. He dominated Diego Corrales and put a beating on Zab Judah before that fight was stopped on cuts.
A win over Cotto will give him the attention and relevance he’s sought. It will also make it impossible for anyone to ignore him. Clottey would be able to land his long-sought date with Kermit Cintron or a showdown with Mosley.
If Cotto avoids the upset and looks good, he will have some big paydays to choose from. A rematch with Mosley is a natural. Once Margarito’s suspension ends, Cotto will have a score to settle (as would Clottey).
However, the biggest name on Cotto’s dance card currently resides outside the division: Manny Pacquiao. The bout would be a matchup of two of the sport’s biggest hitters and pound-for-pound bests.
It would also match the favorite sons of two of boxing’s most fertile fanbases, the Philippines and Puerto Rico.
Of course, before looking ahead to the Pac-Man, Cotto needs to get past Joshua Clottey first.