Curtain Call: Cotto vs Rodriguez preview

And the results are in: click here for the results and analysis

Miguel Cotto is 32 years old.

He has a professional record of 37-4 and has held world titles in three different weight classes. He has at various times been seen as the best 140, 147 and 154lbs boxer in the world and even today, coming off two losses RING magazine (although the reputation of the Bible of Boxing has taken a battering in recent years) still rank him as the fourth best boxer in the world at his new home of 154lbs. By any measure that is an impressive record and at 32 the man is still in his physical prime.

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So why was it that when I started thinking about how to open this piece I considered a somewhat trite “one last punch before dying” style sentence? Why was I thinking about viewing this bout as Cotto’s version of Dylan Thomas’ “Do not go gentle into that good night” full of lines about how Cotto would rage against the dying of the light? How this was one last act of defiance?

Perhaps it is because there is the feeling that whatever happens on Saturday night in Orlando Florida, the only way is down for Miguel Cotto. From 2004-2007 Cotto was seen as one of the most exciting devloped talented in world boxing, a champion at 140lbs who had successfully moved to 147lbs while putting on exciting, entertaining bouts. When Floyd Mayweather “retired” after defeating Ricky Hatton and with Manny Pacquaio yet to quite establish himself, Cotto was seen as the best 147lbs boxer in the world and one of the best pound for pound. The world was at his feet… and then it was stolen away by the manically grinning executioner Antonio Margarito and his controversial gloves. Cotto came back, reasserted himself… and then was victimised by the whirling dervish that was Pacquiao. And then he came back again, moved up in weight, avenged his loss to Margarito and put on the best performance against Mayweather that anyone has in years. But what “best performance against Mayweather” translates to in reality is still handily losing the bout. And then he pushed forward… only to see the little known Austin Trout enter stage right and steal his glory. There has always been something of the Shakesperian tragedy about Cotto and his career… wild exultation one moment, utter despair the next, hope and expectation ground under the iron boot of dismay and anger.

And now Cotto is entering the last act of his career. And the question is whether it will be a glorious last act or whether the curtain is instead already coming down, hovering menacingly like a guillotine.

Cotto’s partner in this scene is Delvin Rodriguez, an experienced contender. And the intrigue from this bout comes from the fact that we know him very well.

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When Cotto faced Trout, Trout was a little known boxer, a man who had slipped under the radar for most boxing fans, a man who had to travel to Mexico to win his world title and travel back there to defend it. He boxed far away from the bright lights, cheering crowds and HBO production that Cotto has become so accustomed to. Trout’s first high profile bout in the US was somewhat ironically against Rodriguez… and it was a stinker, a sloppy, awkward bout that few paid attention to and even less enjoyed. Trout was an awkward southpaw, athletic with a high workrate, technically solid but happy to spoil and frustrate his opponents. But most didn’t know that coming in. They just saw a name they didn’t recognise, a list of victories over opponents they didn’t recognise and assumed that Cotto would once again be king. They didn’t know how good Trout was.

Delvin Rodriguez isn’t like that. Rodriguez is a TV fighter, a boxer we’ve seen many a times as TV networks enjoy his fast paced bouts. Perhaps the best example is his first bout with Pawel Wolak, an epic war that fired the blood of all that watched. And because of that we’ve come to know Delvin Rodriguez. We know his strengths, we know his weakness and, perhaps most of all, we know exactly how good he is. And the answer? Pretty good… but not great. His 28-6 record is not deceptive. He is in essence a gatekeeper… a boxer the champions are good enough to defeat but not quite good enough to be a champion himself and at at 33 Delvin Rodriguez is not getting any better. And that’s why this bout is interesting. Because it tells us how much Cotto has left.

Let us start with the star of the play. Cotto over the years has evolved significantly as a boxer. Originally a pressure fighter who built his entire game around getting inside and an excellent left hook (normally to the body) he eventually turned into a more well rounded boxer/puncher with one of the best jabs in boxing. He could still get on the inside and pressure opponents, he could stalk them down behind his jab and at times he could even stick and move, stepping around their charges while spearing them with his own shots There were some concerns about his chin at 140lbs but since moving up the weight classes and cutting less weight his chin has appeared solid and despite taking a knee against Margarito he has shown the heart and desire to grit his way through tough bouts (notably his battle with Clottey).

There are three main concerns for Cotto going in. The first is that despite his wide range of skills he struggles to adapt during bouts themselves. If he starts the bout as a pressure fighter but finds he cannot hunt an opponent down (either because of their movement or their ability to keep him off them through punching) he loses confidence and likewise if he comes into a bout expecting to box at range only to find his opponent able to get into him his effectiveness plummets. Secondly, the question as to whether 154lbs is simply too big for his frame. Cotto likes to use his jab at range, even if simply to close the distance but a 67” (according to boxrec) is average at best for the division (Rodriguez for example is 70½″ according to boxrec). This also relates to his inside work; Trout in particular was physically big and strong enough to simply smother Cotto whenever Cotto did come forward and try to work the body. Thirdly, the question is how much does Cotto’s body have left. He has taken a lot of punishment in his career… notably against Margarito and Pacquaio but one also has to consider his 140lbs run and his bout with Clottey. Delvin Rodriguez’ style can make a boxer look old and tired.

And perhaps worthy of further consideration, the fact that Cotto (a man not exactly averse to changing trainers) has switched his corner once again, now finding himself under the tutelage of Freddy Roach. Roach is clearly a good trainer but we still wait to see if he can get the best from Cotto or if the pair work well together.

Rodriguez is not a particularly skilled or powerful boxer but he can do most things well, be it digging into the trenches or relying on his speed from the outside. He has fast hands and puts combinations together well (although not always accurately) and while his power isn’t devastating it does add up. He’s often his own worst enemy, happy to sit on the outside and fire off jabs but repeatedly getting caught with right hands when he is often far better when the action comes closer and he starts to slip side to side and throw combinations. With his high workrate and varied skills he can overwhelm lesser opponents but against the best their touch of class tends to be enough to take them past him, his defensive flaws and lack of an offensive killer weapon being his undoing. His recent victory over Freddy Hernandez was a messy bout with a number of head clashes and Rodriguez narrowly ahead on the cards when the bout was originally called a technical decision (later switched to a TKO as the fight ending cut came from a punch) but before that he scored a mild upset over the somewhat hyped George Tahdooahnippah simply bullying his opponent with his constant workrate and combinations.

Whoever wins can expect a big lift to their career. Cotto, still one of the bigger names in boxing, can expect to receive high profile bouts quite possibly with Mexican superstar Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, still smarting from his own loss to Mayweather (a bout that interestingly was meant to happen if Cotto had beaten Trout). Rodriguez can rejoice in finally having won the big one… not just for a title but also over a name boxer… and can himself look forward to either a run as a champion or some more high profile bouts himself. If Rodriguez were to lose then it’s back to Friday Night Fights for him, back to being a TV fighter on smallish cards for smallish purses with only the prospect of being brought in as an opponent for some hot new thing, a stepping stone for someone elses career, bringing him the chance for more glory. As for Cotto, it’s hard to see where he goes from a loss. Having scaled the heights he scaled I’m not sure I can see him dropping back down a level. At this stage of his career Cotto is a superstar or bust… and superstars do not lose to Delvin Rodriguez.

Which is why the curtain hovers menacingly.

The undercard has no standout bouts but may still be worth a watch. The undefeated Terence Crawford and Andrey Klimov meet up, with the powerful and quick Crawford being someone HBO seem keen on making a star (because it worked so well with Jermain Taylor and Chad Dawson…). Undefeated Puerto Rican prospect Jayson Velez wants to see if he can do one better than his countryman Luis Orlando Del Valle and stop Dat Nguyen rather than just win a one-sided decision. The Vietnamese immigrant hasn’t boxed since losing to Del Valle and frankly is just here to be a victim. There’s a distinct Puerto Rican flair to many of the other undercard bouts as well… the very heavy handed but somewhat crude Jorge Melendez returns from an upset loss to take on journeyman Jamaal Davis while former Olympian Felix Verdejo looks to continue his professional development.

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