Cotto’s performance rekindles memories |

Cotto’s performance rekindles memories

Mike Houser

After watching Miguel Cotto dismantle Kelson Pinto over six rounds Saturday on HBO, I was left with a feeling that comes along about as often as a good hair day for Donald Trump.

Short of finding out I have a date with Jessica Simpson, there’s not much else that could give me the same charge or feeling of wanting to wind the clock forward that I got from watching Cotto in the zone.

It wasn’t that I was rooting for one fighter or the other, or that I thought it was a big deal that Cotto won the WBO 140-pound strap. No, what I felt was that same thrill I got when Sugar Ray Leonard turned on the afterburners to win the gold medal in the 1976 Olympics. It was the same shudder I got when Julio Cesar Chavez stopped Edwin Rosario for the WBA lightweight belt in 1987 and when 21-year-old Mike Tyson crushed Larry Holmes in four rounds in 1988.

It was the experience of simultaneously seeing a boxer’s skills culminate like the end of a fireworks display and being struck with the childlike wonder of just how far he can possibly go, how far he can push the envelope in the ring during the course of his career.

With Leonard in 1976, it was the way he let his hands go when he was backed up against the ropes, holding nothing back as he totally committed with a blizzard of lightning-quick punches, his future as secure as the U.S. Mint.

With Tyson, it was like watching the perfect wrecking machine. After he walked through an aged and past-his-prime Holmes, I was left wondering if he could break Rocky Marciano’s 49-0 record.

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But for me, Cotto’s performance most closely resembled that of Chavez when he moved up and dethroned Rosario to improve to 57-0. There were no openings when Chavez threw his punches, but in the fraction of a second it took for his shots to travel the distance to Rosario’s chin or body, the openings appeared as surely as if Chavez had pre-programmed them.

Adding to Cotto’s performance was the way he avenged the two amateur losses he suffered to Pinto in 2000, when he was just 19 years old.

Ask Oscar De La Hoya, who as a pro has yet to avenge his amateur setback to Shane Mosley, how difficult it can be to get revenge.

Cotto’s laser-precision left hooks, uppercuts and right hands rocked and twice dropped Pinto, who is no pushover. Remember, he was 20-0 with 18 knockouts coming into this fight.

Cotto is also a shining paragon of what a great matchmaker can do for a boxer. In 21 fights, Bruce Trampler of Top Rank has expertly navigated Cotto to the point to where he can possibly defeat any boxer in the world at 140 pounds, the strongest division in boxing.

While it wasn’t a perfect performance – Cotto got nailed a few times by some of Pinto’s dynamite rights – it was close enough. In four years Cotto has gone from a fighter with great promise, to a fighter who seemingly promises to be great.

I’m not saying Cotto is or will become great. The term “great” shouldn’t be tossed around as carelessly as a paper airplane, as it was when HBO color commentator Larry Merchant started comparing Mosley with Sugar Ray Robinson when Mosley was still a lightweight titlist.

A lot of things happen on the road to greatness. Cotto already went through one of them in August 2001, when a car accident left him with a steel rod, plates and screws in his right humerus.

Cotto also scaled 154 pounds after weighing in at 140 just 24 hours earlier. It looks like his body is already telling him to move up to 147. This is the same Cotto who got into boxing because he didn’t like being fat, who at the age of 10, weighed 140 pounds. What will happen to his weight if Cotto gets too used to being a titlist?

To see failed potential, one need look no further than once sure-fire 140-pound prospect Francisco “Panchito” Bojado, who got lazy and out of shape before he won his tenth pro fight and has yet to get within shouting distance of a world title shot.

Forget for now the hot air steaming from the pie-holes of Merchant and Jim Lampley, who constantly evoke the names of Wilfredo Gomez and Felix Trinidad when speaking of Cotto and great Puerto Rican fighters.

Disregarding that the not-so-dynamic duo always fail to mention other Puerto Rican greats, such as two-time world lightweight and former world junior welterweight champion Carlos Ortiz, two-time junior lightweight champion Sammy Serrano, former WBC junior lightweight champion Alfredo Escalera, Sixto Escobar, Estaban De Jesus and several others, they even fail to name the accomplishments of Gomez and Trinidad.

Gomez wasn’t just a world champion at super bantamweight, featherweight and junior lightweight: His 17 title defenses, all of which came via knockout, are still a record in the 122-pound division. And Trinidad wasn’t just a welterweight, junior middleweight and middleweight titlist: He had 14 title defenses at 147 pounds.

Cotto has a long ways to go before earning “great” status. He has yet to even earn the best fighter in the division today. Forget the WBO title. Kostya Tszyu is still the division’s undisputed champion. The winner of November’s Tszyu-Sharmba Mitchell fight, regardless of what the sanctioning bodies say, will be the man to beat.

Be that as it may, in my mind there are only four boxers at 140 pounds that have a shot of beating Cotto, 21-0 (17), at this point of his career: Tszyu, Mitchell, Vivian Harris and Floyd Mayweather Jr. Mayweather, a former WBC super featherweight and lightweight titlist, may be the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world.

But Cotto’s only 23. Give him time. Those are all compelling and possible future matchups.

Whatever else he may be, Cotto is one of the most exciting and perhaps the most promising boxer out there today. If he stays hungry and in shape, his potential is seemingly boundless.

Cotto already has a belt, so just give him what he deserves most: Give him a hand for that one night, on Sept. 11, 2004, when he single-handedly blotted out every negative in the sport and gave at least a momentary glimpse at boxing at its best.

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