Cotto-Canelo: The British connection
Fight week sees the buildup to an eagerly anticipated world title bout hit fever pitch and it rarely gets more exciting than this Saturday’s thunderous collision between THE RING middleweight champion Miguel Cotto and challenger Canelo Alvarez in Las Vegas.
We’ve got Puerto Rico versus Mexico. We’ve got experience versus youth. We’ve got classic boxer-puncher versus cerebral power-puncher. This one surely can’t fail to dazzle amidst the bright lights of The Strip and fans are hoping for an electricity overload at the Mandalay Bay Events Center.
Everyone has an opinion on the 155-pound catchweight showdown but, in a fight of this magnitude, it’s always interesting to speak to former opponents who have experienced, firsthand, the respective skills and strengths of both men. This reporter sought out three British fighters, two of whom have mixed with Alvarez and the other, Cotto, for some fresh opinion on the participants, as well as the fight everyone wants to see.
RingTV.com spoke to Michael Jennings, Matthew Hatton and Ryan Rhodes.
In July 2008, Miguel Cotto succumbed to a brutal and – if the illegal hand-wrapping allegations are to be believed – highly controversial 11th round stoppage defeat to Antonio Margarito. The Puerto Rican hero lost his WBA welterweight strap but such was his drawing power that a vacant WBO title bout awaited him seven months later.
The opponent was Michael Jennings, a former British welterweight champion who feared no one and retained plenty of ambition. Having lost only one fight, by split decision, the Englishman ventured to New York’s Madison Square Garden determined to upset the odds but he came across a rejuvenated Cotto, who floored him three times on route to a ruthless fifth round stoppage.
“Cotto can punch but his timing and accuracy are his major strengths,” said Jennings. “He dropped me with a left hook to the body and, when I got up, the first thing through my mind was, ‘I’m not getting caught with another one of them.’ In less than 10 seconds, he’d opened me up and landed the same left hook within millimeters of where the first one had landed.
“The thing is, I fought him at welterweight and can see Canelo’s size being decisive in this one. I expected Cotto to be huge but I was bigger than him at the weigh-in and although he’d bulked up for fight night, he simply doesn’t have the frame of a middleweight. Canelo is massive around this catchweight, so he’ll be stronger with a real edge in power.
“Freddie Roach has given Cotto a new lease of life and the relationship they have looks solid. At first I thought he could win but, the more I see Canelo train and the more I think of the physical advantages he has, it’s difficult to go against him. You can’t write off Cotto under any circumstances. We’re talking about a future Hall-of-Famer but this is a very tough fight.”
Saul “Canelo” Alvarez had done everything right in the lead-up to his first world title bout. He had been a professional for almost six years, remained unbeaten in 36 fights and, when the opposition improved, he performed brilliantly, as evidenced by a crushing sixth round knockout of former RING welterweight champion Carlos Baldomir.
Few gave Matthew Hatton a shot at victory when the pair collided for the vacant WBC junior middleweight title in California in March of 2011. The former European welterweight champion was having his first significant fight at 154 pounds and although Alvarez was relatively new to the division, he was unquestionably the stronger man.
As it turned out, Hatton, younger brother of two-division world champion Ricky, would not be easily discouraged, although he did lose a lopsided 12-round unanimous decision.
“Canelo was a lot bigger and the consensus was that I wouldn’t hear the final bell but one thing I was blessed with is a good chin,” said Hatton. “He has incredible physical strength but his punching power didn’t bother me, so I think Miguel Cotto should (test) his skills in this fight.
“Cotto, although he does like to come forward, is a very good mover and I believe he has the edge in terms of hand and foot speed. Alvarez is actually slow on his feet, which we saw against (Floyd) Mayweather (Jr.), so I believe Cotto has the tools and the experience to win this one on points.
“We see a lot of catchweight fights nowadays but if the matchup is as good as this one, then I’m inclined to let it go. Cotto is undoubtedly smaller but I was still surprised to see Alvarez installed as a big favorite in what I view as a 50/50 fight. Both styles will gel and this one has been on top of my wish list for years.”
Perhaps unsettled at having been taken the distance by a British outsider, Canelo Alvarez selected another UK fighter for his first title defense in the shape of former British and European junior middleweight champion Ryan Rhodes.
Unlike Hatton, Rhodes was natural at the weight and had actually campaigned at 160 pounds on several occasions. The classy southpaw was a former stablemate of Prince Naseem Hamed and carried some of the same unorthodox moves that were born out of the famed Wincobank Gym in Sheffield, England.
The fight took place in June 2011 in Mexico and Canelo was on point. Despite a game effort, the Englishman was dropped in the fourth before succumbing to a 12th round stoppage.
“I’d watched Alvarez on several occasions and viewed him as a come-forward aggressor,” said Rhodes. “I was very surprised on fight night when he was able to box and counter-punch. That threw me off and forced us to change our game plan after two or three rounds.
“Alvarez had an answer for everything and proved to me what a great fighter he is. He’s not a one-punch knockout artist but his accuracy is amazing and he doesn’t waste a shot. When he let his hands go, he landed everything he threw and his timing was spot on. His main assets, for me, are his accuracy and his economy.
“Cotto will have to be elusive on his feet and use those fast hands by punching in bunches. He may come in as middleweight champion but Alvarez is the bigger man and he’ll be looking to cut the ring down, trap him and let his shots go. Alvarez is such a physical presence in there and although I would give Cotto a slight edge in terms of technical skill, there’s not a lot in it.
“I think Alvarez starts fast and catches up with Cotto in the mid-to-late rounds.”
Tom Gray is a member of the British Boxing Writers’ Association and has contributed to various publications. Follow him on Twitter @Tom_Gray_Boxing