As we move away from a fight weekend that consisted of both career-ending and career-changing performances headlined by Ricky Hatton's ninth round knockout loss to Vyacheslav Senchenko and Robert Guerrero's impressive unanimous decision victory over Andre Berto, we head toward another weekend where there is a good chance more careers may be impacted after the final bell rings. Miguel Cotto attempts a fifth title reign in three weight classes this Saturday at Madison Square Garden against unbeaten but relatively unknown WBA light middleweight champion Austin Trout to be aired on Showtime at 9pm (ET/PT).
The comeback was short-lived for Hatton who, after a three and a half year layoff with battles against drugs, alcohol and depression, promptly announced his second retirement from boxing after suffering a crushing knockout loss courtesy of a left hook to the body by former welterweight titleholder Senchenko last weekend. It was the 34-year old Englishman's first career loss in the United Kingdom and likely will be his last, much to the dismay of the 20,000 faithful Hatton fans who gathered at the Manchester Arena.
It was also the last fight for 36-year old Carlos Quintana, who announced his retirement following a fourth round TKO loss to rising prospect Keith Thurman last Saturday night. Quintana was in survival mode after being knocked down in the first round before Thurman, who moved up from welterweight to light middleweight for this fight, diligently caught up with him and pummeled the Puerto Rican with several unanswered punches. With this victory, the undefeated Thurman registered his eighteenth knockout in nineteen wins and opened the eyes of many observers who may have previously overlooked him. While it remains to be seen how the 24-year old Thurman will fare against more durable light middleweights, he has made the division all the more interesting over the long-term.
Guerrero has also made his respective division all the more interesting. Amassing six world championships (including three interim belts) in four weight classes wasn't enough to place Guerrero in the conversation of top tier fighters. With the marquee fight he had been lacking now finally under his belt and two solid consecutive victories at 147, Guerrero becomes a serious threat within the welterweight division after out-muscling and outworking a supposedly bigger and stronger Berto over 12 rounds.
It is now Austin "No Doubt" Trout's turn to gain some notoriety as he takes the big stage for the first time against an elite fighter, making his Madison Square Garden debut in front of several thousand rabid Cotto supporters this upcoming Saturday night. Many fans got their first glimpse of Trout (25-0, 14 KO's), who might very well be the least well-known undefeated U.S. champion, against Delvin Rodriguez on a Showtime televised quadruple header in June amidst talk that he was being considered a potential opponent for WBC champion Canelo Alvarez.
Although Trout won a lopsided unanimous decision against Rodriguez, it was a rather uninspiring effort given what was at stake for him at the time. The speedy and skillful southpaw seemed content to coast and feint his way to a safe unanimous decision victory as opposed to pressing on the gas and throwing in combination to put away a stationary and tentative opponent.
Trout was not given the shot to unify titles with Alvarez, who instead fought the grossly overmatched Josesito Lopez, but is now going up against four-time world champion and battle-tested Cotto (37-3 30 KO's). Even though Trout is the defending champion in this scenario, making his fourth defense of the title he won almost two years ago in Mexico, it is he who is being given an opportunity here. It is a career-changing fight for the 27-year old New Mexico resident, even if he should lose in impressive fashion.
“I’m trying to be established, I don’t want to be anonymous anymore,” Trout says. “I’m praying for a satisfying performance. I don’t want to lose my undefeated records. The powers that be may not want me in the game because I’m a thorn in the side. They didn’t let me in; I had to climb through the window.”
While Trout has almost nothing to lose as he attempts to pry open the window, Cotto might be seeing it starting to close on him should he be unable to defeat this opponent soundly. It is not expected to be a career-ending point for the 32-year old Cotto, but an unexpected loss to Trout would certainly change a few things for the Puerto Rican star.
Coming off a highly emotional redemption stoppage victory over nemesis Antonio Margarito last December, Cotto gave Floyd Mayweather Jr. a far tougher battle than many anticipated heading into their mega-fight this past May. The strategy to try and smother the pound-for-pound king with a close inside fight worked to a certain degree for Cotto. However, he was unable to land a sufficient amount of clean, damaging blows to win the contest and was effectively countered by Mayweather, ultimately losing a wide unanimous decision.
It will be interesting to see if Cotto will employ the same strategy against Trout, who relies on movement, elusiveness and counterpunching, or if he will make adjustments and revert to the well-rounded boxer-puncher style that helped him hold a world title every year since 2004 and win 16 of the 19 world championship bouts in which he has fought since first strapping on the WBO light welterweight belt over eight years ago. Although Trout has an age (5 years), height (2 ½") and reach (5") advantage, one may have to question just how much Cotto has left if he is unable to successfully impose his will and talents on the inexperienced and untested Trout in a venue where he has never been beaten in seven fights.
When negotiations for a rematch with Manny Pacquiao fell apart this summer, Cotto instead opted to fight Trout for far less money. A loss on Saturday night will not only deny Cotto a second reign at 154-pounds but it will compromise his leverage for a future bout with Pacquiao. However, it might make him a more appealing option for Alvarez, assuming Cotto's pride can accept the role he would play in such a match-up to further groom the Mexican star.
“Everyone will see the best Miguel Cotto ever on Saturday,” predicted the immensely popular Cotto.
As unlikely as it may seem, we might instead find out if we have already seen the best of him.
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