Not since the height of Bernard Hopkins’ 20-fight reign has the middleweight division featured an event worthy of mega-bout status.
A decade since Hopkins’ knockout victory over Oscar De La Hoya and 14 years after Hopkins earned his pay-per-view stripes with a convincing performance against Felix Trinidad, attention again will shift toward the middleweights.
Puerto Rico’s Miguel Cotto and Mexico’s Saul “Canelo” Alvarez will meet in a highly anticipated middleweight title fight Saturday night at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas.
Cynics might point that the bout barely deserves middleweight title designation considering that Cotto and Alvarez have agreed to fight at a catch-weight of 155 pounds, five under the middleweight limit. Nonetheless, Cotto and Alvarez provide the middleweights added relevance.
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Although many boxing experts consider Gennady Golovkin the sport’s top middleweight (the native of Kazakhstan recently crossed into the pay-per-view threshold), Cotto and Alvarez already are established marquee-bout attractions. In the pay-per-view hierarchy of the past eight years, Cotto was considered the sport’s third-highest attraction behind Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao.
Immensely popular in Mexico, the red-haired, freckle-faced Alvarez, 25, proved his crossover clout when his unsuccessful attempt at dethroning Mayweather two years ago generated 2.2 million pay-per-view buys.
“This is a great event for all the fans and for all of boxing,” said De La Hoya, whose Golden Boy Promotions guides Alvarez’s career. “We feel that Canelo and the people deserve the best fights, period. The most important thing is that the fans are very happy with the fight.”
Thanks to his appeal and accomplishments in the 154-pound class, Alvarez earned an immediate title opportunity against Cotto, who won the middleweight belt with a TKO win over Sergio Martinez in 2014. Cotto, a four-division world champion, has made one successful title defense leading into Saturday’s bout.
“We understand, obviously, the magnitude of the fight,” Alvarez said. “We must consume that responsibility with hard training, and we must win the fight.”
A victory and dominant performance can land Alvarez (45-1-1, 32 KOs) a permanent role in the pay-per-view vehicle, typical of Mayweather’s and Pacquiao’s bouts of the past decade.
“All of my fights I learned something,” Alvarez said. “There are some important fights, there are some difficult fights, but with all these combined fights you gain experience, and with that experience, I’m going to display that on [Saturday].”
Cotto (40-4, 33 KOs) rebounded from consecutive losses against Mayweather and Austin Trout in 2012 with knockout victories over Delvin Rodriguez, Martinez and in his one title defense against Daniel Geale. For Cotto, the career turnaround coincided when he hired trainer Freddie Roach.
“I trust Freddie Roach a lot,” Cotto, 35, said. “He has a done a great job with me, and on [Saturday] you are going to see who is going to be the winner, and it’s going to be me.”
Miami resident and Cuba native Guillermo Rigondeaux is a late addition to Saturday night’s Cotto-Alvarez undercard and pay-per-view telecast. Rigondeaux, a reigning 122-pound world champion, will fight Drian Francisco in a scheduled 10-round bout.
Although found on many pound-for-pound best fighters’ lists, Rigondeaux (15-0, 10 KOs) has been unable to land marquee bouts since his dominant victory over Nonito Donaire in 2013.
AROUND THE RING
Rigondeaux’s fellow Miami residents and countrymen, Luis Ortiz and Yunieski Gonzalez, will appear on the same card Dec. 19 in Verona, New York.
Fresh off his third-round knockout victory over Matias Vidondo on the undercard of the Golovkin-David Lemieux pay-per-view telecast last month, Ortiz (23-0, 20 KOs) will face Bryant Jennings (19-1, 10 KOs) for a second-tier sanctioning body heavyweight belt.
Gonzalez (16-1, 12 KOs), victim of a widely disputed decision loss against Jean Pascal on July 25, will fight Vyacheslav Shabranskyy (14-0, 12 KOs) in a scheduled 10-round light-heavyweight bout.
HBO Latino will televise the bouts.
Friday (10 p.m., Tru TV): Gilberto Ramirez vs. Gevorg Khatchikian, 10, super middleweights.
Saturday (9 p.m., HBO pay-per-view): Miguel Cotto vs. Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, 12, for Cotto’s WBC middleweight title; Takashi Miura vs. Francisco Vargas, 12, for Miura’s WBC super-featherweight title; Randy Caballero vs. Lee Haskins, 12, for Caballero’s IBF bantamweight title; Guillermo Rigondeaux vs. Drian Francisco, 10, super bantamweights.