KAMEGAI COMES FOR WAR

Thank­fully, May­weather-mcgre­gor is not the only show in town, writes Paul Wheeler

Boxing News - - Contents -

In his likely penul­ti­mate fight, Cotto faces off against an all-out ag­gres­sor

THIS FIGHT HAS GONE CRIM­I­NALLY UN­NO­TICED

WITH all the hul­la­baloo sur­round­ing a cer­tain glo­ri­fied ex­hi­bi­tion that takes place in Las Ve­gas on the same night, the likely penul­ti­mate bout of a fu­ture Hall of Famer’s ca­reer has gone crim­i­nally un­no­ticed.

At the Stub­hub Cen­ter in Car­son on Satur­day (Au­gust 26), Puerto Ri­can icon and former four­weight world cham­pion

Miguel Cotto takes to the ring for the first time in 21 months. Hav­ing signed a deal with Golden Boy Pro­mo­tions ear­lier this year, the plan is for the 36-year-old to com­pete just once more af­ter this week­end – De­cem­ber 2 has been pen­cilled in for Cotto’s farewell fight (see Talk­ing Point and side­bar).

With such lim­ited time left to watch one of the sport’s true no­ble war­riors in ac­tion (Box­na­tion tele­vise in the UK, while HBO broad­cast in the US), it is a real shame that many peo­ple will in­stead tune in to the money-mak­ing, bravadoblurt­ing cir­cus that is Floyd May­weath­er­conor Mcgre­gor.

Cotto, 40-5 (33), had orig­i­nally been sched­uled to face south­paw slug­ger James Kirk­land in Fe­bru­ary, only for a bro­ken nose sus­tained dur­ing spar­ring to rule Kirk­land out of con­tention. Miguel then parted ways with pro­mo­tional com­pany Roc Na­tion Sports, lead­ing to a re­union with Golden Boy, whom he had worked with in the past. Fel­low GBP fighter

Yoshi­hiro Kamegai – a crowd-pleas­ing ag­gres­sor like Kirk­land – is the man who will op­pose Cotto in Cal­i­for­nia.

Kamegai, 27-3-2 (24), may not be held in high es­teem by the purists, but what the 34-year-old Ja­panese does guar­an­tee is ac­tion and en­ter­tain­ment. At this late stage of Cotto’s dis­tin­guished ca­reer, a

re­lent­less, come-for­ward com­bat­ant could be able to ask some ques­tions of the vet­eran.

“I fully un­der­stand who I’m go­ing to be in the ring against, but Cotto’s record and his­tory won’t mat­ter once we’re toe to toe,” Kamegai stated. “I’m look­ing for­ward to giv­ing fans the kind of ag­gres­sive fight that they’ve seen from me be­fore.”

The back-and-forth bat­tles that Kamegai is re­fer­ring to in­clude a thrilling unan­i­mous points de­feat to ex-twodi­vi­sion world ti­tlist Robert Guer­rero in June 2014, as well as a hel­la­cious split draw with the war­mon­ger­ing Je­sus Soto Karass in April last year. In a re­turn with Soto Karass five months later, Yoshi­hiro dom­i­nated his old foe to earn an eighthround re­tire­ment vic­tory.

This re­match suc­cess – cou­pled with his fan-friendly style – is what has earned Kamegai a shot at Cotto and the va­cant WBO su­per-wel­ter­weight crown. While it is the Sap­poro na­tive’s first crack at global hon­ours, Miguel has cap­tured five dif­fer­ent world ti­tle belts over the years – WBO su­per-light­weight, WBA and WBO wel­ter­weight, WBA su­per-wel­ter­weight and WBC mid­dleweight.

De­spite the WBC mid­dleweight cham­pi­onship be­ing up for grabs in Cotto’s last three out­ings, none of them were ac­tu­ally con­tested at the tra­di­tional 160lbs. At a catch­weight of 159lbs in June 2014, the Caguas res­i­dent re­tired then-mid­dleweight leader Ser­gio Mar­tinez at the be­gin­ning of the 10th round. A year later, former uni­fied world ruler Daniel Geale was stopped in four at 157lbs, be­fore su­per­star Canelo Al­varez unan­i­mously outscored Cotto in a com­pet­i­tive and high­qual­ity clash at 155lbs in Novem­ber 2015.

Hav­ing not fought since his ad­mirable show­ing against Canelo, this ex­tended hiatus may prove ben­e­fi­cial af­ter a long, hard ca­reer, or al­ter­na­tively, it could make it more dif­fi­cult for the old warhorse to shed his ring rust. Kamegai is two years younger than Cotto, and has been more ac­tive in re­cent times, yet the gru­elling en­coun­ters he has been in­volved in do not bode well for his longevity in the sport.

Cotto’s 16-and-a-half years in the pro game may have left his war-torn skin prone to swelling and cuts, but they have also pro­vided him with in­valu­able ex­pe­ri­ence, es­pe­cially at the elite level against es­teemed op­er­a­tors such as Shane Mosley (w ud 12 – Novem­ber 2007), Manny Pac­quiao (l rsf 12 – Novem­ber 2009) and May­weather (l ud 12 – May 2012). Add this to the fact that he also has leg­endary trainer Fred­die Roach in his cor­ner, and the daunt­ing na­ture of Kamegai’s task is starkly ap­par­ent.

‘COTTO’S HIS­TORY WON’T MAT­TER ONCE WE’RE TOE TO TOE’

The East Asian is ex­pe­ri­enced him­self, though nowhere near Cotto’s cal­i­bre. The duo both pack power and pos­sess tons of tough­ness and re­silience, but there is a dis­tinct dif­fer­ence in size be­tween the two men – Kamegai holds the ad­van­tage in both height and reach. How­ever, he of­ten ne­glects his long jab in favour of war­ring on the in­side, where he un­leashes loop­ing right hands, hooks to the body and twofisted as­saults.

Kamegai will con­stantly stalk Cotto, which could play into the favourite’s hands, as he is adept at dic­tat­ing the pace from the out­side with his fan­tas­tic left jab. A tena­cious yet el­e­gant boxer-puncher, Miguel uses smooth and sprightly foot­work to as­sist both his de­fence and at­tack. With plenty of snap and speed in his shots – es­pe­cially his honey punch left hook – he ap­plies in­tel­li­gent pres­sure and se­lects his com­bi­na­tions wisely.

As game and gutsy as Kamegai is, there is a dis­par­ity in class be­tween the two fight­ers – some­thing that will man­i­fest it­self dur­ing their matchup. It is pos­si­ble that Kamegai could be pulled out by his cor­ner or the ref­eree late on af­ter ship­ping too many clean strikes, but a wide unan­i­mous de­ci­sion win for Cotto is the more likely out­come.

THE VER­DICT Cotto needs to tri­umph in or­der to set up a fit­ting fi­nale to his ca­reer later this year.

Photo: TOM HO­GAN/HO­GAN PHO­TOS/GOLDEN BOY

TALL OR­DER: Kamegai has a height ad­van­tage over Cotto, yet he is still up against it

Photo: BRYAN PEREZ/MC PRO­MO­TIONS

GOT THE T-SHIRT: Cotto is vastly ex­pe­ri­enced at the high­est level

Pho­tos: TOM HO­GAN/HO­GAN PHO­TOS/GOLDEN BOY

FACE OFF: Cotto [left] and Kamegai look for signs of weak­ness in each other

FIRST TI­TLE TRY: Rios gets his maiden shot at a world crown

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