Friday January 21st, 2011

NEW YORK -- As news conferences go, this one was great theater. There was Ricardo Mayorga, flanked by the incomparable Don King, teeing off on Miguel Cotto, the man Mayorga will challenge for the WBA junior middleweight title in March. He attacked Cotto's size ("My pants are taller than you") and his hands ("They are like a woman's") and promised to knock out Cotto within four rounds.

"You will be thinking about retiring when I am done with you," Mayorga said. "I will make you think twice about getting in the ring again. Don't let your mom or your family suffer anymore by watching you get in the ring."

If only the fight figured to be this good.

It won't, of course. At 37, Mayorga is little more than a (slightly) mobile punching bag, human chum for name fighters to beat up on. He has never been in a dull fight, but lately has been on the losing end of many of them. He has lost four of his last eight, including knockout losses to Felix Trinidad, Oscar De La Hoya and Shane Mosley.

Yet there he was on Wednesday, making promises everyone in the room knew he couldn't keep about a fight he didn't deserve. It's what Bob Arum, Cotto's promoter, wanted, a fading former star with the juice to sell a few tickets and the chin that's easy to find.

But it's what very few really want to see.

Cotto-Mayorga was not a fight made out of necessity. Cotto is one of the biggest draws in boxing, with a line of would-be challengers that runs around the block. Two, in particular, stand out: Sergio Martinez and Andre Berto. Martinez,'s 2010 Fighter of the Year, is one of the hottest names in boxing and the lineal middleweight champion. Berto is a rising star, undefeated with stiffening power and a welterweight belt around his waist.

Yet neither Martinez nor Berto was ever seriously considered. Arum says it's no reflection on either fighter's abilities but about the cost it would take to get them in the ring. He concedes that Martinez could do solid pay-per-view numbers against Cotto but insists Martinez's asking price was "way too high." Ditto for Berto, whom Arum says wanted $1.85 million of the $3 million HBO offered for the fight.

Was it? Lou DiBella, who promotes Martinez and Berto, doesn't think so. DiBella says Martinez would have taken a Cotto fight for similar money that he is getting to face Sergei Dzinziruk ($1.5 and $2 million). As for Berto, DiBella says the $1.85 million he asked for was for a total package that including site fees, sponsorship and foreign revenue he estimated to be worth in excess of $5 million.

"Bob knows I'm not unreasonable," DiBella said. "He didn't want to fight Sergio. Mayorga comes cheap because of where he was going, and as you have seen at press conferences, he's an entertaining guy."

Cotto can't duck criticism on this either. Sure, it's Cotto's first fight since undergoing shoulder surgery in July, but for a fighter who prides himself on seeking out the biggest challenges, signing off on Mayorga is laughable. It's like Albert Pujols claiming he can hit the best pitchers and then boasting about taking a Triple-A hurler with a straight fastball deep. On Wednesday, Cotto deflected questions about Martinez and Berto as easily as he blocks punches.

Of course, Cotto-Mayorga might be a little easier to digest if it were on a network. But HBO -- which has shown 16 of Cotto's fights -- passed, in part because it had already guaranteed the date to Martinez and in part because it didn't want to put on a pay-per-view card on the same weekend of the early rounds of the NCAA tournament. Arum was offered March 26. He passed, and elected to take not getting the date as a slight that motivated him to move forward with a Cotto-Mayorga, Showtime-produced pay-per-view (price: $49.95), counterprogramming the network on the same date HBO is showing Martinez's title defense against Dzinziruk.

"HBO has lost its way," Arum said. "After what Cotto did for them in terms of ratings, to take that date away from us is something neither he nor I will ever forgive."

Will HBO regret straining its relationship with Cotto? Maybe. Maybe not. But the network already signed on for one of Top Rank's one-sided beatdowns (Manny Pacquiao-Antonio Margarito) and shouldn't lose sleep over not agreeing to another. Because just as Pacquiao's demolition of Margarito was predictable, so, too, is Cotto's wipeout of Mayorga. And in modern-day boxing, where elite fighters generally fight only twice a year, duds like this are simply not acceptable.

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