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June 17, 2005
World Boxing Organization junior welterweight champion Miguel Cotto (24-0, 20 KO) is still celebrating his ninth-round TKO win over his former amateur nemesis Muhammad Abdullaev (the 2000 Olympics gold medallist at 139 pounds), but that doesn't mean Cotto's people aren't plotting his next move.
Cotto's promoter, Bob Arum of Top Rank, dropped a bomb on boxing reporters at the post-fight press conference following Cotto's victory when he revealed that he'd like to see Cotto fight Oscar De la Hoya next. Arum, in that way promoters have of grabbing the brass ring, even offered a date (Nov. 12 of this year) for said match-up.
It's a scene we'd all like to see, even though the very idea of a fight between the two flies in the face of all boxing logic. Logic, of course, has little to do with boxing. Boxing is not about what fight would be good for a fighter or what fight is mandated by a boxing organization. Boxing is about making money, so fights are made on the basis of how well they might sell on TV, particularly on pay-per-view TV.
"There has been talk about De la Hoya and if they can make the fight, I'm willing to fight him," said Cotto, who is coming off his third successful title defense after stopping Abdullaev with 2:03 remaining in the ninth. "I'm all for it. I'd love to fight De la Hoya. But if it doesn't materialize, I'll take on the rival that Top Rank selects next."
A fight versus De la Hoya would mean a move up in weight for Cotto, who has campaigned his entire pro (and amateur) career at 140 pounds. De la Hoya lost his last fight at middleweight (160), getting knocked out in the ninth round by Bernard Hopkins last September and has said he'll go back to 147, the weight at which he fought Felix "Tito" Trinidad.
The economic success of the Trinidad-De la Hoya fight back in 1999 should not be overlooked here. Their September 1999 fight is still on the books as the fourth-biggest boxing payday in pay-per-view television ($62.4 million). It was the first non-heavyweight fight to draw that kind of revenue and set an industry gold (or Golden Boy, if you will) standard.
De la Hoya still gets a lot of the credit for the financial success of that bout, even though he was deemed the loser (majority decision) by the judges. But according to HBO figures, De la Hoya is HBO's golden egg-laying Golden Boy. In seven pay-per-view fights prior to the Trinidad bout, he generated $150 million in revenue. Not that Trinidad should be left out of the equation. His loss to Bernard Hopkins drew $20.4 million in pay-per-view revenue.
Arum obviously sees the financial potential of a Cotto-De la Hoya fight. Arum knows Mike Tyson is no longer a heavyweight draw, and his loss to Kevin McBride last Saturday night was the final death knell, despite the perverse amount of media coverage it generated (Tyson, even looking as bad as he did Saturday night, elbowed Cotto right out of the sports pages with his post-fight retirement announcement).
Arum is also aware that De la Hoya is still a draw, despite his loss to Hopkins. He certainly knows Cotto's marketing potential. He knows that Trinidad is out of the picture (retirement) and that Cotto could step up. That is one reason he had the Caguas native fight in New York's Madison Square Garden (New York being home to 4 million Puerto Ricans, the same number as live on the island). It was no accident that Arum put Cotto on HBO, a chance to see the young fighter for "free" in the hopes that in the future, fans will pay to see him on HBO's pay-per-view.
Furthermore, Arum orchestrated De la Hoya-Hopkins, corralling the Philadelphia native in a way that even Don King couldn't (Hopkins has a four-fight deal with HBO for 2005-2006). Finally, even though De la Hoya is no longer under Top Rank's management, the two reportedly maintain close ties, opening a door for Cotto.
As I said before, De la Hoya might not be the most logical step for Cotto, who had a door opened wide for him at 140 with Kostya Tszyu's loss to Ricky Hatton June 4 (Tszyu quit after the 11th round). The junior welterweight scene is not shaping up neatly at all. If the sport's promoters had anticipated a Tszyu victory to set up a future fighter versus the winner of the upcoming Floyd Mayweather Jr-Arturo Gatti (the WBC champ) matchup, they were disappointed. But the fans won't be. Newly crowned IBF champ Hatton is a tough fighter (maybe even a bit much for Cotto just yet) and the Gatti-Mayweather fight (on pay-per-view) promises to be a big draw. The 140-pound scene offers plenty for Cotto, who could take a stab at unification before moving on.
Or not. It's no secret in Puerto Rico that Cotto has trouble getting down to 140 for fights. His uncle and trainer, Evangelista Cotto, has repeatedly said that eventually Cotto will move up in weight class, although he could not say precisely when. Fighting De la Hoya would be a perfect way for Cotto to test the waters at 147. With the blessing of the WBO, the two could fight a non-title matchup.
If nothing else, it will give all of us something to talk about now that Trinidad has officially retired.
Gabrielle Paese is a sports reporter in San Juan. She was the 2000 recipient of the Overseas Press Club's Rafael Pont Flores Award for excellence in sports reporting. Comments or suggestions? Contact Gabrielle at email@example.com.
Her Column, Puerto Rico Sports Beat, appears weekly in the Puerto Rico Herald.