In today’s era of alphabet-soup insanity, it’s often difficult to truly point to the top fighter in each division. Undisputed champions are nearly unheard of now and in most divisions, four or more separate fighters have organizational endorsements for their championship claims.
Lacking a true, unified world champion such as existed prior to the formation of the WBA and WBC in the early 1960s, most often, the best claim to true title status is a lineal claim. A lineal champion can trace his lineage back through the opponent he beat to earlier, lineal champions. The lineal champion is the man who beat the man who beat the man.
Few world title claims have more surface credibility than Miguel Cotto’s lineal claim at middleweight. Cotto beat Sergio Martinez last year. Martinez beat Kelly Pavlik, who beat Jermain Taylor, who beat Bernard Hopkins. Hopkins had become the lineal champion at 160-pounds by beating every single fighter with a belt, thus earning a true, undisputed claim to the throne.
Since’s Cotto’s title traces that directly to Hopkins, Cotto has to be recognized as the true champion at middleweight.
However, at a certain point, even a solid lineal claim to a title grows weak if it’s not defended. Cotto’s TKO over Martinez last year was a sensational performance and historically important, as it established Cotto as the first-ever four-division champion from Puerto Rico.
Unfortunately, since that great night, Cotto has been sitting on the belt. Meanwhile, undefeated WBA middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin has run his KO streak to 20 straight fights. Any title at middleweight that is not defended against Golovkin at this point is a meaningless claim.
Frankly, I’m not even anxious to see Cotto fight GGG. Cotto is a former light welterweight and welterweight. His title victory at middleweight is largely a historical anomaly in my view. Martinez fought Cotto because he wanted an opponent who would provide him with a pay-per-view salary in what could very well be his last fight.
Martinez was 39 and coming off from multiple surgeries in the past two years. He had been lucky to escape his native Argentina as the champion in his previous defense against Martin Murray. Cotto delivered an excellent game plan and deserved his victory. But it’s naïve to believe he beat the same Martinez who handled Pavlik.
Cotto is an aging legend who has been through some wars and is extremely small for the middleweight division. A fight with Golovkin would be an unnecessary risk to his health when he is at a point in his career where he should be looking to secure his future.
So I would never fault Cotto for avoiding GGG. I don’t think most fans would fault him for it. Unless he avoids fighting Golovkin while still clinging to his claim that he is the true, lineal champion at middleweight.
Cotto is set to face former champion Daniel Geale later this summer. That looks like it could be a good fight, but Geale is also the same man Golovkin walked through last year, knocking him out in Round 2.
If Cotto is going to hold with his charade of being the true champion at middleweight, he can’t do it while defending against a guy who was just smashed to pieces by the true No. 1 contender.