Welter Wars: A New Hope

The thrust of the following piece is flawed. I’ll concede that before I begin. A post Mayweather era only exists in a world where the Pretty Boy is genuinely retired, like most observers I cannot accept the sport’s most gifted exponent will fail to push his frail hands inside leather gloves at least once more. A man with the self adorned ‘Money’ moniker will find it hard to resist the whisper of the millions his return would generate in 2009. But for now a new Welterweight dawn has broken and boy is it starting with a belter.

Miguel Cotto, the relentless, obdurate, merciless Puerto Rican assassin tackles Antonio Margarito, the tall, angular punching machine – he holds the CompuBox record for punches thrown in a contest – in arguably the most anticipated fight in years.

If the Welterweight division throws up another contest to match the potential intensity of this in the next decade I’d be surprised. In a sport over reliant on fossilised veterans like Bernard Hopkins, Roy Jones and Oscar DeLaHoya, a fight between a Mexican and Puerto Rican in their respective primes requires precious little introduction. Pitching two forward moving punchers, with solid chins, volumes of resolve and ambition and no mean selection of shots, the contest promises to be a beautiful thing.

Beautiful in the way the savagery of the natural world is beautiful. Cotto and Margarito will not be a fight for the artistic or those of a sensitive disposition. If it fails to be anything other than the fight of the year it will be an anti-climax.

True, a degree of shine was lost in Margarito’s defeat last year to fellow bean pole Paul Williams as it snapped his long unbeaten run, aside from a TD to Daniel Santos at Light-Middleweight in 2004, and fuelled suggestions Margarito, as a threat to the likes of Mayweather and Cotto, was little more than a myth. A theoretical creation of the Internet fans, who made Margarito a cult hero as much for his rugged contrast to the two HBO stars as his actual prowess as an elite fighter.

Critics implied only his imposing physiological advantages as opposed to his technique, Margarito is a huge man for 10 and half stone, made him a threat. Resurrection came versus Cintron, a fight in which he survived bombs to prevail and overcome the ghosts of a previous defeat to Cotto’s fellow Puerto Rican. And the lustre of the fight was restored.

Cotto by contrast only enhanced his repute in the same 12 months with victories over Judah and Mosley, the latter with the type of assured performance that underlined his ability and confirmed him as the heir apparent to the departed Mayweather. It has been a studious route to the top. A career that paralleled Ricky Hatton’s own as a Light-Welterweight fledgling before securing the WBO belt at 140 pounds, Cotto has been kept busy by promoter Bob Arum. Deliberately placed in the slip stream of his nation’s existing hero Felix Trinidad and away from the threats of Judah, Hatton, Tszyu and Mayweather until he was deemed ready.

Arum almost waited too long to move the solidly built contender from 140 pounds to 147 as he offered several sloppy, weight affected performances before a renaissance at Welter. It is unlikely he will be at Welter beyond the middle of next year either. One suspects lucrative opportunities at Light Middle with the likes of Forrest, Mora and Duddy – all obtainable scalps on recent form – as well as old-dogs Wright and DLH could tempt Cotto beyond 154 too.

For now he must employ all his poise, tight defence and patience to break down the Tijuana hard head. The consensus theory and the bookmakers’ odds suggest that is the logical outcome. But with the personal and national pride at stake, in front of a packed arena with the adrenalin coursing through his body he may find it impossible to resist fighting Margarito’s type of fight. If he does, it will be a pulsating, ragged fight for survival for both. In that scenario when the last vestiges of strategy and stamina have evaporated it could become a battle of will, resolve and ambition. On such unquantifiable emotive criteria picking a winner is impossible. At 25/1, the fence and the draw looks a nice place to sit.

Of course, if you want Mayweather back. You’ll need a Cotto victory. Then we can all dust off the Hagler v Leonard analogies in the New Year.

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