Miguel Cotto defends WBO jr. welterweight belt

11.06.06 - By Frank Gonzalez Jr.: There were some exciting fights on the menu at Madison Square Garden Saturday night in New York City.

Super Featherweight Kevin Kelley was KO'd by Bobby Pacquaio in four. Pacquaio proved too much for Kelley, who hit the deck twice, the second time from a sneaky body shot that left Kevin unable to continue. It was an impressive display for Pacquaio and an obvious signpost for the aging Kevin Kelley.

The son of Boxing royalty was on display as Welterweight Prospect, Julio Caesar Chavez Jr. improved his record to 26-0, with 19 KO's after scoring a TKO-2 win over unknown, Aaron Drake (10-3, 8 KO's), who was game, but outclassed by the long armed, cool tempered Chavez Jr. Standing at six feet and still morphing from a boy into a man, Chavez Jr. is a bit too tall to stay at Welter very long. Jr. has very good boxing skills and papa's must be real proud..

Veteran Middleweight and perennial stepping-stone, Freddy Cuervas was insulted at the lack of recognition served up by the crowd as he entered the ring to face Irishman, John Duddy, who contributed about five thousand ticket sales and was showered with cheers as he made his way to the square circle. It was a fairly competitive bout with Duddy doing most of the scoring and Cuervas boxing cautiously and countering nicely, but only on occasion. After seven rounds, a considerably bloodied Cuervas was deemed too damaged to continue. Duddy improved his record to 17-0, with 15 KO's. Duddy has good power and the right attitude but he still has some kinks to iron out on defense. He also needs to work the body more if he's going to be a Champion some day.

Notre Dame football star Tommy Zbikowski, now 1-0, with 1 KO, made his debut as a pro boxer taking on Ohio State's Robert Bell (2-3, 2 KO's). Tommy Z's impressive display of quick precision punching in 49 seconds forced the referee to wave it off after a knockdown and a half.

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The Main Event was an interesting battle between unbeaten Jr. Welterweights as WBO Champion Miguel Cotto (27-0, 22 KO's) of Puerto Rico took on the challenger from Brooklyn, Paul Malignaggi (21-1, 5 KO's).

The Fight:

The first round was a long one. At the onset, Cotto's power punching dictated the tempo. Malignaggi was cut over his left eye from what looked like a head butt aggravated by more Cotto left hooks. By the end of the first round, Malignaggi looked en route to being routed. 10-9 Cotto.

Early in the second, Cotto floored Malignaggi early with a left hook but Malignaggi got up and showed a ton of heart as he went to what he knows-stylistic boxing. Paulie kept outside and scored with jabs and follow up right and lefts. Cotto did the most damage with less effort. 10-8 Cotto.

In the third, Malignaggi was out boxing Cotto, who still managed to land the more telling blows. Malignaggi, whose face was starting to swell by his eye and jaw, went to work and outscored Cotto with his jab and quick one-two combinations. Paulie's speedy hands were the story of round three. Cotto didn't do enough and was allowing the momentum to slip from his side. 10-9 Malignaggi.

In the fourth, Malignaggi's confidence was rising as he was beating Cotto to the punch and becoming the matador to Cotto, the bull. Cotto still managed to rock Malignaggi a couple of times when he got inside. Malignaggi scored more often but Cotto scored with more authority. I scored that round even.

The fifth round saw Malignaggi scoring more frequently and Cotto getting more frustrated as he could hardly catch the speedy challenger. The tide had turned and Malignaggi was successfully out boxing the much stronger Miguel Cotto. 10-9 Malignaggi.

Malignaggi was the busier fighter in the sixth, peppering Cotto with jabs and constantly moving out of harms way. Whenever Cotto got close, Malignaggi clinched and constantly forced him to reset. The focus shifted to Malignaggi, whose mobility and quick handedness was getting the job done. 10-9 Malignaggi.

Cotto got more aggressive in the seventh, pressing Malignaggi into the corners and letting loose with the leather. Though Paulie blocked a lot of shots, he was getting cracked enough for his face to swell to a pulp, especially near his right jaw, an indication that Cotto was having the most success with his left hand. But Malignaggi showed true heart and did his share of damage over his much stronger opponent. 10-9 Cotto.

Cotto kept up the pressure in the eighth and was scoring in spots. Malignaggi rallied at times and landed some clean shots that actually looked to stun Cotto a bit. At one point, Cotto landed a left hand and Malignaggi tripped backwards from Cotto's foot position and slipped. It was ruled a slip but it could easily have been ruled a knockdown since there was a punch involved in that loss of balance that saw him Paulie the canvas. Malignaggi gave a good account of himself late in the round, scoring almost at will. A very tough round to score-Even.

Malignaggi was landing the cleaner shots in the ninth when suddenly, the referee, Steve Smoger, halted the action to address loose tape on one of Malignaggi's gloves. The pause helped Cotto as Malignaggi was starting to unleash a crescendo of offense. The crowd booed at the interruption. When action resumed, Cotto was incapable of catching Malignaggi, who bobbed, weaved and popped his jab and little combinations successfully. Finally, Malignaggi stunned Cotto (and the crowd) with a right hand that pushed Cotto backwards. Chants of "Paulie, Paulie, Paulie!" filled the arena. This was Paulie's best round. 10-9 Malignaggi.

In the tenth, the battered looking Malignaggi was in control and frustrating Cotto by beating him to the punch and avoiding his returns. For some reason, Cotto wasn't using his jab much and Malignaggi capitalized on that mistake well. Cotto was off rhythm. 10-9 Malignaggi.

Cotto came on strong in the eleventh, rocking Malignaggi with some clean shots to the face and body. Malignaggi fought like a true warrior though Cotto stunned him twice with left hooks into his already pork chopped, right side of his jaw. Bleeding from his nose, eyes and battered, Malignaggi gave all he had. 10-9 Cotto.

The doctor looked at Malignaggi between rounds but let him continue.

In the final round, Cotto showed what a Champion does in a tough fight as he chased Malignaggi down and dominated the final round. Malignaggi, under pressure, held and often wrestled with Cotto, who banged away at the body and head with no respect for Malignaggi's power or lack thereof. Malignaggi showed a hell of a chin and left a strong impression on the very pro Cotto crowd. 10-9 Cotto.

The official scores were read and two Judges had it 116-111, the other had it 115-112, all for Miguel Cotto, who retained his WBO Title.

Malignaggi lost the decision but won the recognition of fight fans worldwide with his big heart, slick boxing skills and unquestionable bravery under pressure.

I confess, I've not been a fan of Malignaggi. He talks too much trash prior to fights and his lack of professional conduct at the start of fights by refusing to touch gloves with opponents, talking too much crap, etc. gets under my skin. However, Malignaggi is very talented and proved that he's as tough as nails. He will be a very tough proposition for anyone in the top ten of the Jr. Welter division. At 25, he's still on the rise and likely to win a significant title sometime soon. He's got a lot to be proud of about his performance against one of the best in the division.

In contrast to his pre-fight behavior, Malignaggi was quite humble after the decision was announced, saying he'd make no excuses and that Cotto is a very strong puncher and a good fighter. He looked to be holding back the water works during the post fight interview with legendary boxing scribe, Wallace Matthews, who told Paulie that he finished in second place against the Champion, which sounds more noble than, 'you lost.'

Almost shockingly, Cotto spoke English during the post fight interview, giving due credit to Malignaggi, saying he was a very tough opponent. Matthews asked about Cotto's difficulties in making weight at 140 and whether he's ready to move up. Cotto said he is considering a move to 147, which is long overdue. When asked who he wants to fight next, he gave his standard answer, which is, "whoever his team puts in front of him."

Who expected this fight to go the distance? Not me. I figured Cotto would win by KO, somewhere after the seventh but Paulie showed the heart of a "Thunder" Gatti and the skills of a "Sweet Pea" Whitaker. It wasn't enough to beat Miguel Cotto but I seriously doubt anyone who saw this fight will take Malignaggi lightly.

It was a great fight, one that may eventually define both men in the history of Boxing. Too bad a vast majority of sports fans had to miss this fight because it was on Pay-Per-View. How about the fact that Hopkins vs. Tarver was scheduled at the same time on another PPV program? What the hell were they thinking? The Cotto Malignaggi fight should have been available to the general public for free, as it was the kind of fight so chock full of drama that it would easily help increase the fan base of this great, but mismanaged sport.

In closing, I commend both men for a tremendous fight.

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Article posted on 12.06.2006

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