“What do you expect, one is what one is, partly at least.” – Samuel Beckett, Malloy
Miguel Cotto got off the schneid at the Amway Center in Orlando, Florida, on Saturday night, steamrolling Delvin Rodriguez in three rounds before a crowd of nearly 12,000.
After suffering consecutive losses to Floyd Mayweather, Jr., and Austin Trout, Cotto faced questions regarding how much he had left, and, perhaps more important, just how much he wanted to give. Trainer Pedro Diaz was given his walking papers, replaced by A-lister Freddie Roach, who, like Cotto, has watched his own heyday disappear in the rearview mirror. The marriage of the offensive-minded Roach and the shopworn Cotto has injected some life into the fighter’s twilight run. After Manny Pacquiao ran him through a wood-chipper in 2009, Cotto, Caguas, Puerto Rico, become increasingly reliant on his boxing skills to win fights, tempering the ferocity that typified his destructive craft with some cuter tricks. Was there a seance or two, maybe some dark hours with a Ouija board to go with the mitt work to help conjure up Cotto’s past as he prepared for Rodriguez? Whatever tactics Roach employed, they worked. Roach wanted Cotto to fight. Cotto fought, and Rodriguez suffered the consequences.
Inspired by Roach’s refurbishing wizardry, Cotto, 153, stalked Rodriguez from the opening bell, lashing him with hooks to the body while dismissing Rodriguez’ half-hearted shots with disdain. Never a big puncher at junior middleweight, Cotto’s power also suffered from a lack of conviction: he stopped sitting down on his punches when avoiding damage became nearly as crucial as producing it. Against Rodriguez, however, Cotto brought the heat.
Working to the head and body, Cotto kept Rodriguez, Danbury, Connecticut, a beat behind the abusive rhythm, and drummed whatever flesh Rodriguez conceded. And Rodriguez conceded everything; even a blindfolded Cotto could hit Rodriguez so long as he mixed up his attack. Rodriguez wanted nothing to do with Cotto, who sensed reluctance and went gunning for the kill. As the second round came to a close, two wicked hooks upstairs had a stupefied Rodriguez blinking and shaking his head as he waited for his stool and the one-minute respite.
Unable to evade Cotto, and with the torrent of blows pouring in from every angle, Rodriguez was, to borrow from Armor for Sleep, “in a car underwater with time to kill.” He got off his stool for the start of the third, but a mere 18 seconds into the round was bludgeoned by a right hand and left hook that convinced referee Frank Santore, Jr., to stop the fight. It was a surprising stoppage, but Rodriguez, 154, offered little protest, having done nothing in the previous two rounds to justify fighting more.
The question now is what to make of Cotto’s performance. Following his loss to Trout last December, TCS had this to say about him: “Cotto’s reputation exceeds his ability, and equilibrium between the two is merely a sound beating away.” In shellacking Rodriguez, did Cotto actually widen the gap between his reputation and ability? He impressed under Roach’s tutelage, yes, but he blew out a journeyman. All the talk of Cotto’s phoenix routine is premature—he hit a homerun in batting practice. Granted, that is grounds for lionization these days, and HBO will trumpet this apparent rejuvenation because Cotto, a guaranteed draw, is back under their banner. But no one knows what Cotto, 38-4 (31), has left. Rodriguez barely touched him, let alone hurt him, and the fight was over before any improvements in Cotto’s conditioning were revealed. Cotto is no scavenger, though. He will face a top shelf opponent in his next fight, the type of fighter who will weigh how much of his past he has recaptured, and how much is lost forever. History says the scale should be expected to tip for the latter.
That top-shelf opponent could be middleweight Sergio Martinez. Martinez has been crying about smaller stars not fighting him for years, and he will surely weep tears of joy if presented with a stationary, cash-grab Cotto. If he isn’t spent, Martinez remains too big, too fast, and too powerful for Cotto, who will take the fight despite its hazards because that is what a professional prizefighter does. Cotto is as professional as prizefighters come.
The same can be said of Rodriguez, 28-7-3 (16). He will continue to rough up his peers while coming up short against the best; sweating and bleeding in pursuit of a best case scenario that ends with him being well compensated for getting beaten up.