Don't Cry for Cotto

By John James: I had granite-chinned Margarito winning on points. I was confident in his stamina and work rate, more so than Cotto's signature skill. So I was surprised by the boxing clinic taking place in my living room those early rounds. Cotto bobbed and weaved and slipped. He landed straight shots to Margarito's head, established the jab and shot in and out of corners..

Cotto had found a way to neutralize Margarito's considerable height advantage, his relentless plodding, his incessant pounding. Cotto, it seemed, could tame the beast. But by the sixth round Cotto's expression told a different story. He got caught in the corners. His punches couldn't slow the charging bull. Cotto looked tired, like he was hanging on.

Margarito lands from all angles and never in the same place. Worse, he doesn't stop throwing and moving forward. For a sport that has lost audience and is considered out of touch, uninteresting and downright corrupt, Margarito's the kind of lunch pail fighter that can spark a wel-spring of renewed interest. He doesn't take opponents out quick. He tires them, makes them want to quit. So in retrospect I wish the end had come quicker, and I don't agree those who have questioned Cotto's spirit because he took a knee in the eleventh. The knee had everything to do with Margarito, a game warrior and the incarnation of Hagler, Duran, Benvenuti and Monzon - men willing to walk through fire to win the title – much less with Cotto's heart.

I have no doubt Miguel Cotto will bounce back. The real question is whether he'll become a different fighter. He needs to if he wants to scale the heights of an increasingly competitive Welterweight division. I'm reminded of Sugar Ray Leonard's magical bout with the Marvelous One. Even Leonard had to come up for air, and when he surfaced in the middle rounds, he took a beating. But Leonard dug deep into his champion's heart, summoned the strength to flurry, duck and shimmy in and out of the spaces where Hagler's onslaught couldn't be found. If there's a comparison to be made between the two fights, Hagler Leonard can teach Cotto a lesson about ring generalship. Those who feel Hagler won at least credit Ray for his discipline and for outhustling one of the most feared boxers of his generation and the man who tamed the middleweight division for ten years. Miguel Cotto, and those who in hindsight have said the fight was a mismatch, should remember those early rounds. And they should remember too that up until the tenth round, Harold Leterman had the fight even.

Critics have blamed Cotto's poor conditioning for the loss. I would argue Cotto's ego played as much of a role in defeat. When it surfaced, as it had in his previous annihilation of Alfonso Gomez – a poor tune up for the Margarito fight and one of the more painful mismatches the sport has ever produced – it was his downfall. Cotto, in my mind, simply lost heart and should have kept to the strategy he crafted for those early rounds. Blame aside, though, credit Antonio Margarito's pressure.

Miguel Cotto, ego in check, chin and heart healed, will once again find his way to the top. And Bob Arum would be wise to make act two happen, sooner rather than later.

Article posted on 05.08.2008

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