Cotto will finish what Taylor could not
By Lyle Fitzsimmons
Boxing Contributing Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network)
It's a valid comparison, but perhaps just a touch backward.
When viewing Saturday night's welterweight title fight between Miguel Cotto and Shane Mosley through the prism of the 1990 showdown that pitted grinder Julio Cesar Chavez against Olympic hero Meldrick Taylor, a little care must be taken.
While the clash of styles matching the skillful and shifty boxer against the methodical, punishing body puncher is similar now to what it was then, it's the reversal in ages that could prove decisive when Cotto and Mosley hit the ring in midtown Manhattan.
In their 1990 classic, the younger and more athletic Taylor, then just 23, out-hustled and out-skilled his older foe -- by then 27 and a veteran of 68 pro fights -- through 11 rounds, racking up decisive 6-5, 8-3 and 10-1 edges on the three ringside scorecards.
And if not for a still-debated stoppage by referee Richard Steele with just two seconds remaining in the 12th round, that youth would have been served with two title belts.
Shane Mosley will enter Madison Square Garden with a clear edge in in-ring acumen.
Fast-forward to 2007, and one constant remains.
Speed thrills...but youth kills. And this time, it's with the tough guy.
Though Mosley will enter Madison Square Garden with a clear edge in in-ring acumen, he is, at age 36, decidedly on the short end of the age comparison with Cotto, 27, who's worn down older fighters in Oktay Urkal and Zab Judah in his last two bouts.
Cotto brutally stopped both foes in 11, sacrificing a few early rounds against the 37-year-old Urkal and the 29-year-old Judah before slowing them down with a body attack that eventually shifted north and left each unable to continue.
Mosley, who was 1-4 with a no-contest in six fights from 2002-04, has rebounded nicely since, winning non-descript decisions over David Estrada and Jose Luis Cruz before a pair of TKOs over former junior middleweight champion Fernando Vargas in 2006.
In his last fight, he unanimously outpointed Luis Collazo over 12 rounds in February.
And while it's conceivable the super-talented Californian could stick and shuffle his way to the victory many still argue Taylor deserved, the combination of Chavez punishment and Taylor exuberance possessed by Cotto seemingly give him the best of both worlds when compared to 1990.
Not surprisingly, a confident Cotto sees it the same way.
"On paper this is the toughest challenge of my career, but we are going to have to wait until Saturday to see if it really will be," he said. "I have prepared hard for the last two-and-a-half months to defend my title. And when I leave Madison Square Garden after Saturday night, I'm going back to Puerto Rico with my title."
The Puerto Rican enters as a narrow favorite on World Sports Exchange (wsex.com) betting lines, where it'll take a $160 wager on Cotto to win $100.
A $100 bet on Mosley, meanwhile, promises a $130 windfall if the former 135-, 147- and 154-pound champion is able to score the upset.
"Whoever we have put in front of Miguel, he has fought and defeated," promoter Bob Arum said. "This is Miguel Cotto's time. He has thrilled fans for the last seven years, and this is the biggest fight of this life. We know he is going to rise to the occasion."
Good enough for Bob...good enough for me.
FitzHitz says: Cotto by late-round stoppage.
If incendiary words mean anything, expect some finality soon for a proposed match between Joe Calzaghe and Bernard Hopkins.
Calzaghe, who capped off a dominant 10-year run at 168 pounds with a defeat of Mikkel Kessler last week, was quoted in London's "The Independent" newspaper on Thursday, wondering aloud if the nearly 43-year-old Hopkins "has the balls" to meet him in a prospective 2008 showdown.
Hopkins, a 10-year champion at middleweight before moving up to relieve Antonio Tarver of his recognition as top dog at 175 pounds in 2006, reportedly pulled out of a deal to fight Calzaghe in 2003 due to last-minute financial demands.
"He claims to be a legend, but to be a legend you have to beat the top fighters. Who has he beaten?" Calzaghe said in the piece, posted on the paper's Web site at sport.independent.co.uk. "He should fight a proper fighter who will fight back. Let's see if he has the balls. I'm happy to go over there to fight him. I'll go to Vegas or Madison Square Garden and sort him out."
Now 44-0 after his unanimous downing of Kessler last Saturday at Millennium Stadium in Wales, Calzaghe mocked Hopkins' quality of opposition during the title run at 160, which included wins over former welterweight champions Felix Trinidad, Oscar De La Hoya and Simon Brown, and three defenses against Robert Allen.
Hopkins lost his title by split decision to Jermain Taylor in December 2005 and dropped a subsequent rematch by unanimous decision five months later. He returned to beat Tarver by a wide 12-round verdict in June 2006 in Atlantic City, then topped Winky Wright by another unanimous verdict in a 170-pound "catch weight" bout in Las Vegas in July.
Appearing at a New York press conference for the Cotto-Mosley fight, Hopkins said Wednesday that Golden Boy Promotions -- for which he serves as a regional president -- was in "casual negotiations" with Calzaghe and his camp, led by U.K.-based promoter Frank Warren.
"Out of all the things I have accomplished in my career, that would be super- duper. A profound testimony to the legacy that I will leave behind. You've got to understand at the top of the year I will be 43 years old for a fight of that magnitude against (Calzaghe, who's) dominated for many years with an undefeated record (and) who happens to be a southpaw, which I love.
"It's risky all around the board for everyone. That's what kept boxing alive for over a hundred years."
Elsewhere in the very-nearly-signed-sealed-and-delivered department, it appears Wladimir Klitschko's next heavyweight championship defense will be a title challenge as well.
Widespread reports have the incumbent IBF/IBO belt-holder, widely recognized as the best of a fractured division, meeting WBO claimant Sultan Ibragimov in the first major unification bout since Evander Holyfield (WBA/IBF) fought Lennox Lewis (WBC) for a trio of titles in 1999.
The fight is tentatively set for Feb. 23 at Madison Square Garden.
Klitschko has been inactive since a July 7 blowout of Lamon Brewster in Germany, while Ibragimov defended his title for the first time with a wide decision over a 44-year-old Holyfield last month in Moscow.
"We have to clear up some small things," said Leon Margules, Ibragimov's promoter, in Germany's Die Welt newspaper on Tuesday. "But since all of us absolutely want this fight, we'll make it."
The division?s two remaining champions -- Leg Maskaev and Ruslan Chagaev -- have had their 2007 schedules impacted by injury.
Maskaev pulled out of a planned defense against Samuel Peter in October with back problems and saw the WBC award Peter the interim championship, which he successfully defended against replacement foe Jameel McCline.
Maskaev and Peter are now penciled in for a Feb. 2 date at the Garden.
Chagaev had been scheduled to face Ibragimov in a WBA/WBO unification, but his pull-out due to an undisclosed injury led to Holyfield?s ill-fated try for a fifth title reign. His last fight came in April, when he toppled then-unbeaten Nikolay Valuev via unanimous decision.
The other side of the Atlantic will host a quality title fight for the second straight weekend, this time in the adopted home country -- France -- of WBA/WBC cruiserweight champion Jean-Marc Mormeck.
The 35-year-old, who won back his belts from O'Neil Bell in March after losing them 14 months earlier in New York, will defend again for the first time when he faces London-based slugger David "Hayemaker" Haye at the Palais des Sport Marcel Cerdan in Paris.
Mormeck captured the WBA crown with an eighth-round stoppage of veteran Virgil Hill in 2002 and was 4-0 in subsequent title bouts before the upset loss to Bell on the undercard of Judah's welterweight flop against Carlos Baldomir in January 2006.
He fought once in between the Bell matches, stopping journeyman Sebastian Hill in four rounds while sharing the Cory Spinks/Roman Karmazin junior middleweight championship bill in St. Louis.
Overall, Mormeck is 33-3 with 22 knockouts.
Haye, meanwhile, is 9-0 since his lone career loss, a fifth-round TKO at the fists of countryman Carl Thompson for the IBO cruiserweight title in September 2004.
He's gone the distance just once in the subsequent win streak, shutting out Ismail Abdoul over 12 rounds in July 2006. His last fight was April 27 in London, where he stopped Tomasz Bonin in four rounds to improve to 19-1 with 18 KOs.
Back in the colonies, the weekend?s other title fight plays third fiddle on a loaded Cotto-Mosley undercard in New York that will also feature a non-title 12-rounder between recent welterweight belt-holder Antonio Margarito and veteran Golden Johnson.
Cuban import Joel Casamayor defends his WBC lightweight laurels for the first time when he meets former interim title-holder Jose Armando Santa Cruz, a 27- year-old Mexican now living in California.
A former multi-defense champion at 130 pounds, Casamayor won his first belt at 135 with a 12-round split decision over Diego Corrales in their trilogy finale in October 2006. He'd stopped Corrales in six rounds in October 2003, then lost a 12-round split nod in a rematch five months later.
Another split decision had gone against him in his first title try at 135, when he lost to Jose Luis Castillo in December 2004.
He was 2-0-1 in three subsequent fights before landing the third Corrales match -- fighting to a disputed draw with Almazbek Raiymkulov before stopping Antonio Ramirez and Lamont Pearson.
Casamayor is 34-3-1 with 21 knockouts.
Santa Cruz, now 25-2 with 14 KOs, earned the WBC's interim crown by stopping Chikashi Inada in six rounds in May 2006. He lost it via 10th-round TKO to David Diaz three months later, after building up leads of 88-83, 88-83 and 87-84 on the scorecards.
Two fights since have yielded two wins, including a unanimous 10-round decision over Luis Antonio Arceo in January and a second-round TKO of Dairo Jose Esalas in July.