Boxing


Cotto vs Foreman: Foreman Is No Slugger, But Is Cotto Now A Catcher?

Miguel CottoMatt McGrain: Yuri Foreman (28-0) is the first Orthodox Jew to lift a world-title since Jackie Kid Berg edged out “Mushy” Callaghan some eighty years ago, and if he successfully defends his WBA light-middleweight strap against Miguel Cotto (34-2) this Saturday, he may be the first ordained Rabbi to ever hold such a title.

“I’m about a year-and-a-half away,” says Foreman. “People might find in scripture: “Don’t hit your fellow man”, but in Judaism there can be loopholes, and legally you can find a way.”

A pragmatic man of true faith then, a rare thing and wonderful thing indeed. Foreman is likely to need both pragmatism and faith if he is to triumph over Cotto, ostensibly his first world-class opponent, but the form Cotto brings to the ring is one of many open questions making this fight so difficult to call. There are more intangibles to be unwound here than might appear in any three fights. Unpicking them is difficult, but the confusion about the eventual winner makes for a pleasant change from appraising the seemingly one-sided glorified exhibitions often served up to us by greedy promoters in the early part of this century. Foreman-Cotto is the real deal..

Essentially, Foreman is a mover, a mobile boxer with very good feet and equally good sells, moving an opponent onto his shots, then moving off again, turning his opponent one way, before taking the opposite route to escape, often winging across a sharp right hand or his much-admired jab on the way out. This is certainly the way for a non-puncher to fight Miguel Cotto. Although an organised mover with good technical footwork, Cotto, certainly since his bad beating against Antonio Margarito - which we’ll get to in a moment - takes time to re-set, presenting an opponent with good foot-work and good attention to the detail time to find the exit. On the face of it, this gives Foreman a serious style advantage, but there is reason to look the other way, too. As I’ve said, Cotto is balanced and organised. He is also not one to chase an opponent around the ring. Against Jennings, when he saw his man getting away from him a little bit, he allowed it, he didn’t go bolting onto a counter, he didn’t try to smother a man who was already gone. He made small moves in the dead-centre of the ring and made to cut off the next spot. Cotto has exceptional awareness of the ring’s dimensions and this speaks of his wider economy. He doesn’t throw needless punches - against Jennings he landed well over 50% of his power punches - and his own jab is a mean weapon, not as defining as Foreman’s perhaps, but more sickening, and every bit as useful.

Secondly, the fight takes place on in the real world, not on paper. Foreman, in discussing his fight with Jesus Soto Karass (tough, but with little mobility) talks of trying “to take advantage of what he lacked”, and of his wider style says “I’ve always tried to hit and not get hit, that’s been the dominant factor in my boxing”, so it seems clear to me that, in spite of his more aggressive outing against Santos in his previous fight, Foreman is going to revert to type here. He’ll try to keep out of trouble, move Cotto onto his shots and control him with the jab. But inevitably, Foreman will be cornered, will have to fight up close, and like every Cotto opponent, will have to earn the Puerto-Rican’s respect, or find himself on the wheel. Can Foreman do this? Perhaps not. “I’m still trying to find out what my mean streak is. It’s a work in progress” says the New York resident, who began his boxing education in the Soviet Union at the age of 8 and continued it in Israel at the age of 11. Inside is where that lack of a mean streak may tell. Foreman, perhaps unfairly accused of owning a “jab and grab” style, is good at tying his man up in close and speaks of the good sense in doing so. He is quite right. But tying up Cotto inside might be more difficult than tying up Karass or Anthony Thompson. The former welter and light-welter strap holder still possesses one of the best left-hooks in the game, and whilst Miguel himself is tested by fire, Yuri is yet to absorb the punches of a legitimately world-class opponent…ostensibly world-class opponent.

So, what of Cotto? Does he still have the goods? Or have they been beaten out of him. Opinion seems to be divided on this key issue. Boxing Columnist Doug Fischer questions “what state of mind Cotto is in,” recounting having seen the ex-champ “pretty wasted in a bar at one of the host hotels in Dallas after the Cotto-Pacquiao fight. My guess is that he was drowning out his emotional pain, he’s been through a lot lately.”

Unquestionably, Mr.Fischer is right, Cotto has been through a lot. He took a terrible beating from a smaller fighter, a serious psychological wound for a tough-guy pressure-fighter like Cotto to absorb. It is also the case that his father has recently passed, and that he has split from long term trainer, who is also his uncle. I sympathise too with Mr.Fischer’s speculation as to Cotto’s state of mind - but I do stress that it is speculation. None of us can know Miguel Cotto’s exact frame of mind coming in. How badly life’s woes and how badly this second crushing loss has affected him mentally is something we’re just not ever going to really know. My own guess is that they will not be a factor. Cotto is a professional. He prepares professionally and he boxes professionally. He has taken on board, in Manny Steward, one of the most professional trainers in modern boxing, and from Manny himself there is nothing but praise:

“I didn’t make any changes, just subtle changes. I added a bit more experience to the camp…[Cotto’s] boxing has been superb. We’ve all been impressed.”

On the one hand, we shouldn’t expect to hear anything but positive words coming out of a trainer’s mouth pre-fight, but on the other, Manny stresses that he is happy with what he is seeing coming in - Cotto’s professionalism appears to have remained in tact. But what of the physical harm done? Against Jennings, Cotto appeared a little slower getting off than had previously been the case in the wake of the awful beating he absorbed at the hands of a possibly tooled-up Antonio Margarito. In with the leaden-legged Clottey, he seemed quicker once more, but appeared to gas, and squeaked home against a limited fighter in what was seen as some as a controversial decision. After this comes another terrible beating against Manny Pacquiao, where once again, Cotto occasionally struggled to re-set in time to get off. Steward again: “Anytime you are coming in with a fighter that has had some very rough fights you are concerned with the physical damage as well as the mental damage. Some guys, their co-ordination and reflexes are totally shot from the combination of the tough fights and emotions. But I did not see that from Miguel.”

Of course, seeing it in sparring and seeing it in an actual fight are two different things. In my opinion, Cotto has never really shrugged off the affects of the first destructive beating he took against Margarito. In every fight since then, he has betrayed physical shortcomings that I did not see before. I find it difficult to believe that the Pacquiao beating, no kinder than first against Margarito, will have no physical affects at all - and this is not a tune up, this is a fight for a belt against a coming man with youth, freshness and a style advantage on his side. Not least of all, Cotto is fighting at a new weight for the first time. Will he feel the extra pounds on his legs? What about from the punches of his opponent? Will his punch-resistance, questionable mobility and stamina all endure the move up unaffected? These unanswerable questions are enough to make me eschew a pick altogether, but in times of trouble it’s always possible to go with your gut - and my gut says Cotto in a very close fight. My gut is often wrong, but it says that Cotto, though past his best, needs to be overwhelmed to be beaten, and although that’s possible for Foreman’s level of fighter now, Foreman doesn’t have the style to do it. “He can beat Cotto if he moves, he can’t stand in the middle of the ring with him” is the opinion of Foreman’s manager, Murray Wilson, and I agree that this is the way Foreman should fight, but my guess is Cotto is still the same destroyer of old against such fighters, that he will catch Foreman often enough with good punches that he gets the nod on points. Cotto is New York’s most watched fighter of this past decade and at Yankee Stadium thousands will roar him on. This, combined with the Steward factor, neutralise Foreman’s intangible advantages and helps Cotto home to a disputed split decision.

Should Cotto win, the winner of the Chavez-Duddy fight is supposedly being lined up for him - so arguably he has put the title-fight before the tune-up.

Should Foreman triumph, a distinct possibility, then expect a certain Freddie Roach to express an interest.

Article posted on 02.06.2010



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