The blame game, starring Miguel Cotto

Andrew Harrison
23/11/2015 8:44pm

Once again Miguel Cotto felt hard done by. As he alighted from the ring and tramped solemnly back to his dressing room in the bowels of the Mandalay Bay Events Centre, Las Vegas, the Puerto Rican veteran, to his continued chagrin, had someone to blame for his latest defeat – his fifth in 45 bouts – that had been meted out by the thudding fists of the popular Mexican Saúl “Canelo” Álvarez.

Cotto, 35, had boxed as well as he’d hoped to over the preceding 12 rounds against a foe 10 years (and every conceivable physical advantage) to the good. Both Cotto and his crack trainer Freddie Roach - the LA-based Yoda-like figure synonymous with Manny Pacquiao’s improbable rise – seemed content at the closing bell, buoyed by a hard-working shift they’d miscalculated would be sufficient to upset the odds (Alvarez posted as an 4/11 favourite pre-fight). The judge’s cards: 118-110, 119-109 and 117-111 in favour of Álvarez quickly sank them both – and Cotto especially so.

Cotto is a tragic figure. His career hangs from him: once a strong feature, his nose has been shattered and re-imagined. Shaven-skulled (for what use is hair in Cotto’s world?), he is caked in tattoos (a re-branding process the Caguas man embarked upon after suffering a first defeat to Alvarez’s countryman Antonio Margarito, one so crushing, it elicited concerns that Cotto had lost his mind). He wears a gloomy, hangdog look; on occasion, when he glances off to the side, he can appear unhinged.

There is a theory that Margarito cheated Cotto – bushwhacked him with illegal hand wraps that shattered Cotto’s face and subsequently his will. Cotto is certain of it. He also believes that his second defeat, a 12-round TKO to a rampant Pacquiao, was a result of a 145 lb. catch weight imposed upon him by the more marketable Filipino. Cotto would ultimately latch onto this idea and, for a time at least, make it work for him.

Last summer, Cotto managed to enact a 159 lb. catch weight limit on middleweight king Sergio Martinez. After dethroning the Argentinian (already hampered by gimpy knees cloaked in oversized shorts) “Junito” insisted that Daniel Geale of Australia dehydrate to 157 lbs. if he hoped to challenge for the middleweight championship (Geale ageed, only to be swept aside within four rounds). Canelo, who’d leveraged a catch weight of 155 lbs. in each of his previous three contests, gamed Cotto at his own game. 

Canelo works a 155 lb. catch weight (one pound above the junior middleweight limit) to his advantage. A physical brute at that weight, Álvarez replenishes himself sufficiently to make a light heavyweight by the time he enters the ring. And whereas fighters like Geale have appeared emaciated after boiling down to an unnatural poundage, Álvarez has perfected the knack. A block-headed lug, freckled, unblemished, Canelo is one of the few boxers in history to suffer humiliation in the ring without attracting as much as a scrape.

On Saturday, Cotto caught the wrong tiger’s tale. Every precise combination he coaxed home - just as he and Roach had pantomimed in camp - was eclipsed by less frequent but more powerful (and therefore effective) punches delivered by his red-headed rival. Often, Cotto resembled a man attempting to extinguish a flaming taco truck armed only with a pail of water.

And so off Cotto trudged, appalled at the ringside officials appointed by the governing body who’d stripped him, ignominiously, of his title belt in the week leading up to the fight. The scores, if not the decision, were an affront. He will inevitably use it to fuel his return. Álvarez meanwhile will presumably keep playing the catch weight game – one that repeatedly affords the losers an alibi and impedes the sort of exhilarating action generated by two fighters who are – legitimately - evenly matched.