Cracking The Philly Shell: Why Miguel Cotto Has the Arsenal to Beat Floyd Mayweather

By Boxing News - 03/20/2012 - Comments

By Patrick White: Popular opinion has it that World Boxing Council (WBC) Welterweight Champion Floyd Mayweather Jr. is all but guaranteed to beat WBA Super Welterweight Champion Miguel Cotto when the two meet in the squared circle on May the 5th at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. In stark contrast to these sentiments, I think that Cotto has a particularly good chance of beating Mayweather decisively by unanimous decision or even knockout.

The reason for this centres on the fact that Cotto’s highly effective jab has the potential to seriously compromise Mayweather’s philly shell defence. The philly shell is the defensive posture in which a fighter holds his lead-arm across his lower torso – so that the tip of the elbow of his lead arm points forward – and rests the glove of his backhand on, or just beneath his chin. Like all the defensive postures – the peek-a-boo and cross-arm guard are examples of others – the philly shell has strengths and weakness. One especially salient weakness of this stance is that any boxer assuming this pose is vulnerable to an opponent with a quick and powerful jab. When confronted with such a punch directed at his head or upper torso, the boxer assuming this defensive posture will be forced to bend awkwardly away from the punch whilst his feet remain largely stationary. This is because the relatively low position of the defence will mean that the boxer will not be able catch the shot on his gloves or move away on foot, because the punch is too fast, and will not be able to allow the punch to strike him, because the punch is too powerful. This awkward bending back motion will then leave the philly-shell-style fighter vulnerable to a follow-up attack, as the boxer will have elongated, and therefore exposed his lower torso, and because the boxer will – until he straightens his posture – be temporarily fixed to the canvass or reduced to performing small jumps backwards. This awkward position will then make the fighter extremely vulnerable to body shots, as his opponent can move into the pocket directly after opening him up with a jab, and deliver punches to the boxers midsection.

This weakness in Mayweather’s defensive system is well demonstrated by his bout with Oscar De La Hoya. During the beginning of the 7th round De La Hoya was able to effectively crack Mayweather’s defence with a series of well-timed consecutive jabs to Mayweather’s face and upper-torso. A sequence of punches that caused Mayweather to bend his upper body backwards (in the way I described above) and drove him to the ropes, were De La Hoya executed a (relatively) successful flurry of power shots to Mayweather’s midsection. Speaking immediately after this exchange esteemed boxing trainer Emanuel Steward commented: “that is the key to Oscar’s aggression, is the jab, because that will make Mayweather bend back, twist his body and then he [De La Hoya] is effective after that”. Meaning that, in line with the above analysis, De La Hoya’s jab will function to set-up his offence by causing Mayweather to move his body into a vulnerable position.

For some reason however De La Hoya did not consistently throw the jab in his bout with Mayweather and did not throw another sequence of consecutive jabs for the rest of the fight, despite his then trainer Freddie Roach advising him to do so. (At one point in the fight Bernard Hopkins even stood up from his ringside seat and implored De La Hoya to “jab”). If De La Hoya had used his jab more I think that he would have one the fight. He would have more consistently opened up Mayweather and driven him against the ropes, were he could have gone to work landing powerful hooks to Mayweather’s body.

The same also holds for Miguel Cotto, as he possesses an extremely powerful, quick and adaptive jab, and is a highly effective body-puncher. The quality of his jab is primarily determined by the fact that Cotto is what is known as an “inverted southpaw” – meaning that he is a left handed fighter operating out of an orthodox stance – and as such his stronger left hand is his lead hand, and therefore the hand that delivers his jab. The effectiveness of Cotto’s jab is especially evident in his fight with Shane Mosley, wherein Cotto repeatedly landed clean, effective jabs on a prime condition Mosley – jabs that played an instrumental role in him winning the fight and which promoted one commentator to state that, “I am very surprised by the effectiveness of Cotto’s jab so far”. The quality of Cotto’s body punching is particularly apparent in his match with Carlos Quintana when Cotto knocked his opponent down with an extremely impressive left hook to the body – a punch that Quintana was unable to recover from, despite managing to beat the count, and which lead to him being knocked out several seconds after rising from the canvass.

To recapitulate the above sentiments: Miguel Cotto has a very good chance of beating Floyd Mayweather because the combination of his excellent jab and devastating body punching has the potential to penetrate Mayweather’s otherwise virtuosic defence.

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