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Articles of 2005

The Third Man Eddie Cotton



To movie buffs “The Third Man” is a flick by Orson Welles. To fight fans The Third Man is the ref. The referee is the ultimate noncombatant, optimally the invisible man. He stays out of the action while controlling the action. His job is to make sure no one gets seriously hurt.

When referees become stars in their own right, it’s usually for the wrong reasons.

One referee whose work I admire is Eddie Cotton. He’s a quiet ref, an unobtrusive ref, a ref with a light touch. Sometimes he has no choice and needs to disentangle grapplers, but Cotton tries to be a shadowy presence.

Eddie Cotton was born in Los Angeles in 1947 and moved to Paterson, New Jersey when he was three. Cotton told me “I followed the sport when I was a kid, The Gillette Cavalcade of Sports, everything. I got to watch Ike Williams, Archie Moore, Sugar Ray Robinson. I went to East Side High in Paterson: Joe Clark’s ‘Lean on Me’ movie. I played baseball and ran cross-country.” After graduation, Cotton went to St. Paul’s College in Lawrenceville, West Virginia for two years.

Then fate intervened, as it usually does, in unexpected ways.

“I got drafted,” explained Cotton. “I was in the service from 1968 to 1971 and I was overseas for 2½ years. While I was in Germany a couple of people said ‘Look, in order to get a little extra money or a little extra duty off, you should officiate some sports.’ So I started officiating football, basketball and some softball. When I came home from the service I didn’t do too much officiating. And in 1980 when I was sworn into the City Council, they had a July 4 outdoor show at Hinchcliffe Stadium – he was governor of New Jersey at one time or something – so I asked Eddie Johnson, who was also a pro referee, ‘Can I do one of those amateur bouts?’” Cotton smiled. “I always wanted to be in the ring and do one of those amateur bouts.”

It was an auspicious beginning to an auspicious career in the least auspicious of sports.

Cotton continued: “He brought an application for me to join the USA/ABF – United States Association of Amateur Boxing Federation – and I got a pair of white pants, a pair of boxing shoes, a white shirt, a patch. And the first bout I had was a 3-round, 1-minute round Junior Olympic bout. The kids were 65 pounds. And that’s how I started.”

After twelve years working the amateurs, Cotton turned pro in 1992 and has been at it ever since.

One of the main controversies that swirl around refs and refereeing is the question of early stoppages. I asked Eddie Cotton how he determines when and if a fight should be stopped, and how that might be better determined.

“The main focus is that you’re supposed to make sure that the fighters are safe,” he said. “Your main concern is the safety of the fighters. That’s number one. Yet they’re engaged in a very dangerous, violent sport. That’s why I have always been in favor of the standing 8-count. It’s been outlawed and many people are not in favor of it. When I was a fan I was not in favor of it, because I didn’t understand it. But as an experienced referee going on 26 years now, I really would hope that sooner or later we understand that you need it. And you can use it only one time to make an assessment and then make a decision on what you want to do – because without having a standing 8-count, now it’s created a little controversy in certain fights. I would prefer to have the standing 8-count, that opportunity to step in, to make an assessment, and to judge whether this fight should continue, or whether the fighter has a chance to win.”

So what are the criteria for stopping a fight before the final bell?

“There’s a bunch of different criteria that most good referees use,” replied Cotton. “I think all of us have a scorecard in the back of our heads. Even though we don’t score, remember that at one time the referee used to score. So if a bout starts to get lopsided and the guy has lost his punching power, has very little chance to win, and he starts taking some punches, then the fight should be terminated. So you start looking at them and asking: Are they coherent?”

Coherence is a relative term, so I asked Cotton to elaborate.

“There are certain things I have learned from some of the finest referees: Larry Hazzard, Arthur Mercante Sr., Joe Cortez, Richard Steele. I don’t ask fighters during the course of the fight, 'Are you okay? Are you all right? Do you want to continue?’ because most of the time, even if they’re hurt and they’re in bad condition, they’ll say yes. I’ll try to ask them some other things like, 'Do you know where you are? What round is this? What’s your last name?’ Something that will let me know: if they can’t respond to that, they’re finished.”

I asked Eddie Cotton if he could recall an example of a fighter stumped by those simple questions.

“I had a bout as an amateur in Jersey City,” Cotton said. “A heavyweight, a big heavyweight, a black kid, and something just told me to watch him. He was fighting a Spanish guy from New York, and he feinted and boom! – hit this black kid right on the chin. He fell like his feet were tied together, like a sack of potatoes. He barely got up. I had nine in his face and he was slumped against the ropes. So I asked him, ‘What’s your name?’ No response. I said ‘Where are you?’ He said ‘Atlantic City,’ and I waved it off. Then his managers jumped in the ring and they wanted to know why I stopped the fight. I told them he didn’t know his name and where he was at. They asked, ‘What did he say?’ I said ‘Atlantic City.’ And his trainer said: ‘But that’s where he was born!’”

I asked Cotton about some of the biggest fights he ever reffed.

“I’ve had a total of 30 world title bouts and approximately 60 championship bouts,” he said. “I had Bowe-Golota 2 at the Garden. Three of Sugar Shane Mosley’s title fights. But number one was Tyson and Lennox Lewis.”

What little controversy that has accrued to Eddie Cotton comes from that big bout at The Pyramid in Memphis. Some boxing writers and commentators, in regulation holier-than-thou mode, chastised Cotton for not letting Lennox fight his fight (whatever that might mean in context of a one-sided slaughter).

I asked Cotton to explain what went down.

“This was the first time in the history of any championship that instructions weren’t given in the ring before the opening bell. If you remember, they had a line of people separating the fighters. At the press conference they decided they would have separate weigh-ins, separate rules meetings, separate everything. I went into Tyson’s dressing room and he was a complete gentleman,” the ref remembered, “and I told him this: ‘We’re starting from scratch with a clean slate. All the stuff in the past is out the window. I expect you to abide by the rules of boxing, so I expect a good clean fight and obey my commands.’ He said, ‘Yes, sir. Thank you very much. Yes, sir.’”

That’s the Tyson I’ve always encountered. It seems he’s only a monster when there are monsters around him. Around civilized people, Mike’s downright civilized.

Cotton visited the dressing room of the champ: “Then we went into Lennox’s dressing room. He was sitting down on a sofa with sunglasses on. He did not stand up to shake my hand like you would normally do. Emanuel Steward said ‘Look, Eddie, we’re very happy you’re the referee. You’ve worked in other bouts where you’ve had to handle heavyweights and you’ve done a fine job. But we don’t want any clinches.’ I said ‘What do you mean you don’t want any clinches?’ ‘If there’s a clinch, we want you to break it up. We don’t want you to wait for any lull or anybody to punch out of there. We want you to break it up.’ I said ‘Fine, that’s not a problem.’”

It was Lewis vs. Tyson, after all. Everyone knew Tyson’s tank was on empty, even way back then. What was Team Lennox worried about?

“I think that they were worried about Mike getting in a clinch, tying up, and biting or doing something. That’s what I think and that’s what the commission thought too, because when we went outside, the commission said, ‘Well, Eddie, don’t let ‘em clinch. If they get tied up, break ‘em up right away.’ And Lennox is clenching for dear life the entire fight! And that’s what really kind of made it seems that I was on him, because he was holding, and he was pushing down. He was using his elbow. He was doing everything. Mike fought a clean fight. And when I read the comments later from Emanuel, he said I didn’t let him fight ‘a tall man’s fight.’ A tall man’s fight that is holding and clinching, hitting on the break, everything else? That’s what that whole thing was about. I didn’t let him fight? I broke up the clinches. What was I supposed to do? Let him clinch? He said break ‘em up.”

Because games get played in boxing – the original f-you business according to some – I wondered if the whole business was a strategic move by Emanuel Steward.

“If you notice after the fourth round when I took that point from Lennox when he pushed Mike down – that was the second warning – he pushed Mike down and then swung across his back before he actually went to the canvas. And I’m glad he missed him, otherwise I’d be in all kinds of controversy,” Cotton said. “After I took the point, from then on Lennox fought! So some people said I actually made Lennox fight the fight to win. Because initially when he came out, he looked to me like he was scared. And then after he saw that Mike didn’t have anything – I can tell you that: he had nothing – Lennox started to fight. After that round I took that point, you could hear Emanuel in the corner. He was imploring. He said, ‘Lennox, just fight like a little bitch.’ Those were his exact words. I got it on tape. He says, ‘You’re gonna f-around and get hit with something. This guy’s a dead man. You better fight.' So Lennox didn’t tie up that much and boxed and finally knocked Mike out. And that was that.”

And that was that.

Ten and out.

Articles of 2005

In Boxing News: Floyd Mayweather An All-Time Great, Valuev & More



A Shot of Boxing on the Last Day of the Year

The Guardian reports that talks have already taken place between Nicolay Valuev‘s co-promoters – Don King and Wilfried Sauerland – and Danny Williams‘ promoter Frank Warren for Nicolay Valuev to face Danny Williams. I’d suggest Danny Williams needs to worry about Matt Skelton (who Williams is reportedly scheduled to fight in February) before he entertains notions of facing the Beast From The East.

The Mirror in the UK looks forward to a big year in boxing for 2006. The Mirror considers what the future might bring for Joe Calzaghe, Amir Khan and Ricky Hatton, among others.

The Parksville Qualicum News has an interesting column on the travails of former Canadian Super Middleweight title holder Mark Woolnough. Woolnough’s career turned controversial – as widely reported in the Canadian press – at the beginning of this year when Woolnough and four other men were charged with manslaughter and assault after a fight outside a Parksville nightclub. The case returns to court next month. It’s an interesting read, as Woolnough is still looking to the future with hope.

Our own Marc Lichtenfeld provides plenty of food for thought with his Top Ten Wish List for boxing in the New Year. There’s plenty of good stuff here, but what really jumped out for me is Lichtenfeld’s opinion that a win over Zab Judah could have Floyd Mayweather knocking on the door of all-time great status. Seems to me this might be jumping the gun a little. Or is Marc right? Will it soon be time to call Floyd Mayweather Jr. an all-time great?

(More Boxing News Links at

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Articles of 2005

ShoBox Friday Night Fights




Hot bantamweight prospect Raul “The Cobra” Martinez heads back to Chicago next Friday night as he is featured in the co-main event of SHOBOX “THE NEW GENERATION,” an action packed evening of professional boxing presented by Dominic Pesoli’s 8 Count Productions,’ HOME OF THE BEST IN CHICAGO BOXING, Kathy Duva’s Main Events Inc., along with Miller Lite and TCF Bank.

The two-time national amateur champion sporting a perfect 12-0 record with 9 knockouts, six of which have come in the first round,  will take on Colombian Andres “Andy Boy” Ledesma, 13-1 (8 KOs) in a scheduled eight round bout.

Speaking after a training session at his home gym in Georgetown, Texas, Martinez said, “I’m truly looking forward to returning to Chicago. The fans were terrific in September, they were very supportive from the start of the fight,” an internationally televised first round knockout of Miguel Martinez on September 16th at the Aragon Ballroom.

Regarding his upcoming fight with Ledesma, “The Cobra” said, “I haven’t seen him fight, although I understand he’s fought at higher weights and will be naturally bigger than me. I’ve had great training for this fight and feel very confident. I really haven’t left the gym in months, just taking off Sunday’s and even then I get my running in. My thinking is that fights are won in the gym and complete preparation is the key.”

When asked about his being mentioned by Dan Rafael, ESPN’s boxing writer as one of the top prospect’s in the boxing world the 23-year-old San Antonio native said, ‘It’s a great compliment, but I still have much work to do. I want to be a champion for Main Events like Fernando Vargas and Arturo Gatti. But like Fernando said while he was in town, ‘be patient, work hard and your time will come.’”

Finishing the conversation, Martinez said, “I’m looking forward to starting out this year with a bang. I might have a couple less fights than the seven I had in 2005, but I’m looking to stepping up the competition, move up to ten-rounders and climb in the rankings.”

Headlining the evening is a ten-round welterweight showdown between boxing’s hottest prospect, unbeaten Joel Julio of Monteria, Columbia, and Ugandan native Roberto “The Doctor” Kamya. Julio, turning 21 years old the day before the fight, is 25-0 with 22 knockouts, twelve of which have come in the first two rounds. Kamya, now fighting out of West Palm Beach, Florida is 15-5 with four knockouts.

Tickets, starting at $30, are on sale in advance by calling 312-226-5800. Cicero Stadium is located at 1909 S. Laramie, at the corner of 19th and Laramie, just ten minutes south of the Eisenhower Expressway and ten minutes north of the Stevenson Expressway. Doors for this evening will open at 6pm with the first bell at 7pm.

The full bout lineup for the evening is:

Joel Julio vs. Roberto Kamya, ten rounds, welterweights

Raul Martinez vs. Andres Ledesma, eight rounds, bantamweights

Miguel Hernandez vs. Butch Hajicek, eight rounds, middleweights

David Pareja vs. Derek Andrews, eight rounds, light heavyweights

Mike Gonzales vs. Tony Kinney, four rounds, lightweights

Omar Reyes vs. Luis Navarro, five rounds, featherweights

Reynaldo Reyes vs. Ricardo Swift, four rounds, middleweights

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Articles of 2005

Pick ‘Em: Plenty of Big Upcoming Fights in ’06



Here’s the early call on many top matches scheduled for the first half of 2006: Happy New Year!

As the new calendar dawns, there are already a considerable amount of premium bouts on the horizon. Things don’t look to be bogged down by undetermined championships next year. In many cases the scheduled face-offs involve the best fighters in the division, or at least close enough for general bragging rights. If anybody else with proper qualifications signs up to force the issue, all the better.

It can be argued that some pairings could have taken place within a more optimal timeframe, or that some headliners carry distracting baggage, but there are certainly enough heavy hitters on deck. That nobody can deny.

It doesn’t matter whether one considers the proverbial glass half empty or half full; there’s still the same amount of juice in the vessel. It’s nice to know that even with a high number of cancellations, there will still be plenty of important contenders on tap.

With elite fighters in weight divisions from top to bottom on the agenda, it’s an equivalent to what fans in more mainstream sports expect in a consistent championship format.

Baseball fans can almost always count on a World Series. Some hoops fanatics say too much attention to playoffs distracts unmotivated NBA teams during their regular season. In college, they project Sweet Sixteens. Football fans know there’s always a Super Bowl ahead to raise advertising dollars and test the USA’s halftime morals.

So too, there is method in boxing’s current madness.

The midnight crystal ball hasn’t even been unveiled in Times Square and there are already a number of potential thrillers scheduled. Most feature contrasting personalities that almost guarantee going along for the ride will be worthwhile. Any subsequent drops will probably be cheered.

Don King jumps right out of the auld lang gate with a January 7th Showtime card featuring Zab Judah against Carlos Baldomir and Jean-Marc Mormeck in a cruiserweight unification against O’Neil Bell.

It will be the upset of the year, bar none, if Baldomir can tip the applecart before Judah gets to his scheduled super-showdown with Floyd Mayweather Jr. Meanwhile, Mormeck is emerging and should keep on rolling against Bell, who can expose him if he’s not for real.

The proverbial Big Bang starts with a January 21st rematch of one of the finest fights of ‘05, when Erik Morales goes against Manny Pacquaio for the second time on HBO pay per view. The fact that Morales was upset by Zahir Raheem after beating Pacquaio was no real loss in box-office luster. Artful Raheem will get a spot on the undercard and hope his patience is rewarded.

Everyone figures Morales and Pacquaio will pick up where they left off. Like the first time, the rematch is a pick’em contest. Management distractions and glove restrictions cited as Pacquaio’s previous problems won’t matter this time. The two are very evenly matched and their styles will make for another whapathon. It could come down to corners, where Freddie Roach gets the edge since Morales will have a new trainer for the first time since replacing his father after the Raheem lesson.

February features four of the game’s most enduring attractions, in a pair of crucial matchups.

First up, Showtime presents the Jose Luis Castillo – Diego Corrales tiebreaker from El Paso on Feb 4th. This is another pick ‘em pair, barring any sideshow. In boxing that disclaimer may be a stretch, since the sideshow is part of the act and the charm.

As far as action inside the strands goes, every round these guys have fought has been great. There’s no reason to think that pattern won’t continue. Regarding the result, Castillo keeps the pressure on as he did in the second fight, but he’ll walk into trouble from a more reserved Corrales. We still don’t know which coin to flip.

February also holds a better late than never affair between two perennial favorites as Shane Mosley collides with Fernando Vargas on the 25th.  This fight could lead to a winning ticket in the Golden Boy sweepstakes for a fall bonanza against Oscar De La Hoya.

Vargas has been in tougher recently, based on comparable strength of opposition stats, but he’s seen little action. What weight they enter the ring at may have a lot to do with the result. If Vargas has to struggle at the scale, Mosley might have the battle in the bag after round nine.

It’s hard to imagine Mosley getting stopped early, but Vargas doesn’t have to hurt him, he just has to knock him down three times. With natural size, he may be able to do just that, but Mosley would have to box uncharacteristically flat.

Unless Mosley decides to heed the crowd, the most likely scenario is that Shane plays it safe, picks a few shots, and stays away enough to capture a comfortable, dull decision. An unbowed Vargas maintains his fan base but not his bettors.

March both comes in and goes out as a lion.

On March 4th Joe Calzaghe welcomes Jeff Lacy to Manchester UK for what may be the biggest blowout of the headlining bunch. Calzaghe gets the chance to prove his considerable home-based reputation once and for all, but if Lacy creams him as we expect, that glossy record will be severely tarnished.

All Calzaghe has to do is make a respectable stand, but that’s no small task against the rising Lacy. A motivated Calzaghe, songs of England ringing in his ears, could pull a big surprise if he can exploit Lacy’s relatively limited technical development, but that’s a longshot indeed.

It looks like Lacy can get by on power alone. He could soon emerge as a pound-for-pound leader. Old Joe’s hometown advantage will last about two left hooks.

March 11th has the Ides of history to beware for at least one old lion, with farewell (we’ll see) fireworks featuring Roy Jones Jr. against Bernard Hopkins. Less than two years ago they were considered untouchable all time greats. Now between them they’ve lost five in a row.

This goodbye fight is contracted at light heavyweight, for what seems like an oldies night. Hopkins is the senior at age 41 to Jones’s 37, but Roy seems more the grandpa figure, last seen hanging on against Antonio Tarver. Youth, as it were here, will prevail.

This bout was signed quickly as each principal, usually sticklers for favorable contract clauses, agreed to parity in a demonstration of businessman first and fighter second. They may both expect easy marks. How much the boys have left by the time they get down to business remains to be seen. The history books will show this as a climactic career bout between Hall of Famers.

At 175 pounds, Hopkins may be in for rude awakening. Jones may have been more thoroughly outfought recently, but he was rumbling with bigger, tougher men than Jermain Taylor or Howard Eastman. Respectable as he is, Taylor still falls short of the level of Tarver, at least for now. The difference is still fifteen pounds less pop.

It will be quite a feat if Hopkins can stay in the fight, even at Jones’s advanced age. Our stars point to Jones winning in overwhelming fashion.

On March 18th, James Toney meets Hasim Rahman in another pairing of seasoned war-horses.

Toney and Rahman already had their introductions, when they brawled in Mexico during a WBC gathering to bestow Rahman’s new belt. Between formalities, Toney got married, which could bring up the old questions about carnal training.

Let’s hope when they meet in the ring, they restore some of the fire missing from the heavyweights in ‘05.  Toney might have an edge in recent form, but Rahman shows fine tuning he previously lacked. The winner might get newly “crowned’ Nicolai Valuev, an easy payday outside Germany.

Rahman could be the heavyweight that finally makes Toney look like a blown up middleweight. But anything less than a top effort will probably lead to embarrassing night for the Rock and give Toney solid claim to being the true heavyweight champ.

This might not be the most artful fight of the new season, but it could well be the most grueling, and the closest. He who’s faced the better big boys gets the nod. Advantage Rahman.

March 25 features Marco Antonio Barrera, probably the strongest overall claimant to 130 pound honors. The likely opponent is said to be always tough Jesus Chavez.

Chavez seemed rejuvenated when he met Leavander Johnson, but Johnson’s tragic death may have taken some of the steam out of thoughtful Chavez, said to have received Johnson’s family blessing to continue in Leavander’s name. That could mean a lot of inspiration. Either way, if he does meet Chavez, who hung tough with one arm against Erik Morales, Barrera won’t get any slack. The Fates say Chavez, whose wife recently served in Iraq, is a live, live underdog.

Another clash to be King of the Hill finds Floyd Mayweather Jr, arguably the game’s finest practitioner, bumping heads with Zab Judah, one of very few boxers who rivals Mayweather in speed, skills, and brashness.

Their hoedown, scheduled for April 8th, is one of the top pound-for-pound pairings in recent years. Judah will need a career best performance to have a chance of victory. That’s not to say he can’t pull it off, but currently Mayweather is in a different galaxy in terms of punching power. Slow-motion replays may be the only way to follow the flying fists once these two whirlwinds unload.

Mayweather should be around a 4-1 favorite. Judah is good enough to make taking the odds an attractive proposition, since that’s probably as good of odds as one is likely to see on Floyd for a while. Mayweather will stop Judah in his tracks.

The first half of next year is set to conclude with the star power of Oscar De La Hoya, probably against noteworthy foil Ricardo Mayorga on May 6. There could be some snags before a contract is finalized, but if it comes off count on Mayorga for promotional sound bite nastiness. One of the questions is whether or not he’ll be able to get under Oscar’s skin, and it might actually be entertaining to see the classy, model perfect De La Hoya show he’s human and freak out against the Nicaraguan maniac.

Mayorga may have burnt his best bridges already. De La Hoya has not only the boxing skill to negate Mayorga’s offense, but enough power to end it early. If Mayorga rushes in and causes a cut, De La Hoya might get ruffled enough to duck into defense and Mayorga could get a decision that goes to the cards after six rounds or so. It will be wild for as long as it lasts.

Pro boxing, like many sports, had its share of problems during 2005, but there were also many positives. Most notably, as usual, was superior and inspiring action inside the strands. Unless there’s a mass freeze-up at the top, early 2006 figures to see decisive interaction among many well-known fighters.

If even fifty per cent of the aforementioned pairings come to fruition, it’s a strong likelihood the upcoming year has at least one very positive half. Arturo Gatti, Miguel Cotto, Antonio Margarito, Brian Viloria, and Shannon Briggs, to name a few, are also on deck. No matter how you chose to look at or measure mass qualities, there’s still just as much good to be seen.

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