On May 2, the fight boxing fans had been demanding for years finally took place and it was a big dud.
Saturday night, the sport gets a chance to redeem itself with consumers who believe $69.99 is worth their money and Canelo Alvarez and Miguel Cotto are worth their time.
It’s an important night for boxing as it looks to regain some trust among its casual fans after the fiasco six months ago that was Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s lopsided, boring win over Manny Pacquiao at the MGM Grand Garden. Millions who bought the pay-per-view telecast came away disgruntled and felt like they had been taken.
To get those fans back, Cotto and Alvarez say they have a responsibility to put on a show at a sold-out Mandalay Bay Events Center and on HBO Pay Per View. Both fighters know they better deliver.
“This fight is important for boxing,” Alvarez said through an interpreter. “I’m going to make sure I do my part to give the fans a great fight.”
Freddie Roach, who trains Cotto and was in Pacquiao’s corner on May 2 when he lost to Mayweather, said tonight is important for boxing.
“To me, this fight is bigger,” Roach said. “We need a fight like this for the sport.”
Even the controversy earlier in the week involving Cotto being stripped of his World Boxing Council middleweight title hasn’t tempered the enthusiasm of the fans.
When Cotto refused to pay the WBC a sanctioning fee $300,000 to defend his middleweight belt, he was suddenly an ex-champion. If Alvarez wins tonight, he wins the belt. If Cotto prevails, the title remains vacant.
“The fans want to see Canelo and Miguel fight,” Cotto said. “I don’t think belts are an issue for this fight.”
Cotto’s partially right. Even if nothing were at stake, there are enough storylines to make fans want to watch. In addition to not wanting to pay the WBC, Cotto is reluctant to give Gennady Golovkin $800,000. Golovkin agreed to the fee in order to step aside and allow Cotto to make the fight with Alvarez. Glolovkin, the World Boxing Association and International Boxing Federation middleweight champ, expects to get his money.
For Cotto, who will earn $15 million tonight, it’s about not being told how to spend his money by a sanctioning body. For the WBC, it’s about abiding by the rules.
“This is about principle, not money,” WBC president Mauricio Sulaiman said. “You have to have rules and Miguel Cotto chose not to follow the rules, so we had no choice but to strip him of his title.
“It’s an unfortunate situation and it should never have come to this. We capped the (sanctioning) fee at three percent when in reality it should have been a lot more. Canelo agreed to pay, Miguel Cotto didn’t.”
Alvarez, whose purse is $5 million, is a 3-1 favorite at the MGM Resorts sports books for the 12-round fight, which will be fought at a catch-weight of 155 pounds. Cotto insisted on the weight limit despite the fact the WBC’s 160-pound belt is in play.
At Friday’s weigh-in, Cotto weighed 153½ pounds while Alvarez was at the catch-weight limit of 155.
It was typical of the machinations that both sides had to deal with in order to make the fight. If you thought the negotiations for Mayweather-Pacquiao were arduous and contentious, Cotto-Alvarez didn’t exactly get done in 30 minutes either.
But despite all the back-and-forth, the fight’s a go. For both combatants, it’s a night that could very well define both fighters’ legacies.
Cotto, the 35-year-old from Puerto Rico who has seen his career revived since joining forces with hall of Fame trainer Freddie Roach in the summer of 2013, has the experience and the arsenal to give Alvarez plenty of trouble. Not only is Cotto’s lethal left hook still a formidable weapon, but Roach has him back to boxing, moving and counter-punching smartly. No longer is Cotto the stationary target he was when he was soundly beaten by Mayweather in May 2012 and when Austin Trout upset him in December of that year.
“I’m having the best time of my career,” Cotto said. “Freddie has me believing in myself again and I am back to doing the things when I was a young fighter having success.”
Alvarez, who is 10 years younger than Cotto, has also bounced back after losing to Mayweather in 2013. He too, has changed the way he fights and look for him to bring pressure immediately against Cotto and get him on the defensive.
“I am prepared to win,” he said. “We have been working on things to get ready for this fight and I know I will be victorious.”
Cotto and Roach believe Alvarez still makes too many mistakes in the ring and they are prepared to make him pay.
“He’s like a robot,” Roach said of Alvarez. “His defense is terrible and he doesn’t make adjustments well.”
For Alvarez, it may come down to using his superior size and strength to offset Cotto’s experience. However, Alvarez has more professional fights in his career (47) than Cotto (44).
“Everyone talks about (Cotto’s) experience,” Alvarez said. “People forget I have plenty of experience too and I have been in plenty of tough fights.”
And while the buildup to this fight hasn’t been quite like Mayweather-Pacquiao (there was no circus tent needed for the media to work for Alvarez-Cotto), it’s still a big fight, one many hardcore boxing fans have been waiting all year for.
“When Manny fought Floyd, it was like a big television show the way it was promoted,” Roach said. This feels like a traditional buildup to a big fight. This fight has two fighters in great shape who are ready to get after each other.”