Two Fighters in Search of a Punch: Cotto TKO 10 Hernandez

07.08.06 - By Karl E. H. Seigfried: It’s one thing to watch Winky Wright teach Felix Trinidad the power of the unstoppably accurate jab, but another thing entirely to watch one guy with a pretty good jab take on another guy who’s jab isn’t so good, with neither a power punch between them. At the Coliseo Pedrin Zorrilla in San Juan, Puerto Rico on Friday night, Jose Miguel Cotto won a tenth-round stoppage of Ivan Hernandez in a fight filled with enough exciting, back-and-forth action to fill an entire three-minute round from bell to bell. Unfortunately, the action was spread out over ten rounds, with just a little bit of action in each. In between, there was a whole lotta jabbin’. So, if you’re one of those boxing sages who always laments that the young lions don’t know the value of a good jab, this was your fight. For the rest of us, who sometimes like to see a power punch or two thrown in between the multiple jabs, it was kind of a snoozer..

Cotto is, at 29 years of age, the older brother of the cable television star Miguel Cotto. His rankings for different minor alphabet groups were given in the ring announcements before the match. In his last fight, on April 8th, he lost the WBA lightweight title to Juan “Baby Bull” Diaz in a twelve-round unanimous decision on the undercard of Mayweather-Judah. From Caguas, Puerto Rico, he came into the fight at 27-1 (19) and weighed 138 ¼ pounds. Ivan Hernandez of Barranquilla, Colombia, is three years younger and came in 1 ¼ pounds lighter. His record going in was 24-2 (18).

The first round started slowly, with both fighters seemingly cautious and watching for openings, but the action accelerated slowly yet steadily throughout the stanza. Cotto came out throwing nice jabs, but they were mostly blocked or ducked by the Columbian. Both fighters showed a good defense—Hernandez ducking successfully under Cotto’s rights, while the Puerto Rican relied more on using his elbows and forearms to block. Neither made any strong connects until Hernandez got in with a series of jabs, only to be staggered back by an answering left hook and right combination. Cotto followed up with a right, a series of left hooks to the body and head, and another straight right to the head before both went back to trading jabs. In the last fifteen seconds, there was some good trading at close quarters, and the clinching fighters had to be separated by referee Ramon Solis at the bell.

Cotto opened the second round with double, triple, and even quintuple jabs; when Hernandez tried his own double jab, he was given a straight right for his trouble. No power shots were thrown until Cotto launched and missed a couple of left hooks and a straight right. He still managed to back Hernandez briefly into the ropes to exchange body shots before moving back to the center of the ring for some trading, then returning to two-way jabbing up to the bell.

The third started as a carbon copy of the first two, with Cotto jabbing his way in and Hernandez trying to jab back while mostly backing up. However, Cotto’s jabs were now starting to get between his opponent’s gloves and knocking his head back. Hernandez scored with a nice combination of right and left to the body, followed by a right up top. After Cotto missed a series of big shots, it seemed that both fighters were now trying to land bigger blows, but were mostly missing or being blocked. Cotto landed a couple of good rights to the head, and his jabs were getting through more consistently. In the final minute, both seemed more confident and continued to move in, trading fiercely with both hands in the center of the ring.

In the fourth, both fighters again came out with their jabs. There was some trading, but no real strong shots, as scattered boos could be heard in the audience. Briefly, there was some trading at close quarters at ring center. The two tangled up after Cotto threw a series of ineffectual, pitty-pat rights that almost looked like southpaw jabs. More close trading followed, but neither seemed to have any power in their shots. Hernandez lost his mouthpiece on a left hook that brushed past his face. There was some fierce trading in the final five seconds; if only they could have sustained this level of action for more than the last few seconds of the round, this could have been an interesting fight.

More jabbing opened the fifth round. What were these two fighters so scared of? Tonight, neither had shown any power whatsoever, yet both were as cautious as if they were facing a prime Mike Tyson across the ring. Cotto landed a left hook in a manner that turned it into a push on the back of the head, and Hernandez went down on his knees. When he popped back up, Cotto’s jabs rocked his head back as more boos echoed in the arena. Hernandez managed to get Cotto on the ropes, but couldn’t get any work done. Why not? Two nice rights to the head by Cotto landed, but I started to wonder if this was just a bad matchup of counterpuncher versus counterpuncher. It couldn’t be, though, since neither really came back with definitive answers to the other’s attempted offenses.

Cotto came out jabbing again at the start of the sixth round and grabbed the back of his opponent’s head in one particularly ugly move. Hernandez hung his jab way out in the air, drooping, and was caught with a nice right cross. There was briefly the appearance of trading in a neutral corner, but nothing meaningful was landing. Cotto blocked very well with his forearms in a close, parallel, upright guard, but got himself pinned in the red corner to exchange flurries of body and head shots, some landing. The Puerto Rican escaped the corner, but was quickly backed into the ropes as the two continued winging shots at each other. In the first dramatic moment of the fight, Hernandez was suddenly staggered back and knocked down on his butt from a beautiful, short left hook by Cotto and took a standing eight count to be waved back into action just as the bell rang to end the round.

At the opening of the seventh, Cotto clearly didn’t hear the bell and turned his back on Hernandez to leisurely talk to his cornermen. Hernandez suddenly realized his advantage and sprinted across the ring as the referee made a half-hearted attempt to stop him before he leapt on and assaulted his unaware opponent. Cotto quickly recovered and knocked Hernandez almost down to the canvas; only his posterior against the corner post kept him half-upright as the crowd went wild on their feet. Completely unbelievably, the two fighters immediately resumed their posing, feinting, and jabbing in the center of the ring as if the last round’s knockdown and the brawl at the start of this round had never happened, almost as if they’re both determined not to let a fight break out. Cotto repeatedly lowered his hands and shrugged in frustration, but never mounted a convincing offense. At one point, he ducked so low to avoid a punch that he almost touched his ass to the canvas. At the end of the round, Cotto was once again back in the corner and on the ropes, safe behind his high guard. He came off he ropes in the final seconds, but no definitive punches were thrown.

Both fighters came out for the eighth bouncing on their toes and full of energy. Cotto pulled off a nice body and head combination to score, but didn’t seem to have any sting to his punches. He knocked back his opponent’s head with a left and landed a nice left uppercut before going back on the ropes to trade with Hernandez. Both threw furious flurries of punches, teeing off on each other with headshots. They were separated by Solis when Hernandez again lost his mouthpiece, cutting of the fiercest exchange of the match so far. Hernandez’s mouthguard replaced, Cotto came immediately back at him to land a straight right, then danced around with hands down as Hernandez motioned him in for final seconds. Throughout the evening, Cotto repeatedly seemed to back off at exactly those advantageous moments when he should have been pressing forward to close the deal.

In the ninth, Cotto came again with the jab, but quickly followed up with a nice right to the jaw and then a nice left hook. Both fighters landed good combinations in the middle of the round, but both looked tired. Cotto again dropped his hands in frustration, but neither fighter advanced his cause with any real work this round.

Before the bell for the tenth in a fight scheduled for ten, Cotto was already raring to go in the center of the ring as Solis struggled to hold him back. However, once the bell rang, it was back to the jabs and the bouncing. What kind of grim warnings had the fighters’ corners been giving them between rounds? The one and only time Hernandez had ever fought outside Colombia before tonight was last November, when he dropped a decision to Mexico’s Ubaldo Hernandez in this same Puerto Rican stadium, so Cotto had no need to be so cautious. Whatever Cotto’s record going in, it should have been clear to the Hernandez corner after a couple of rounds that there wasn’t much power backing up the constant jabbing tonight.

As the tenth continued, Cotto again ended up in the corner as the two traded head blows with both hands, then tried to clinch and wrestle his way out of the corner. He looked momentarily in trouble, but quickly recovered and danced out of range, showing his tremendous recuperative ability. Halfway through the round, Cotto threw a strong left hook and straight right off the ropes to sit Hernandez down on the canvas. After a standing count, the fighters met in ring center, where Hernandez was dazed by a series of lefts and rights before being knocked down by a powerful left hook and afterthought right to the head by Cotto. Solis waved it off as soon as Hernandez regained his feet, awarding Cotto the TKO at 1:56. It was an exciting ending that, more than anything, showed how exciting this fight could have been throughout, if only the boxers had been willing to mix it up.

Article posted on 07.08.2006

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