SI.com's boxing experts predict Saturday's super welterweight title fight between Austin Trout and Miguel Cotto at Madison Square Garden (9 p.m. ET/PT, Showtime). Share your prediction in the comments below.
When Ricky Hatton chose Vyacheslav Senchenko -- a former welterweight champion with one loss on his resume -- for a supposed tune-up fight last week, I was surprised. I’m equally surprised Cotto, with a multi-million dollar fight against Saul Alvarez waiting in the spring, elected to fight Trout, a slick, undefeated champion with a size advantage (5-foot-10) and a strong amateur background.
Trout has not fought the level of competition Cotto has, not even close. But he is young (27) and hungry, and while his win over Delvin Rodriguez last June was a snoozer, Trout did wipe the floor with Rodriguez, a tough customer. Sure, I’m worried that Trout will be overwhelmed by the moment; until you step into the ring surrounded by thousands of fans that are against you, you can’t know how you will respond. But if Trout keeps his cool -- and I’m betting he will -- he has the skills to beat Cotto, who has admittedly lost a little off his fastball. And, like it was with Hatton, it will be just enough to make him stumble. Trout by split decision.
This is a fight that sort of snuck up on everybody. Trout himself has said he was shocked to learn that Cotto had agreed to fight him, given his relatively nonexistent Q rating, as well as his difficult defensive style, southpaw stance, relative youth and size. But despite his surprise, Trout is unlikely to be caught unprepared for the occasion. He knows he’ll be in hostile territory, facing Cotto in Madison Square Garden, where the Puerto Rican hero is 7-0 in his career and always at his best. But Trout has proved he can thrive in such situations: In 2009 he outpointed Nilson Julio Tapia in Tapia’s home country of Panama and last year he beat Rigoberto Alvarez in Guadalajara, Mexico, for the vacant WBA 154-pound title, then went back to Mexico to make his first defense, against Nogales’s David Lopez.
To win against Cotto in the Garden, Trout will have to take more chances than he is used to -- and that may make him a better fighter. Or it may make him more vulnerable. Trout -- along with a lot of observers -- believes he’s catching Cotto at just the right time. But Cotto has the kind of toughness and ring smarts that only come from a long career against first-rate opposition. Trout, as quick and slick as he is, may give Cotto fits for several rounds, but he’s unlikely to hurt him and that will allow Cotto to keep the pressure on and slow the younger fighter down just enough to score big down the stretch. Trout has a bright future, but it won’t be as an undefeated champ. Cotto by unanimous decision.
BRYAN ARMEN GRAHAM
The oddsmakers list Trout as a 2-to-1 underdog, yet the buzz among insiders suggests a 50/50 fight -- an all too rare context for a big-ticket promotion. There will be no confusing the house fighter on Saturday night -- the electrified atmosphere the Puerto Rican icon engenders makes Cotto's fights at the Garden bucket-list-worthy -- but Trout is younger, taller, probably slicker and unburdened by expectation. He may be hungrier, too: Trout came up the hard way, without the aegis of a major promoter, and is determined to make the most of an opportunity he feels may only come once; by contrast, Cotto mentioned thoughts of retirement during Showtime's All-Access docuseries. Fact is, Cotto is a fighter with more ring wear than an ennobling defeat to Mayweather revealed, and Trout is the biggest opponent of the Puerto Rican's career at 154 pounds. The Las Cruces, N.M., native is a tricky southpaw with an excellent jab who can succeed by keeping Cotto on the outside and boxing. Still, it's a major step up for Trout, who's never faced a boxer-puncher of Cotto's caliber. Expect a horse race of a match through the opening two acts, with Cotto's compact punching and big-fight experience making the razor-thin difference in the championship rounds. Cotto by split decision.