Miguel Cotto vs Yoshihiro Kamegai
You could be forgiven for not knowing that there was anything except Mayweather vs McGregor happening last weekend. The Bellator 182 card flew under the radar of almost everyone. Having scheduled the event before MayMac was announced, the Bellator boys found themselves with the catch-22 choice of pushing ahead and getting ignored, or losing face and money in rescheduling. Meanwhile in the boxing world the great Miguel Cotto, now in the twilight of his career, returned after a long lay-off to a rather muted reception.
Yoshihiro Kamegai was reckoned to be a tune-up for Cotto, but few expected the fight to be quite the one-sided pounding it turned into. Through round after round Kamegai advanced—with no jab and no head movement, and often with his gloves down by his chest—occasionally breaking into a jog. The WBO title was on the line in this fight (whatever that means), but Kamegai seemed moved solely by an unwavering desire to be close to Cotto. He did nothing when he was there but eat more blows, yet like a moth to a flame he could not return to Cotto quickly enough when the Puerto Rican great circled away. The punch stats at the end revealed that Cotto had landed two blows for every one that Kamegai did, and while Kamegai did little to test Cotto we did get some looks at Miguel Cotto’s extensive bag of tricks.
Since working with Freddie Roach, Cotto has begun to look a lot more like a fighter in the Roach mould. Every offensive action he takes in the fight is followed, without fail, by a step out the side door. That is simple boxing theory but something that disappears from almost every boxer as the round progresses. What Roach has managed to do with Cotto and Manny Pacquiao is develop fighters who adhere to this through hard twelve round fights. Throughout the bout with Kamegai, Cotto constantly stepped out the side door, circled out wide, pivoted off tightly, and switched direction as Kamegai tried to stick to him.
Cotto is a leftie, as you could probably guess from his famous left hook, and managed to sneak in a few switches into a southpaw stance while circling out. This side skip out of the firing line as an orthodox fighter, then rebounding in as a southpaw off the left foot, was Willie Pep’s favourite: a momentary identity change that results in an unexpectedly stiff left straight.
Pep was all about bouncing, but here Cotto does it with a nice matador-like backwards strut.
Similar in principle but slightly different in execution was the left uppercut Cotto showed. Notice that rather than springing out to the side and rebounding back in, Cotto steps his left foot back, firmly establishing the stance and allowing the hunched Kamegai to walk onto him instead.
Another nice technique that Cotto routinely shows is coiling his trunk and getting onto the ball of his back foot for the left hook, and then shooting a hard jab out instead. By alternating hooks and stiff jabs he could keep Kamegai guessing as the latter simply covered up and walked forward.
The coiled jab (or ‘left cross’ as Archie Moore called it in an interview with Sports Illustrated) was a blow that Cotto was able to sneak in on the end of unsuccessful flurries along the ropes against Floyd Mayweather. Going to his stonewall, Mayweather used the right hand to palm jabs and catch left hooks—Cotto’s wind up had the nice effect of telegraphing the wrong punch, and the additional power on the shot meant that sometimes he could break through Mayweather’s parries and palms. Against Kamegai, Cotto used it nicely while playing the matador. Circling the ring, Cotto would drop into his stance and coil as Kamegai stepped in to meet him, then throw the left hook or left straight. This is a simple double attack but one that should be a staple for a great left hooker.
In The Primer – Mayweather vs McGregor we referenced Miguel Cotto’s use of head position to keep Mayweather out of his usual tie ups. In an age where we despair about the infight dying out, Cotto’s mastery of clinch and counter-clinch methods allows him to get to, and more importantly maintain, inside position when others cannot. Posting the head underneath the opponent’s, or on his lead shoulder, makes it very hard for him to keep a hold and puts the inside fighter in position to dig body shots.
But even the layman can look at that posture and see that the uppercut is a threat. Mayweather began looking for it against Cotto, Canelo landed some corkers on Cotto too. Even the completely outclassed Kamegai landed decently when he caught Cotto hunched over out in the open.
The distance is the subtle difference between the uppercut being a threat or not being worth the effort. When Cotto is out in mid-range and hunched, the uppercut is a threat. When his head is on his opponent’s chest, it is almost impossible to hit him with anything good. For a start it is hard to throw a decent punch directly in front of your own sternum. Then consider that this is not a free punching exchange, the opponent’s head is posted on you and he is using his weight against you, making it harder to get your hips and shoulders into the blow and telegraphing your intentions when you do. Even then, the blow is so short that the padding of his gloves will take much of the force before you trouble his noggin.
The uppercut on the inside is a killer, but the uppercut when an opponent is set up in good inside position is an invitation for the left hook. Famously Joe Frazier drew Muhammad Ali’s long, loopy uppercut over and over in their first match and hammered him in the jaw with the left hook each time. Despite being a short range punch, the uppercut is one of the hardest in the boxing arsenal to stay safe throughout. Through the early going Kamegai kept dropping his hand to and giving Cotto his money punch counter.
On the occasions Kamegai clinched—which he did a strange amount given how much punishment he took to get so close to Cotto—Cotto’s head placement was always on point and allowed him to free his arms and work. But Cotto’s clinch tactics were just as valuable as his anti-clinch tactics and he made Kamegai look clueless there despite an apparent size disadvantage. A simple cross face off the underhook could send Kamegai flying.
A nice way to hurt your man’s shoulder if you’re not a nice guy like Cotto.
As discussed in The Primer – Mayweather vs McGregor, Cotto is often shorter than his opponent and often hunched, so he can’t afford to put up with any of that hanging on the back of the head nonsense. He didn’t need to pick Kamegai up to keep the pressure off his neck and back, he just hit a duck-under and came up behind him.
Many of the best infighters have understood that while the clinch is something to be avoided in order to work, it can also be a better starting place than trying to get to the infight from outfighting range. Rocky Marciano showed this against Ezzard Charles and Archie Moore; sometimes it is better to overshoot and end up in the clinch, then retreat to the infight. Marciano, along with Duran and many others, would duck into the clinch and begin working to free their arms as their opponent lazily accepted the tie up. Against Kamegai, Cotto would lean in and offer the clinch, allow Kamegai to dig for an underhook or reach for an overhook, and blast him with a nice uppercut as he got complacent.
Tactically, the fight never really advanced beyond being the first round. Kamegai never tried anything smarter, Cotto continued moving and firing off combinations, and everyone wondered if this lad would ever fall down. The value of grit or ‘bottom’ as Egan would call it in Boxiana was beginning to show by the end, as Cotto visibly tired simply from putting a beating on this stubborn man. While it won’t be remembered by many, and it certainly wasn’t the Cobb-Holmes like affair it was being likened to by the commentary team, there was still evidence of the brilliant all around technician that Miguel Cotto has grown into over his lengthy career.