Cotto – Margarito: everybody loses in the long run
I look ahead to this weekend’s bout between Miguel Cotto and Antonio Margarito wondering if either fighter can truly win this rematch.
Nobody who saw their first fight in July 2008 is likely to forget it — Cotto sharpshooting early, building a lead behind jabs and hooks that whiplashed Margarito’s head. Margarito walking through sniper fire, ratcheting up relentless pressure by the minute. Cotto winning rounds early but losing ground late, crumbling under Margarito’s thudding punches in the 11th, taking a knee as blood spilled from multiple cuts on his face.
A classic for sure, but classics can be costly.
Meldrick Taylor can tell you that.
Cotto’s skills and spirit haven’t disintegrated like Taylor’s did in the wake of the loss to Chavez, but even most ardent supporters can’t deny he’s looked shell-shocked since that soul-sapping loss. Watching him weep in the latest edition of HBO’s riveting 24/7 series you empathize with his pain over the loss of his father, but get the sense the bruising losses to Margarito and Manny Pacquiao snapped something inside Cotto. And you wonder if he’s a shattered fighter who can glue together the shards of his soul but can’t make himself whole.
Which doesn’t make him too different from Margarito, who may never erase the stain he picked up when he tried to enter the ring against Shane Mosley with illegal plaster inserts in his hand wraps.
Not that he deserves absolution.
He deserved to sit out forever, as the California State Athletic Commission intended when it suspended him indefinitely.
He deserved the lopsided beating Pacquiao laid on him last November, the one that necessitated the eye operation that nearly derailed Saturday’s fight.
And he’ll deserve whatever vengeance Cotto can deliver.
If Cotto enters the rematch with a fragile confidence, what does Margarito bring to the ring beyond a string of tainted wins, 13 months of ring rust and a surgically repaired right eye that Cotto will doubtless try hammer with left hooks until it swells shut or stops functioning?
Reduce this fight to its simplest terms and suddenly it seems a lot less sexy. It’s a fighter with a chunk of his soul missing trying to batter a convicted cheater halfway to blindness.
A sobering, saddening prospect, but nothing that will stop us from watching Saturday night. We tune into every fight knowing there’s a slim but frighteningly real possibility either man could die in the ring, and a much better chance that boxing will bleed both of them out in the long run.
Financially. Physically. Emotionally.
Fighters know the risks when they choose the profession. Object lessons abound but boxers try to beat the odds.
Fans know how too many of these stories end when we tune in. We suppress our repulsion and enjoy the fight.
Later on I can worry about whether Cotto and Margarito can use success in the ring as springboard to long-term health and happiness. For now I’m focused on figuring out which of them has suffered the most damage in the 40 months since they first met.
Yes, Margarito dealt Cotto a definitive beating, but are we sure he fought clean that night?
I’m not convinced, and neither is Cotto.
Nor are we sure how much Margarito lost in the beating he endured against Pacquiao, and whether the loss combined with a 13-month layoff have tempered the aggression that carried him to that first big win over Cotto.
But none of that makes Cotto a favourite.
As a rule I bet against the guy whose mom comes with him to the gym every day. Not because having mom around makes him soft — I write for a living, so I can’t question any fighter’s toughness — but because she’s a distraction. She might be a distraction Cotto welcomes, especially after his father’s death, but a distraction nonetheless, especially since she talks openly about how she abhors the sport.
Cotto’s devotion to family is admirable in the real world but a liability in the prize ring. When asked during HBO’s “Face Off” why he took a knee in the first fight with Margarito, Cotto said thoughts of his family flashed across his mind, and he thought of them as he made the decision not to prolong the beating.
Which makes sense. Ensure survival rather than risk disfigurement or even death while chasing victory. In the same situation most of us would react the same way.
But most of us aren’t fighters, and Miguel Cotto is.
Prizing safety and family over anything else is an instinct most of us can indulge, but one fighters need to overrule because it siphons attention from winning.
Margarito understands it, but it doesn’t mean he wins.
Both fighters present too many unanswered questions to reliably predict a victor. What we know is that while Cotto cares about preserving his health for his family’s sake, Margarito will press forward even if it blinds him.
We don’t know how much time and punishment have diminished each of these fighters, but we know Margarito is willing to risk things Cotto isn’t.
Saturday night that will count for something.
But for how much?
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