The "Heir Apparent" Curse

02.03.05 - By Don Caputo: I've come to a conclusion - no fighter is immune to getting knocked out - after all they are only human. Flesh and bone just like the rest of us. Of course, degrees of punch resistance in fighters vary a great deal for which I know there are dozens of physiological explanations and theories. However, if one thing has been proven in over a century of prize fighting it is that anyone can be hurt by a punch they do not see coming; WBO super lightweight champion Miguel Cotto was made all to abundantly aware of this inescapable aspect of his chosen profession this past Saturday night as he was brought back down to earth with not quite an almighty crash but rather an unnerving thump..

Firstly, I'd like to give Cotto a certain amount of credit for overcoming the first serious crisis of his young career, albeit controversially; he was essentially knocked out on his feet for the better part of a round against DeMarcus Corley, courtesy of a southpaw right hook he never saw coming. Simply put, the next big thing was on queer street. As he reeled around the
ring on rubbery legs a collective gasp of horror resounded throughout the Puerto Rican arena, 10,000 jubilant fans had come to see their hero destroy yet another opponent but Corley it seems had other ideas. I can't help but think, had he been a better finisher, he would have stopped Cotto in front of his home crowd.

Think back to Saturday morning, how many of you even thought Corley would be competitive in this one? Cotto losing by knockout was just unfathomable; proving once again that boxing truly is the theater of the unexpected

Now, being that it was Cotto's first experience - in his own words - of being hurt this badly, we should in all fairness be commending him for braving unknown territory, weathering the storm and coming back. But (there's always a but) in this instance I am very hesitant to bestow that kind of praise as from my vantage point it was more a case of him coming through a gentle shower rather than a full fledged storm, due to Corley inexplicably turning down the heat of his attack, more or less allowing Cotto to survive. He let him off the hook.

Please don't get me wrong, I'm not saying he wouldn't of had the fortitude to make it through the tumultuous round had Coley pressed his advantage more, but the fact of the matter is we just don't know one way or the other. What we do know however is that Cotto recovered his senses, seized control of the fight and ended matters soon thereafter. It was clearly a premature stoppage, but the tide had most definitely turned as Corley was dropped by a legitimate punch (as opposed to the bogus count he received in the opening round), and was under heavy fire against the ropes before taking a second voluntary knee to avoid the ensuing onslaught, an action which I can only assume inadvertently signaled his surrender to the on looking (by the way, Puerto Rican) referee who bizarrely waved off the bout.

Was it a horribly bad stoppage? Yes, unquestionably. Could Corley have won though, had he been allowed to continue? I tend to doubt it. After the third round came and went, the fight - surprisingly competitive though it was - only looked to be going in one direction; a Miguel Cotto knockout victory. The erroneous and well publicized weight advantage Cotto enjoyed on the
night was taking its inevitable toll on the brave challenger, who was beginning to wilt. Although the officiating was dubious to say the least, as a neutral observer, I am of the opinion that the referee's premature intervention in actual fact most probably saved Corley from a further torrent of punishment. That's not to say it was the correct call, we all know it categorically wasn't, but the American was ultimately being overpowered and broken down by a dangerously bigger man. He really should have been allowed to battle on though; despite in all likelihood being out of the fight in a scoring sense, Corley still had a legitimate punchers chance in there - sometimes all a fighter needs to prevail!

It seems as though Cotto has been struck by the "heir apparent" curse, the very same one Michael Grant was felled by a few years ago. I know he didn't lose, but his stock has undoubtedly plummeted after this performance. After being hailed almost universally as the next big thing, perhaps even a potential great, Cotto now has a huge question mark next to his name. While his career remains (somewhat shakily) on track, what I saw in that third round does not bode well for him in any way, shape or form; he should not have been that badly hurt by a guy not known for his punch and who he outweighed by an incredible 17 pounds. The fact that he was, well, you have to seriously wonder how he is going to fare down the line against fighters his own size; will he be able to handle their power?

There is of course the possibility that the strain he put his body through in boiling down to the 140 pound limit affected his ability to take a punch, if that is indeed the case then he is putting himself at great risk and should consider almost getting knocked out a wake up call. Those who have his best interests at heart should implore him to move up a weight division or two, for his own safety. Look at Diego Corrales, at super featherweight he was sent to the canvas regularly, but now as a lightweight he appears far less vulnerable; indeed, his punch resistance is much better. Cotto and his team would be wise to take a leaf out of his book.

DeMarcus Corley showed the world he is a very capable fighter. I thought it was deplorable how he was discredited going into this fight, he was labeled undeserving of a HBO appearance and regarded as a total non test for the still inexperienced Cotto. It was totally forgotten that he was himself a world champion not too long ago who had never been stopped. Because he dropped consecutive decisions to Zab Judah and Floyd Mayweather Jr in a pair of high profile fights he was automatically given no chance against Cotto; but what wasn't taken into account is the fact Zab and Floyd both possess extraordinary hand speed with which they simply out sped Corley. He may be bigger and stronger than both of them, (especially Mayweather), but Cotto is on an all together separate stratosphere as far as speed and athleticism is concerned - a much lower one - thus bringing Corley's above average quickness into play.

He also showed he could crack a bit against Mayweather, rocking him more than once in the early rounds of their fight. And after seeing him do the same to the much larger Cotto, his punching power is starting look good and has to be respected. But he also showed on both occasions that he is a lousy finisher, something he needs to improve on. So where does Corley go from here? Like I said, he is a very capable fighter who can still make noise at super lightweight if he chooses, but a move down to lightweight would bring him the most success in my opinion. He weighed in at 137 pounds against Cotto, so dropping a couple of pounds shouldn't be too much of a struggle or leave him drained; why go on in such a talent rich division against naturally larger foes is beyond me, especially when there are so many lucrative and it must be said less dangerous fights available to him at lightweight. A move down is the smart move.

As for Cotto, he has been exposed. Only in that he is not the indestructible force he was being proclaimed to be, which in truth is not necessarily a bad thing. Hopefully he will no longer have to bare the burden of the "heir apparent" tag, for the level of pressure and expectation it brings with it has proven too much of a weight for anyone to carry on their shoulders. Miguel Cotto is still a great young fighter, I hope he works on some of the flaws he displayed and comes back stronger. He is good for boxing.

Article posted on 02.03.2005

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