Yep, he still has it.
Miguel Cotto, now under the auspices of Freddie Roach, delivered what I guess you have to consider a “vintage” performance as he blasted out the normally durable Delvin Rodriguez in three one-sided rounds.
The bout was all Cotto from the bell. Before the contest Rodriguez had said that he needed to stand his ground and hurt Cotto with something if he wanted to win the bout but he never got a chance. Cotto came out, aggresively closed the distance behind his jab and then started to batter Rodriguez to the head and body, notably with his fabled left hook. There was no point where Rodriguez was able to get his own game… be it using his speed or jab from the outside or his ability to come forward and set a high pace… going. If over recent years Cotto has come to resemble a boxer/puncher working behind his excellent jab this was a throwback to the Cotto who thrilled us all at 140lbs, a relentless pressure fighter who pushes opponents to the ropes and then takes them apart.
The finish came early in the third, a Cotto right hand to the body blocked by Rodriguez’s left arm as Rodriguez missed a right hand counter which left his chin exposed. Rodriguez immediately tried to fire back with his left hook but Cotto threw his own… and trying to go hook-for-hook with Cotto is a mistake for any boxer, especially when their chin is still in the air. Cotto’s landed first and demolished Rodriguez, leaving the Danbury, Connecticut helpless as he slid towards the floor, the referee mercifully stepping in.
This a great result for Cotto, not just in terms of the win but also of the performance. Rodriguez is a tough, awkward boxer who had only ever been finished once before and Cotto almost literally walked through him. The last time I can recall him doing that to someone as well regarded as Rodriguez is back against Contender stalwart Alfonso Gomez immediately prior to facing Margarito or possibly all the way back to 2006 and his first bout at 147lbs against Carlos Quintana. There are two big possibilities for his immediate future, a contest with Saul Alvarez, the former WBC and WBA Super champion at 154lbs who was recently outclassed by Floyd Mayweather Jr, in a bout which would bring back the storied Mexico-Puerto Rican rivalry and generate a lot of interest or a move to 160lbs to take on RING champion and pound for pound contender Sergio Martinez, currently healing up and nursing his injuries after a narrow victory over England’s Martin Murray. Also lurking on the periphery is Austin Trout, a man who has a win over Cotto and is himself smarting from a loss to Alvarez. I think the Trout bout may have to wait a while; he doesn’t bring the money or the interest that bouts with Martinez or Alvarez would but it would be foolish to completely dismiss Cotto’s desire for revenge.
The early signs from the Cotto/Roach partnership are good with Roach, always a trainer praised for his ability to develop offence, having sharpened Cotto up. We’ll have to see how Cotto fairs in bouts where a bit more nuance is required but for the moment both men should take real pleasure from this win.
The picture is far more bleak for Rodriguez. “The Jaguar” has not always been the best treated by boxing, often on the wrong side of narrow decisions (notably against experienced South African Isaac Hlatshwayo for the IBF 147lbs crown), often having to travel to an opponents hometown (which does help explain some of the narrow losses) and generally having to go about his business the hard way. He’s boxed in ball rooms and in small casinos and in unappealing venues, he’s been brought in as the opponent for the promoters new star to beat and he’s always given a good account of himself. And yet now, in his highest profile bout, in a bout where a win would have propelled him into title contention and in a position to get big money bouts, he ends up not only losing but losing badly in three brutal rounds. Rodriguez is 33 now, he doesn’t have that many years left in boxing to leave his mark and now he has to start at the bottom again. Away from the bright lights of HBO back onto the dimmer lights of Friday Night Fights, of undercards in half empty arenas. I think he’ll box on and he may well even get to face some notable opponents but I can’t help but feel this might have been his one real chance to get a statement win.
In the chief support bout unbeaten prospects Terence Crawford and Andrey Klimov met up. It wasn’t the most scintillating of bouts, Klimov’s offence too one dimensional for his single shot to trouble to faster Crawford who boxed circles around him on the outside while occasionally slipping inside to land a combination. This was Crawford getting the job done, sweeping Klimov over the 10 rounds and moving towards a title shot in the wide open 135lbs division (as only two of champions are actually currently active at the weight with Broner up at 147lbs and Burns recovering from his broken jaw). As for Klimov, back to the drawing board and to learn a bit more subtlty to his approach.
If the chief support was underwhelming then the bout between Jayson Velez and Dat Nguyen, one of the many bouts featuring Puerto Rican prospects and contenders (a tradition on Cotto undercards), was anything but. Nguyen may have had the hype he once had swept away after a narrow loss to Gregorio Torres back in 2006 but he’s become almost a cult boxer due to his tendency to have heavily action packed bouts and the gritty determination he shows in them. The bout quickly found a rhythm with Velez landing all manner of hurtful shots on Nguyen while the Vietnamese immigrant pressed forward relentlessly. Early on in the bout Nguyen found some decent success, stunning Velez with a combination and forcing the more favoured boxer to touch a glove down.
Truth be told though, that was a relatively rare moment of success for Nguyen who eventually fell to a fairly wide decision. While no-one can complain about his heart or how game he was he simply lacked the skills to handled a boxer of Velez’s calibre. Velez could land uppercuts, straight rights and hooks at will on his hard charging opponent while Nguyen struggled to have his own punches connect, probably best seen in the final exchanges of the bout.
This was a good win for Velez and it doesn’t hurt for it to have been as exciting as it was. Still only 25 and now 21-0 he’s likely due a bout with a fellow contender next and if he can win that, likely a title shot. As for Nguyen his stock doesn’t dip off the back of this performance (or his last bout, a loss to another Puerto Rican prospect Luis Orlando Del Valle). Any promoter wanting an almost guaranteed action packed bout on their undercard would be foolish not to call him.
Another powerful Puerto Rican contender showed his skill as Jorge “The Destroyer” Melendez made short work of the normally tough journeyman Jamaal Davis, stopping him in two rounds. He dropped Davis seconds into the bout with a pair of right hooks, dropped him later in the round with a stiff jab and then in the second finished the job by wobbling Davis repeatedly with heavy hooks, uppercuts and swinging rights.
On one hand it’s certainly impressive to show the power to drop and hurt Davis, a man who had only been stopped once and then in the 12th round before today, but on the other we already knew that Melendez could hurt anyone who stands in front of him. Melendez’s power (26 stoppages in 27 wins) is clear… what isn’t is his ability to beat someone who doesn’t stand in front of him and isn’t immediately discouraged by his power. In his previous bout to this Melendez took on the somewhat unheralded Nick Brinson and despite hurting Brinson badly at the end of the fourth round (after suffering a flash knockdown himself earlier in it) Melendez struggled immensely to handle Brinson’s movement and jab and lost a wide decision. As Matthysse/Garcia showed recently, once you reach a certain level power alone isn’t enough and if Melendez (who also has some pretty disappointing TKO losses earlier in his career) wants to move beyond being an entertaining contender he’ll need to work on his ring craft. Still only 24 he’s certainly got time to improve and this was a good comeback win and performance after the Brinson loss, even if we learned little from it.
Starting the theme, Puerto Rican prospect Felix Verdejo looked very smooth in giving a first stoppage loss to designated opponent Gary Eyer. At 11-3-1 Eyer was no-ones idea of a great boxer but he still represented a step up for Verdajo who had accumulated his 7-0 record by gernally beating people with as many losses as wins. The bout was one-sided from the get go, with Verdajo just a different class to his opponent, hitting Eyer with left hooks and straight rights that caused his nose to gush blood and by the second round the referee has seen enough as Verdajo landed yet more shots.
These are still early days in the 20 year old Verdajo’s career but the ex-Olympian (reached the quarter finals at London 2012 and did better than most against the great Vasyl Lomachenko) looks to be a real talent to watch. Offensively he is accurate, puts combinations together well and hits with speed and power. We’ll likely have to wait and see how he looks against an opponent capable of making life difficult for him or testing him defensively, but for now I’d say he’s one to keep a close eye on.