Cotto-Pacquiao: No Title? No Problem

Columns, News

When the fight between Miguel Cotto and Manny Pacquiao was first announced, promoter Bob Arum mentioned adding a certain element to “sweeten the deal” for Pacquiao. Most assumed that would come in the form of Cotto’s WBO Welterweight title being on the line, despite the bout not taking place at the welterweight limit of 147 pounds. Now that Arum has made it clear that the title will not be up for grabs in November, the fight unfortunately loses some historic significance.

But will that make the fight any less appealing?

Pacquiao was keen on becoming boxing’s first seven-division champion in history, though there’s a lot of room for debate there. He’s won titles from the “big four” organizations (WBC, WBA, IBF and WBO) in four different weight classes, including flyweight, super bantamweight, junior lightweight and lightweight in addition to beating the recognized champion of two other divisions; Marco Antonio Barrera at featherweight and Ricky Hatton at junior welterweight.

In that sense, Pacquiao is a six-division champion to many, but his win over David Diaz for the WBC Lightweight title, for example, can only be taken so far. There were two other champions in the division at the time, WBA, IBF and WBO Champion Nate Campbell and recognized champion Joel Casamayor, both of whom were considered better fighters than Diaz. Still, details aside, Pacquiao has won in countless weight classes, making him the true definition of pound-for-pound.

But trying to make Cotto defend his title in their November fight is where the line needed to be drawn. By refusing to pay the sanctioning fees required to put the WBO title at stake, Cotto, thankfully, has done just that before things really got out of hand.

It should never have been a question of whether or not the belt – and the opportunity for Pacquiao to call himself a seven-division champion – was at stake in this fight. The bout is a catchweight, not a welterweight fight. Sure, it will be contested under welterweight since both men are allowed to weigh in up to 145 pounds, meaning it’s not a junior welterweight nor junior middleweight fight – the divisions immediately north and south of 147 pounds. But since Cotto won’t be allowed to weigh in up to 147 pounds, as welterweights are supposed to be, it never really was a welterweight fight and certainly shouldn’t have been treated like one.

To draw an analogy to one of Pacquiao’s celebrity fans, forcing Cotto to defend a 147-pound belt at a limit of 145 pounds would be the equivalent of telling the Los Angeles Lakers they’ll defend their NBA title against the Orlando Magic, but they can only play Kobe Bryant for a certain number of minutes. It’s changing the rules, and it’s simply not fair to Cotto.

Consider Floyd Mayweather Jr., whose multi-divisional success has fans constantly likening him to Pacquiao. Mayweather has won titles in five divisions without a loss. He didn’t beat the recognized champion in all of those divisions, but he also never put a limit on his opponent’s weight to increase his chances of a win. Imagine Mayweather challenging Oscar De La Hoya for the junior middleweight title and demanding Oscar only weigh in at 152 pounds. It’s a shortcut, and it shouldn’t be allowed.

Beating Cotto at 145 pounds doesn’t make Pacquiao a welterweight champion. If he wanted to call himself a champion there, then he shouldn’t have demanded the fight take place at a catchweight. Obviously, he and trainer Freddie Roach, or at least one of the two, don’t feel confident about their chances fighting a welterweight Cotto. Otherwise, why throw any stipulations on what should have been a truly historic fight? Why not allow Cotto the allotted weight and earn the title the way others have?

Pacquiao and Arum were simply trying to take a shortcut to a fabled accolade, and, by refusing to put his title up for grabs, Cotto cut them off at the pass. If that had been allowed to happen, what would stop Pacquiao from challenging a junior middleweight champion and forcing him to drain himself to 150 pounds while still defending his title?

Enough was enough. It’s the right decision on Cotto’s part, even if it’s unpopular among fans who were buying into the historic angle of this fight.

The advice here? Enjoy the fight and stop worrying about history.

Belts are little more than a bargaining tool in boxing these days anyway. Having a fight labeled a “championship fight” may add intrigue to casual fans and increase buyrates just enough to make it worth the effort, but belts have lost their luster among boxing fans, and it’s been that way for some time. It’s who you beat that matters, not the various belts you pick up along the way. And, with a win over Cotto, Pacquiao’s resume is even further solidified as one of the all-time greats.

Is a title trinket, especially one that Cotto “won” by beating up Michael Jennings, really enough to turn boxing fans off to an otherwise huge event? The answer is a resounding “no.”

Fans will be treated to a real battle when Cotto, one of the top three welterweights in the world, and Pacquiao, the best junior welterweight in the world, clash at the MGM Grand in November. At 145 pounds, Pacquiao will retain much of his incredible speed while Cotto won’t sacrifice too much of his brute welterweight strength. Catchweight translates to middle ground, meaning fans will see each guy as good as he can be without limiting the other too much.

A win over Cotto is huge for Pacquiao, title or no title. He’ll earn a big paycheck and really put himself in the driver’s seat regarding the bigger fight – the one that really matters – against Mayweather, especially if Floyd’s fight with Juan Manuel Marquez in September fails to pull in a comparable buyrate.

And should that fight come to fruition next, well, either fighter would likely trade in all the belts in their careers for a win on that stage – a battle between two of the greatest to ever step in the ring.