Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Miguel Cotto, Timothy Bradley, and Reasonable Chances

source: Cliff Rold |

It’s not what boxing fans say they demand. Combined, two fights instead of “The One” will probably do well over two million buys between May and June, proving the supply curve is still stronger than demand.

The stars have not aligned (again).

They haven’t gone soft either.

On May 5, WBA Jr. Middleweight beltholder Miguel Cotto (37-2, 30 KO) will get what is estimated to be a career high pay in accepting the challenge of lineal World Welterweight Champion Floyd Mayweather Jr. (42-0, 26 KO).

While it isn’t 100% final as yet, let’s pretend it’s close enough for assumption. Little more than a month later, on June 9 to be exact, the best Jr. Welterweight in the world, Timothy Bradley (28-0, 12 KO) should be moving up a class to challenge WBO Welterweight titlist Manny Pacquiao (54-3-2, 38 KO).

Some fans, thirsty to drink from only one cup, will disagree about the quality of these encounters. Boxing fans have a tendency towards the negative in general. At least on paper, what critics exist stand wrong in turning down their nose at Cotto-Mayweather or Pacquiao-Bradley.

Neither Cotto nor Bradley is favored to win. No one else from 154 lbs. on down likely would be. Such is the strength of talent and resume both Mayweather and Pacquiao present. That doesn’t make either a bad match.

Yes, Mayweather and Pacquiao will probably win. There is a reasonable chance either or both will fail to do so.

Isn’t that what matters?

When watching the progress of two fighters already deemed great by most, the desire to see them tested, challenged, to have the potential for defeat, is the essence of competition.

There have been times in recent years where the threat of competition was lacking before fight night. For reasons of style more than size, Juan Manuel Marquez never seemed a real danger to Mayweather and it was a surprise to some to see Marquez so tough on Pacquiao the third time after ample cynicism. Shane Mosley, after losing to Mayweather and drawing in terrible form versus Sergio Mora, looked more like spectacle than sport in challenging Pacquiao.

Similar grumbling is hard to come by here. In the absence of the mega-fight, fans await a summer with two very good ones. Welterweight, aside from the top two, is a shallow pool right now. Undefeated Mike Jones and Kell Brook aren’t quite ready for prime time. Victor Ortiz and Andrew Berto, despite an injury delay, still appear headed to a rematch.

Cotto and Bradley were better choices, given all considerations, than any of those foes.

By consensus, they represent the best of the bookends surrounding 147 lbs. The divisional ratings at BoxingScene, ESPN, Boxing Monthly, Ring Magazine, and FightNews are all in agreement. At Jr. Middleweight, Cotto is numero uno. At Jr. Welterweight, Bradley is top dog. Let the anticipation build.

Let there be anticipation.

Cotto-Mayweather is a long time coming. When Mayweather went on his first lengthy vacat…err, retirement after his 2007 win over Ricky Hatton, it was with the challenge of Cotto growing. Wins over Carlos Quintana, Zab Judah, and Shane Mosley gave Cotto the look of the threat Mayweather fans and detractors craved.

It wasn’t meant to be then and Cotto’s shine has ebbed. A brutal loss in his first fight to Antonio Margarito, who may or may not have been wrapped foul, and a sizzling early battle turned rout against Pacquiao took his “0.”

Cotto was a defeated man. He has yet to become a broken one. Carefully rebuilding against Yuri Foreman, Ricardo Mayorga, and, with vindication, against Margarito, Cotto has shown he still goes hard to the body, still moves his hands. At 31, he’s less than he was without being spent.

Mayweather, 35 by fight time and with jail time looming, doesn’t look like he’s lost a step. He’s still one of the game’s most complete boxers. However, he is not the offensive juggernaut either Margarito or Pacquiao were. If he can’t back Cotto off, could he find himself in his toughest fight since the first battle with Jose Luis Castillo?

It’s a well-earned moment for Cotto. The third biggest U.S. boxing draw in recent times has given fans a slew of memorable wars and carried himself with dignity and class throughout. Now he gets the opportunity to redefine his career. Given his depth of experience and renewed confidence, Cotto still stands his reasonable chance.

Again, isn’t that what matters.

And then there is Bradley. Pilloried in come quarters for ducking Amir Khan in 2011 (and yes, he did), the reason now comes into focus. Why risk when so much can be gained with patience?

Bradley has Pacquiao. He made the wise move.

He accomplished enough at 140 lbs., without Khan, to make this a mouth-watering match. Put aside some of the problem with headbutts in Bradley bouts. He didn’t need them to go on the road, drop Junior Witter, and win his first belt. He didn’t them to win a unification battle against Kendall Holt. His fists ruled against a still-underrated and then-undefeated Lamont Peterson. While the head was a problem in another unification bout with Devon Alexander, his skill superiority was much more the difference.

Bradley is the sort of fighter who isn’t great at any one thing while being good at lots. His hand speed is world class, he mixes up his offense, and he’s smart in the ring. At 28, he enters the younger man with far less wear on his tires. It’s hard to miss that the Pacquiao offensive juggernaut has slowed since a far more physical battle with Margarito than most realize.

Bradley has enough ingredients towards an upset to make an upset worth pondering. Timothy Bradley?

Reasonable chance.

And, to top it off, both matches are fresh. While it may not have come on the precise best day for both, Mayweather-Cotto is still a missing jewel in this era. Some harped on Oscar De La Hoya-Fernando Vargas when it was made in 2002, the thinking being Vargas was already damaged goods. They got a fantastic fight by night’s end.

Pacquiao could have taken a fourth fight with Juan Manuel Marquez after their narrow third (and second, and first) and it would have been okay. It’s been done though and the hope for a conclusive ending remains unlikely. We don’t know what Pacquiao-Bradley will look like yet. We haven’t seen what Pacquiao versus a young, prime, undefeated tiger looks like, period, in years.

Short of “Money,” Team Pacquiao has taken the best fight available.

Chances are, all will resume chatter about when “The One” will happen sometime around June 10 if not May 6. So be it. For now, there is plenty to celebrate in two quality matches featuring the biggest stars American boxing has to offer.

It matters. To see it otherwise is unreasonable.