GUESS WHO’S BACK

With one eye on the exit, Cotto thumps game Kamegai

Boxing News - - Contents - Kieran Mul­vaney

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]

Photos: JAKE ROTH/USA TO­DAY SPORTS

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]

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