Saturday night’s match-up between Floyd “Money” Mayweather, and Miguel Cotto did not disappoint. As expected Money Mayweather remained unbeaten, picking up another belt in the process. Less than expected was the tough opposition put up by Cotto who battled through all 12 rounds.
While many boxing fans, and the public at large had hoped to see Mayweather take on Manny Paquiao at the MGM Grand May 5, no one who watched this fight could possibly say it was a lackluster replacement. While Mayweather had to move up in weight to challenge Cotto for the 154 pound junior middleweight title, there is no denying that Money is the best pound-for-pound fighter out there. His quickness and defense have made him impossible for any challenger to beat, although some still question his 2007 split-decision with Oscar De La Hoya.
Cotto is also clearly one of the best fighters out there today, but had looked lackluster against Manny Paquiao, but was also coming off a rematch with Antonio Margarito, who had most likely cheated to beat Cotto in their first match-up. In all the pre-fight hype Cotto was clearly in a strong state of mind having aveneged what was an embarassing loss.
This was the first fight I can remember in some time really feeling “The Fight,” the big-time event that boxing seemed to put on better than any other sport. While Cotto isn’t Paquiao in terms of name recognition, he is a great fighter with a strong following, particularly among his native Puerto Ricans. So the fight itself had the buzz of seeing two great champions face off, and the high-profile of both guys made it feel like a Vegas fight of old, the one where you had to be.
Obviously there were an array of stars in the crowd, and a veritable who’s who of Boxing legends. “Hitman” Tommy Hearns was sitting next to Sugar Ray Lenoard, Evander Holyfield was in the crowd, Bernard Hopkins was in the ring and in the crowd at various times, and “Iron” Mike Tyson got a massive cheer from the entire bar I was watching in when they flashed his face on the screen. Oscar De La Hoya, whose Golden Boy Promotions was a major promoter, made sure to get in almost every pre and post fight ring shot. Diddy and Lil’ Wayne were notable mentions from the Hip-Hop community, although the NFL didn’t seem well represented because HBO only showed Mark Sanchez, who got a chorus of boo’s from the same bar patrons who just cheered Mike Tyson. And this is a Brown’s bar, so yea Mark Sanchez is clearly not well liked.
There were plenty of other high-rollers, and I am pretty sure I even spied Bob Arum not far from ringside, taking in the spectacle. And the pre-fight build up was a spectacle, Money Mayweather knows how to put on a show and get the people talking, it’s why hes such a valuble property. Not only did he have his usual companion, 50 cent, on his walk to the ring. Money enlisted Justin Bieber to carry some of his belts as well, adding in Triple H once they hit the ring. One of the most famous rappers, the biggest young pop-star, and the most prominent active wrestler, all backing Money Mayweather. This started all kinds of chatter, not just where I was watching, but through a whole series of text messages I both sent and recieved, I am not on twitter but it probably got some chatter there as well. Floyd never misses an opportunity to get his name out there one way or the other.
With all the hype surrounding the fight, and the anticipation very high once both fighters were in the ring, Michale Buffer proved once again, that his introductions to a big match are by far the greatest introductions in sports. The way he weaves in Spansish as well when a Latino fighter is on the card is also a very nice touch.
Before we get to the fight itself though, it seems only fair to mention the high-profile undercard as well. Boxing’s fastest rising sat Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, who hails from Mexico but looks like hes from Dublin, took on future hall-of-famer “Sugar” Shane Mosely. That fight established two things. First Alvarez is the best young fighter out there, particularly after a recent loss by Andre Berto. He is strong, fast, and doesn’t mind getting hit. Second “Sugar Shane” really needs to retire, his punches seemed to have almost no effect on Alvarez who basically let Mosely hit him in order to set-up his counter punches. Mosley admirably made it to the end of 12, but was clearly outmatched, and Alvarez added a strong name to his resume, and is only one fight away from a much bigger name and tougher opponent, more on this later.
Back to the Mayweather-Cotto match-up, from the first bell Cotto was determined to go after Mayweather. Floyd is rarely in exciting fights, he focuses first on defense. Cotto can put on a show, and probably knew he didn’t have much chance with out a KO. He threw a ton of punches but Mayweather, as per usual, rolled his body perfectly to either totally dodge Cotoo’s punches, or at least just have them glance off. That being said, when Cotto did land, he hurt Mayweather, who was looking more bruised up than almost any other fight I’ve seen him in. Cotto was able to limit Floyd’s movement a bit, and had relative success trapping him against the ropes repeatedly, but he couldn’t keep him there long enough to do real damage. After one hard punch Money gave Cotto a nod of respect, and after a few others shook his head and talked a little smack.
Mayweather clearly started to pull away in the last three rounds or so, and in the 12th hit Cotto with a nasty uppercut. It seemed as if Mayweather could’ve gone in for the kill in the 12th but was fine with the decision. I am not sure if this was out of respect for Cotto as a fighter, or simply not wanting to risk getting knocked out in a last second flurry of punches from Cotto.
It was impossible not to walk away from the fight satisfied, even Cotto fans weren’t mad. Their guy, who no one gave a shot, kept every round competitive, and until the very end, never quite seemed out of it. As I felt at the time, and as I’ve seen some writers say since, a number of rounds were very hard to score, a clear sign of real action. So not only did this fight have the feeling of a Blockbuster, unlike most super-hyped fights these days (like Cotto-Paquiao) it didn’t leave you deflated afterwards.
So the real question still looms, did an exciting, hype-fulfilling fight like this do anything to bring Boxing to a higher plane on the sports hierarchy? I would like to proffer a cautious “Yes,” to that question. The fact of the matter is that boxing fell down as a sport due to two primary reasons. First Muhammad Ali’s parkinsons had a strong effect on young atheltes thinking about Boxing, when they could play other seemingly less damaging sports. Secondly the heavyweight division turned into a series of hulking giants who would rather hug than fight, which gave us a series of uninsipring champions in the marquee division that did nothing to spark interest or excitement.
This fight did nothing for the latter reason, and I am not sure anything can, but I think it did do something for the former. Boxing is really the only indvidual sport, and maybe the only sport, where one person can draw the attention of such massive amounts of celebs, entertainers, other athletes, and the average joe, its the ultimate “event” sport. If you have a desire for money, and adulation, it’s hard to beat being a superstar boxer. Seeing that a fighter like “Money” Mayweather can still bring back some of that old glory, that boxing isn’t dead, will undoubteldy inspire some other young athletes to put on the gloves as well, and even a slight trickle of NBA/NFL quality talent back into the squared circle is bound to help the sport as deeper pools of fighters offer more enticing fights and the hype spreads, and brings causual fans back into the loop more regularly, and adds new admieres.
Ultimately though, Mayweather’s next fight will have a huge influence on the future course of boxing. Everyone wants to see Mayweather-Paquiao, this could be the biggest fight in decades, at least since the Holyfield-Tyson match-ups. People who know nothing about boxing know this fight should happen, and would watch it if it did. The projected pay-per-view numbers are giant. Mayweather and De La Hoya broke all the records with 2.5 million buys in ’07, this could easily exceed that. It would probably be rivaled only by the superbowl in terms of parties held and bars packed to watch. A good fight between those two would go a long way to up viewership of saturday night showtime fights, and the occasional smattering of boxing on cable television, something that give a big boost to the flagging sport. It would also go a very long way to getting people hyped up to become boxers again.
This fight is still very tenuous however. Floyd Mayweather wants the bulk of the money, and Paquiao feels disrespected by the purses on offer. And he should, Floyd is acting as if Manny is some sort of small time fighter, not close to an equal draw, and clearly very close to an equal talent. Paquiao has backed down on his unwillingness to take steroid tests, and so the only real issue that remains is the money. I also have my doubts about Pacman’s manager Bob Arum. Arum’s rivalry with Mayweather seems to be some sort of dumb ego contest that I have my suscpions is getting in the way of an actual deal on a fight.
The other issue is that Canelo Alvarez is also a possible contender to fight Mayweather in the fall. This would be a tantlizing fight. Alvarez’s promoter De La Hoya thinks hes not quite ready, but theres no doubt that the money would be huge, and the fight most likely quite good. For a boxing fan it would be no let down to see Alvarez fight Money, and it would be a big event, but it has nowhere near the cachet of Mayweather-Paquiao, and it still denies us a chance to see these two great fighters square off to determine who is truly the best.