The bettors are favoring Canelo, who has youth and heat on his side. He’s a bona fide star at 25, and in this era of pushing-40 champs like Mayweather and Pacquiao, to say nothing of the ageless Bernard Hopkins, he could still have another 15 or even 20 years of stardom ahead of him. The Spanish-speaking world loves him, especially his native Mexico, and if someone would just get him Rosetta Stone in English for Christmas, he could be the kind of champ who holds court on talk shows, gently poking fun at himself to wild applause. You can just picture him playing Hungry Hungry Hippos with Jimmy Fallon or reading mean tweets about himself. And if all of that sounds like a load of hype with little tether to how he comports himself in the ring, well, that’s true. But he’s a star in the ring, too. His flummoxing by Floyd Mayweather in 2013 could have stalled his rise, but instead has been folded into his ongoing narrative as a still-young, still-hungry, still-learning fighter who gets appreciably better with every fight. One might protest that his subsequent victories against Alfredo Angulo, Erislandy Lara, and James Kirkland were lopsided, or at least matched in his favor, but that’s only in hindsight. Canelo proves himself anew with every fight, outthinking, outmoving, and outpunching all comers.
But then there’s Miguel Cotto. Ten years older than Canelo, he is simply one of the greatest fighters of his generation, Puerto Rican or otherwise. His 2009 loss to Manny Pacquiao is a marvel of heart and blood. A pair of losses in 2012 (to Mayweather and Austin Trout) stalled him for nearly a year, but soon he came roaring back with the help of trainer extraordinaire Freddie Roach against Delvin Rodroguez and Sergio Martinez, culminating in his thorough rout of Daniel Geale last June. And perhaps you’d like to quibble here, too, that Rodriguez/Martinez/Geale were easy matches. Perhaps they were, but even if that were true, it would only mean that this second act of Cotto’s career was Remarkable rather than Astounding.
If you focus too closely on Cotto’s age and higher loss rate, and ignore the renewed power and precision of his last two years, you do so at your peril. And if you dwell on Canelo’s hype, or his overwhelmed performance against Mayweather two years ago, while ignoring the growth in skill and intelligence he has displayed since then, you do so at your peril. So who will win? Honestly: we all win.
This is the fight we want. This will be the fight we all unreasonably hoped May-Pac would be. May-Pac was inevitably about the closing of a chapter in boxing history; after six years of teasing and false starts, it finally happened as the penultimate fight in each boxer’s careers. And while we hoped that would inspire both men to go all-out for victory, a la Rocky IV, it fizzled and bored, a la Rocky V. What was sold as the Fight of the Year (if not Century) turned out to be just another Mayweather clinic.
That won’t happen again this time, because a loss on either side won’t mean shit in the long run. A Cotto loss won’t diminish his standing as one of the greats of this young century, and a Canelo loss will be all but forgotten by the time he retires, ten/fifteen/twenty/twenty-five years from now. Over the last few years, partly thanks to Mayweather’s obsession over his undefeated record, partly to drum up excitement for a sport with a rapidly declining fanbase, boxing has been conditioned to attach apocalyptic stakes to nearly every fight: Beyond the subtextual threat of literal death in the ring, even a single loss could mean the end of a fighter’s career. Canelo-Cotto has no such stakes. Both of these men will live to fight and win another day. And while that may seem to drain the drama from this match, in truth it’s incredibly liberating, both for the fighters and for the fans. This is a fight we want to see, that has been made to happen after a certain amount of setbacks, and will be a feather in the cap of both men, regardless of the outcome. This is the future. Forget May-Pac and the hundred bucks you spent on it. The real Fight of the Year happens November 21 on HBO Pay-Per-View.