by Kieran Mulvaney
The career obituaries for Miguel Cotto have surfaced periodically since 2008, when the possibly tainted fists of Antonio Margarito sent him to his first professional defeat, sixteen months before Manny Pacquiao bludgeoned him into his second career reversal. Back-to-back losses to Floyd Mayweather and Austin Trout last year saw the tombstone carvers readying their chisels anew, but by stopping Delvin Rodriguez just 18 seconds into the third round on Saturday night, Cotto proved, and not for the first time, that rumors of his professional demise remain greatly exaggerated.
Even at the relatively young age of 32 -- a figure that beggars belief, given how many years he has been fighting at an elite level -- Cotto's career is far closer to its denouement than its apogee, and he would surely admit as much; but judging from his performance in front of an adoring crowd in Orlando, there's plenty more life in it yet.
Rodriguez may not be on the level of some of Cotto's most storied opponents, it is true. But you can only beat the man they put in front of you; if he truly has gas left in his tank, Cotto needs to beat such relatively lesser lights comprehensively, and Cotto duly dispatched Rodriguez with an authority and eagerness he hadn't shown in years. From the opening bell, he demonstrated a lightness on his feet and a snap to his punches that suggested his glory days, an impression that was highlighted by the return -- at the request of new trainer Freddie Roach -- to the signature punch that had carried him to such success: the left hook to the body.
Cotto used that punch to tear into the Rodriguez torso from the very beginning, pursuing his opponent like a lion chasing down a wounded gazelle, bullying him across the ring and into the ropes, and using his foe's preoccupation with protecting his body as an opening to land upstairs. One such punch to the head, at the very end of the second round, wobbled Rodriguez badly, and as he came out for the third, Cotto smelled blood.
Backing Rodriguez to the ropes, Cotto landed a right to the head followed by a left that crumpled his man, and as the overmatched Rodriguez sank toward the canvas, referee Frank Santore stepped in and waved off the contest without a count.
Cotto landed 50 per cent of the punches he threw, and 54 percent (47 out of 87) of his power punches.
"It feels good," admitted Cotto to HBO's Max Kellerman. "Getting back to the basics, getting back to the roots."
Asked whether he felt his new charge was now ready for top-shelf opposition again, Roach didn't hesitate.
"Yeah," he said. "Line them up."
Whatever happens from here on out, Cotto is assuredly a Hall-of-Famer. There was a time earlier in his career when observers could only speculate how good he might someday become, much as is the case with Terence Crawford today. Against the previously undefeated Andrey Klimov, Crawford showed again why many regard him with such promise: he moves with a smooth effortlessness around the ring, and he delivers his punches with a relaxed technique that combines accuracy and speed.
At the same time, there is skepticism and frustration, and even as Crawford blanked Klimov en route to an easy-to-score 100-90 points verdict on all three judges' cards, he provided reason for both. Klimov, it must be said, was an awkward fighter of the kind against whom it is difficult to look good; but he was also one who offered virtually no offense. Instead, he bounced back and forth on his toes like a cartoon character, making it difficult for his opponent to land clean punches but in the process throwing few of his own. Crawford raked him with smooth combinations, but there was the sense that he could and perhaps should be doing more.
His corner evidently thought so too, on a couple of occasions beseeching him to step up the pace and walk his opponent down. He responded to those entreaties, particularly in the fourth and seventh rounds when he fought with greater purpose and pressure, but the bouncing Klimov dodged the pressure - and the insults from his own trainer - and lasted the full ten rounds without ever really making an impression on the contest. For Crawford, it was an easy and comprehensive win, if not necessarily a scintillating one; but sometimes, especially for a younger fighter, the win is what matters most.