No cultural event can compare to the mythic grandeur of a big-time prizefight. All sports participates in the heroic, but none so thoroughly embody it like the way a prizefight does. It is brutality transformed into ritual and high art and represents the perfect intersection of humanity at its most primal with humanity at its most disciplined and refined. A championship fighter is an individual who was favored by the gods with astonishing animal gifts and then honed those gifts through a relentless, disciplined program of training and study, all undertaken for the sake of undergoing the ultimate test of the arena.
The showdown this weekend between Miguel Cotto and Saul Alvarez highlights boxing’s dramatic power more than any fight in recent years. Sure, Floyd Mayweather’s easy night of work against Manny Pacquiao last May set all-time records for pay-per-view sales and had every celebrity in Hollywood scrambling to Las Vegas to get their picture taken. And it was nice for younger fans to see how the entire world stops for a great fight.
But Cotto vs. Canelo is the fight that truly demonstrates what a big-time prizefight can be. That’s not to say that it will end up being the best fight of the year, although it has the potential to be. But without question, it will be the more pure expression of all that makes boxing great.
For the sort of mouth-breathing fan who wants a fight to look like rock-em, sock-em robots, this one might actually disappoint. Both men are too smart and skilled to simply wade in and trade without caution. But there’s going to be excitement. Cotto and Alvarez both transition well from offense to defense and back again, meaning that they will see and exploit the chances to score. Both men are physically courageous, and will be willing to take risks. And they are evenly enough matched so that both will need to take some risks, in order to ensure victory.
Two more classic narrative are attached to this bout. Miguel Cotto is an aging legend, a decade older than the rising superstar Canelo. It will be Cotto’s experience vs. Canelo’s youth and hunger.
This fight is also the latest installment in the great Mexico-Puerto Rico boxing rivalry. When Cotto and Canelo climb into the ring, they will both carry the passion of their respective nations. Nationalism in politics is ugly. But in sports, it is exhilarating, and provides the space for mutual respect and appreciation, particularly when the combatants are true sportsmen like Cotto and Alvarez.
This will be a fight that inserts itself into boxing lore.