By Vinny “Glory Days” Lucci
OK fight fans I’m here to shed the light and handicap the upcoming catch weight bout between former middleweight champion Miguel Cotto and former contender James Kirkland. When you see descriptive words in first sentence like “catch-weight” and “former” it’s dead giveaway someone’s picking on the cherry tree again. When you see the words “pay per view,” buyer beware.
On paper this is a fan friendly matchup of two gents whose styles will mesh to give their target audience an entertaining bout and most likely go the distance. What’s problematic is that Cotto will be coming off 15 months of ring rust surpassed only by Kirkland’s 21, like two Tin Men from Oz left out in the rain. Worse yet, last time we saw poor Kirkland left for proverbial dead in a heap courtesy of a Canelo Alvarez right hand.
Don’t despair. If there is anyone who could shine light on why this scrap is a good comeback for both it’s your truly, not the promoters.
Recent history: Both men last entered the ring in pursuit of taking down PPV king Canelo Alvarez and both exited with a loss. Miguel’s pride was left intact having done well enough to believe he should have won. (He lost! Decision was fair, but review the fight and he did an admirable job on many levels) His counterpart James was lucky to have not been carried out on a stretcher. The knockout loss was more than completely brutal, it was KO of the year. Cotto was defending the belt he won from long reigning champ Sergio Martinez who like so many, fought gallantly one fight too many. He entered the ring a handicap with badly damaged knees which after a double career of soccer and boxing, finally wore out. Not much of a guarded secret Freddie Roach Cotto’s trainer jumped at the chance of exploiting the weakness. Just previous to this bout, Kirkland foolishly ignored advice from trusted allies and elected to go to the dance without his trusted trainer Anne Wolfe. Somewhere in the abyss of brain fluid, James indulged himself into the fantasy of thinking he could knock Canelo cold by jumping on him quickly putting him to the test. It would have been easier to reach into a crocodile’s mouth and pull teeth with a pair of pliers.
Ancient history: Miguel has been fighting since 2001 where he started out at junior welterweight and was known for his killer instinct and wrecking ball left hook. His record stands at 40-5, 33 KO’s. This champion win or lose is destined for hall of fame with a resume that’s over flowing with champions and contenders. The aforementioned Martinez and Alvarez, then add Austin Trout, Floyd Mayweather, JR., Antonio Margarito, Ricardo Mayorga, Manny Pacquaio, Joshua Clottey, Shane Mosley, Zab Judah, Paulie Malignaggi, Demarcus Corley and Randal Bailey.
Kirkland’s thoroughbred is razor thin with nary a recognizable name in sight. His resume is 32-2, 28 KO’s. Seems impressive enough if not for the lack of star power on ledger.
The particulars: Cotto is 5’8” with a 67” reach. He’ll be giving up an inch in height and 3 inches in reach to Kirkland. The matchup pits the always entertaining duel of Orthodox vs Southpaw with Cotto fighting from the traditional stance. Miguel has won belts in four divisions including light welterweight, welterweight, junior middleweight and middleweight. Kirkland has yet to win a major title by any of the recognized alphabets. He did win a continental light middleweight title which carries the same amount of clout as an expired credit card.
What to look for: While Miguel was known as a bruiser who would wear you down with left hook assaults he has been transformed into a brilliant boxer with smooth fluidity under the watchful eye of hall of fame trainer Freddie Roach who has bonded with his fighter and fine-tuned him in hopes of making his defense stellar and keeping Miguel on top for a few more years.
Miguel now boxes on his toes with beautiful lateral movement resting flat footed only to throw leather before exiting the pocket with the grace of an Olympic skater. He does not run. The transformation of skills has been breathtaking and should never be taken for granted what he has accomplished. Miguel tucks his chin in well under a high guard. He uses his shoulders to protect his chin and minimizes mortal combat.
At 36, he has surprising spring in his legs and only rests when out of range by lowering his guard just long enough to give his arms a quicker breather. He deftly defies logic and uses every square foot of canvas to orchestrate a battle plan that emanates from poetry footwork that beguiled even Canelo from landing combos. The new version of Miguel is better suited for the twelve round limit and he won’t be drawn into a shootout unless he draws first blood and hurts his foe.
His jab is still formidable especially when he doubles up on it and his hook has lost nothing with maturity. Against Canelo, he was able to demonstrate the ability to cut the ring and change directions with equal abandon. This flow of movement has forced his opponents to lower their punch output while in pursuit of their elusive adversary. His ring generalship and boxing IQ are without question, superior as he has laced up against some of the best legends of his era.
James falls short in almost every category by comparison except for power and heart. Let it be noted that Ann Wolfe has returned to his corner by request and you can be sure she will have him properly trained and motivated. James only two losses came when she wasn’t training him, most recently for his last bout where Canelo nearly beheaded him. Which leaves one to wonder if in this bout it will matter either way.
Kirkland lacks defense while on a single minded trajectory of kill or be killed. He lives for “Tysonesque” bull rushes inside the gate while he often neglects balance and squares up to launch grenades with both hands. Against Alvarez, this proved to be a suicidal kamikaze mission. Against Cotto, he will be swinging for the fences in an attempt to slow down the frustrating panther like aggression. Should Ann elect to have James box, she will be giving away the only wing and a prayer he has, a lucky punch.
The fight: Takes place on February 25th at The Ford Center at the Star in Frisco Texas. HBO PPV picks up the venue as last entry of Promoter Roc Nations three bout deal with Cotto that guaranteed him fifty million. While it will be entertaining from first bell this bout clearly demonstrates the need for the network to underscore what went wrong in 2015 and start the rebuilding process now.
This contest should have been on cable, not the pay per view arm where Miguel has a good following. Between inactivity and no title at stake the fans are being robbed and Cotto loves to play the ace card where he claims he is the “A” side to the promotion. This is a comeback bout, not a headliner and there is an excellent chance the bout loses money. I have implored fans to learn how to live stream off internet and boycott these self-indulgent money grubbing promoters who don’t care about the quality of production.
The long layoff surely helped Kirkland clear the cobwebs but more importantly it allowed Miguel time to rest and fight on his own terms. The advantage here goes to the former champion as he’ll be able to sharpen rusty tools as opposed to James trying to sharpen ones he never possessed to begin with. Wolfe has her hands full and predicted fans will tune in to see a knockout either way. That won’t be in Freddie Roache’s playbill unless the opportunity presents itself and James wears himself down. Cotto will be content to box every round putting each one in the bank while getting himself ready for a final assault on the game in the next year or two.
James best shot is to catch Miguel cold and trap him in a corner in first or second round. Once Cotto has established range with his jab and found the pace suitable for his footwork, all hope for Kirkland will be lost. Considering Cotto withstood the bombs of Alvarez for 12 rounds by taking enough momentum off every punch to keep the nail biting threat a boxing match it’s impossible to imagine James getting lucky with a Hail Mary punch. Kirkland won’t find Miguel, a willing grappling partner nor will he be permitted to exchange like a heated sparring match between stable mates.
Cotto’s superior skills will negate Kirkland’s southpaw attack and nullify his advances and forward combat. Early odds at contract signing favor Cotto as a 5 to 1 favorite. There is nothing behind the scenes brewing to indicate an upset. Kirkland’s heart and determination will keep fans riveted in a heated attempt to stay competitive.
Prediction: Cotto by unanimous decision. The star from Puerto Rico will outshine his American counterpart whose nickname the “Mandingo Warrior” will be hard pressed to win rounds against a superior boxer and no experience at this level to turn the tide. Cotto will not look for the knockout unless he can set it up or a mistake presents itself. Canelo allowed himself to be hit strictly to draw Cotto into a gunfight he was convinced he couldn’t lose but try as he might, Alvarez couldn’t get Cotto down. It will be interesting to see if the layoff effects James enough to where he runs out of gas as the final rounds approach.
Wishful thinking….. Gennady Golovkin is scheduled to face off with Daniel Jacobs this March and Golden Boy Promotions is under heavy fire to secure a fight of the year match against “GGG” with their man Alvarez in the fall. Having ducked “GGG” once while he was the lineal champion it would be an outstanding trifecta if Golovkin could secure a defense in between against Miguel.
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