GUESS WHO’S BACK
With one eye on the exit, Cotto thumps game Kamegai
Miguel Cotto wins a sixth world title by bludgeoning Yoshihiro Kamegai
MIGUEL COTTO took one step closer towards retirement and to starting the countdown to his inevitable Hall of Fame admission with a comprehensive unanimous points victory over Yoshihiro
Kamegai that was at once even more dominant and yet more fraught than the wide scorecards might indicate.
Cotto, from Caguas, Puerto Rico, asserts that he will close the book on his magnificent career after a 47th and final professional contest; but before he could reach that last hurrah he needed to get back in the ring, having been out of action since losing his WBC middleweight championship to Canelo Alvarez in November 2015. A plan to meet hard-hitting but paper-chinned James Kirkland back in March was not met with widespread enthusiasm, and ultimately fell through when Kirkland, as is his wont, underwent training camp drama. After some consideration, Cotto switched his attention to a fighter who might in many ways be Kirkland’s polar opposite.
Whereas Kirkland has one punchpower, Kamegai attacks with relentless energy and overwhelms opponents with a fusillade of seemingly never-ending blows. Most significantly from a boxing point of view, while Kirkland’s chin is easily dented, Kamegai’s appears to be filled with cement.
That last point is significant, because if there’s one thing that the Texan and the man from Tokyo have in common, it’s an alarmingly leaky defence. According to Compubox figures, entering his vacant WBO super-welterweight title tilt against Cotto, Kamegai’s opponents landed on average more than 29 shots per round and 43 percent of their power punches. It was more of the same against Cotto, who threw 839 punches in total – including 238 jabs and 601 power punches – and landed 339, 88 and 251 respectively.
While Kamegai threw plenty of punches of his own, and never stopped trying, he lacked the fundamental capacity to set up his attack in any meaningful way. That much is highlighted by his own punch stats, which reveal that while he threw 693 total shots, just 135 of those were jabs, of which he landed a grand total of 11.
It looked at times as if Kamegai was attached to Cotto with a self-retracting cord: Cotto would stake out a position in the ring and then Kamegai would fly towards him in a straight line until he was so close he was practically wearing the Puerto Rican’s skin. But although he would open up with punches when in close, his extreme closeness to his opponent smothered his assault. Furthermore, he frequently paused between arriving in Cotto’s wheelhouse and uncorking his first blow, granting Cotto – covered up behind a high guard in his familiar, slightly forward-leaning crouch – plenty of time to fire off bone-rattling combinations.
This, frankly, wasn’t the kind of contest that lends itself easily to a round-byround recap. There are only so many ways to write variations on ‘Cotto lands a left hook and Kamegai’s head snaps ➤
‘I THINK IT’S ENOUGH. ONE MORE IN DECEMBER, AND WE’RE DONE’
sideways.’ Over and over it happened: Cotto, simultaneously patient and aggressive, slicing through Kamegai’s semblance of a defence and exploding short, accurate punches to his head, which snapped violently back and forth with almost comically exaggerated effect.
But it would be brutally unfair to belittle what Kamegai brought to the table. His chin is a marvel of reinforced construction, for one thing, an edifice of almost supernatural sturdiness. His heart and stamina also are immensely deserving of praise: this is a man who maximises his abilities through sheer will and effort, who runs towards challenges rather than shirks from them. His might not be a skillset to hasten the purist’s pulse, but his application is extraordinary, and it’s impossible to take your eyes off him. He is value for money personified, and it seems unlikely that many of those who roared and cheered every time his head spun round like a cartoon character would not pay to watch him again.
If all the above sounds backhanded and condescending, it is not meant to. The simple truth is that Kamegai has his level, and that level is one in which he goes life-and-death in back-and-forth battles against the likes of Robert Guerrero and Jesus Soto Karass. There is absolutely no shame in that; that makes him, frankly, a pretty fine prizefighter. But against a genuine world-class talent such as Cotto, a man who has won world titles in four weight divisions, who has cemented his place as one of the greatest boxers in Puerto Rican history, earnest endeavour, endless stamina and a chin of concrete simply aren’t enough.
But oh, how he made Cotto work. As impressive as the veteran looked with his precision power-punching and unchanging, calm demeanour, he will have needed every ounce of his strength and conditioning to resist Kamegai’s constant advances. It is a testament to his continued skill and talent that he was able to so coolly blast his way through his opponent’s incoming artillery even as the shells kept detonating all around him. From first bell to last, even as his foe launched wave after wave of suffocating assault, Cotto was rarely if ever troubled, consistently demonstrating the confident, almost arrogant demeanour reminiscent of his pomp. So comfortable was he that it is a bit of a challenge to see how Zac Young was able to find two rounds to score for Kamegai in his 118-110 card. Pat Russell had it 119-109, and Robin Taylor saw it as 120-108. The referee was Lou Moret.
Afterwards, Cotto said he recognised around the fifth round that, no matter what he threw at Kamegai, he was not going to be able to stop him.
“He is a tough fighter, a tough opponent,” he said. But he remained resolute that the Japanese would be the penultimate opponent of his career. “I am 36 already, 37 on October 29. I think it’s enough. One more in December, and then we’re done.” In the co-feature, Mexico City’s Rey
Vargas was rarely troubled in maintaining his unbeaten record against fellow 122-pounder Ronny Rios. Using lateral
‘HE IS A TOUGH FIGHTER’
movement and a constant blur of straight punches, set up by an extremely busy jab, Vargas simply had too much class for the nonetheless game Rios, from Santa Ana, California. That said, it wasn’t always the most electric of performances, and the Stubhub crowd occasionally let its ill-feelings be known. Rarely can a boxer have thrown close to 1,000 punches, won a unanimous decision (115-113 on the card of Eddie Hernandez Snr, 118-110 from both Alejandro Rochin and Tom Taylor) and yet left an audience feeling somewhat underwhelmed. It was skillful without being passionate – but yes, skillful it undeniably was.
Rios, after all, is no mug. Since what appeared at the time a shocking 2014 upset to Robinson Castellanos (which has since been put into perspective by the fact that Castellanos has revealed himself to be far better than was suspected), Rios had been on a five-fight win streak. But Vargas was able to use his height and reach advantages to considerable effect, gliding around the ring in the early going and peppering Rios with his left jab, which he followed up repeatedly with booming overhand rights. The Californian soon grew wise to the latter punch, however, and was able to step back out of range whenever he saw the Mexican cock it.
Bit by bit, Rios managed to close the distance on his longer foe, possibly sneaking the third round as he pinned Vargas to the ropes, even as the defending WBC super-bantam champ showed his comfort with the situation by repeatedly beckoning his foe towards him. Rounds four through seven were tight, alternating between Rios throwing big hooks in close and Vargas circling him and popping him with jabs and straight rights, but the eighth indisputably belonged to Rios, who backed Vargas into a corner, landed two right hands to the body and then whipped in a left hook that buckled Vargas’ legs. Vargas held on, however, and survived the round, and went into cruise control for the rest of the bout, shutting Rios out over the final third and easing to the decision. The referee was Raul Caiz Snr.
THE VERDICT Even as he eyes the end of his career, Cotto is as imperious as ever.
WARLORDS: Kamegai finds a nugget of success [top left], but for the most part the fight consists of Cotto hammering him with every shot in the book [above] to win his sixth world title [left]
HONEY PUNCH: Cotto lands his excellent left hook on Kamegai
AND STILL: Vargas [left, on right] uses his range to see off Rios and retain his WBC super-bantamweight championship [above]