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Articles of 2009

TSS Report Card—Miguel Cotto

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It is rare that a fighter finds himself in the boxing spotlight for his entire career.  Miguel Cotto is one such fighter, and has found that blinding spotlight to be both a blessing and a curse.

A 2000 Olympian representing his native Puerto Rico, Cotto entered the professional ranks with much hype and high expectations from all who saw his potential as an amateur.  With many of his early fights televised, Cotto became accustomed to the scrutinizing eye of the boxing public during the prospect phase of his career.  It wasn’t long before Cotto’s name was mentioned as a potential successor to the great Puerto Rican fighters from years past.  This attention was certainly a catalyst in his accelerated rise to stardom.

Cotto’s career has also seen the hardships the spotlight can bring.  Following his high-profile loss to Antonio Margarito in 2008, Cotto has seen his stock plummet from being considered a potentially great fighter to a just another welterweight in a loaded weight division.  The fact that so many fans and boxing insiders are choosing Pacquiao to triumph over Cotto this weekend is a testament to that.

A closer examination of Cotto’s attributes as a fighter shows that he is still a dangerous fighter, and certainly still deserves to be considered among the best welterweights in the world.  The question rests on whether greatness is still within his grasp.

Power:

Even when he was at junior welterweight, Miguel Cotto was never considered a one-punch knockout artist.  Since moving up to the welterweight division, Cotto’s knockouts have continued to come by an accumulation of punishment.

However, it would be unfair to Cotto to characterize him as just an average puncher judging by his welterweight résumé.  Consider that three of his recent opponents were of the anvil-chinned variety:  Joshua Clottey, Antonio Margarito, and Shane Mosley.  It would take an extraordinary puncher to pierce the armor of those fighters.

While Cotto is not a prodigious welterweight puncher, his punches are of the clubbing, bruising variety.  When they land, his punches have the thudding impact of a sledgehammer instead of the cracking of a whip.  This is most evident when observing Cotto’s body attack.  His power-punches reflect his overall fighting style:  methodical, purposeful, and effective.

Usually, when a fighter is described as a cumulative-effects puncher, it’s a nice way of saying they’re a light hitter.  Cotto is definitely not in that category.  When firing on all cylinders, the effects of Cotto’s punches stack up quickly.  For proof, look no further than his fights against Carlos Quintana, Alfonso Gomez, and Michael Jennings.  Granted, those aren’t world beaters, but they’re good enough to show that Cotto is a destructive force when he is able to unload.

Power Grade:  A-

 

Speed:

Miguel Cotto has always been a very capable combination puncher.  From his early days as a professional, he’s proven himself quite proficient when it comes to landing more than one punch at a time.  However, even at his best, Cotto has never been known as a speed demon.

The fact that Cotto commits so fully to his punches sacrifices a bit of his handspeed.  There isn’t much pitter-patter in Cotto’s game.  When he lands, he wants it to mean something every time, and if it means he lands one hard shot instead of two or three relatively meaningless punches, so be it.

Another reason for Cotto’s somewhat pedestrian handspeed is his tendency to throw wide punches when exchanging with his opponents.  The precision usually present when he methodically stalks his opponents is usually absent when he throws with abandon, which can obviously hamper the speed of his delivery.

The inevitable result is that Cotto can be beaten to the punch.  Against quicker-handed fighters like Zab Judah, Ricardo Torres, and DeMarcus Corley, Cotto paid dearly for his commitment to his punches as well for his habit of punching wide.

When fighting a strategically measured fight, Cotto’s speed can be an asset.  However, in the heat of battle, it’s also proven to be a liability.

Speed Grade:  B

Boxing Ability:

Perhaps the most underrated element of Cotto’s game is his technical prowess.  Probably the most impressive attribute early in Cotto’s career was his maturity, patience, and ability to execute a strategic gameplan.  As a young fighter, his shrewdness in the ring suggested intelligence beyond his years.

Sure, it was easy enough to show all the right moves against the limited likes of Kelson Pinto and Muhammad Abdullaev, but Cotto’s ring smarts and precision were also on display against perhaps the most technically savvy opponent in the game:  Shane Mosley.  For extended stretches against Mosley, Cotto was outboxing and outfoxing one of the best fighters of this era.  He couldn’t do that unless he had a lot of tricks in his bag, and it’s quite clear that he does.

The biggest technical knock on Cotto is that he isn’t the most elusive fighter you’ll ever see.  At times, he’ll be so offensively preoccupied that his head will be sitting perfectly still for counters.  Defensively, his game could use some rounding out.  Head and lateral movement would help him avoid taking unnecessary punches.  But at this point, it isn’t second nature to him.  He has to consciously think defense in order to elude attack.

He may not be the slickest guy in the game, but Cotto is a very complete fighter.  He knows how to create openings, work off the jab, and implement an effective body attack.  If nothing else, Cotto is an offensive technician.  That’s not really up for debate.

Boxing Grade:  A-
 

Chin:

While his soundness as a boxer might not be in question, the same cannot be said for his chin.  Cotto has had some perilously close scrapes with defeat due to lapses involving his chin, most of which came when he was campaigning as a junior welterweight.  The troubles he experienced against Colombian bomber Ricardo Torres were forgivable, considering that Torres could drop pretty much any 140-pounder he clips on the chin.  

Less forgivable, though, were the dire straits Cotto found himself in against the light-hitting DeMarcus Corley.  In that fight, a swarming, unusually aggressive Cotto got tagged on numerous occasions with counter hooks by Corley, who, luckily for Cotto, was unable to finish the job.

The good news for Cotto is that such dangerous moments have largely been avoided since his move up to welterweight.  It seems that the extra seven pounds have somehow anchored his chin, as it’s held up much better against infinitely harder punchers than DeMarcus Corley.  Aside from getting buzzed a couple times by Zab Judah, it’s hard to remember too many instances where Cotto has been wobbled by a single shot as a welterweight.  Against Shane Mosley, it was a combination of fatigue and cumulative punishment that had Cotto backpedaling in the late rounds.  Even in his only defeat (under still questionable circumstances) to the disgraced Antonio Margarito, it took eleven rounds for Margarito to pound Cotto into submission.  

It looks like Cotto is a bit more durable at 147 than he was at 140.  Still, it seems fair to say that even Cotto’s most dedicated fans hold their collective breath each time he takes one flush in the mush.

Chin Grade:  B+
 

Heart:

This, too, is an area that many debate about Miguel Cotto.  There is much ammunition for both sides of the argument.  

For those who question Cotto’s heart, they point to two telling fights.  First, against Shane Mosley, Cotto found himself riding out an early lead in the championship rounds when a surging Mosley tried to overwhelm Cotto down the stretch.  While Cotto was able to squeak out a close points victory, some were turned off by Cotto’s clear concern for self-preservation.

And then there’s the Margarito fight, which many point to as the truly damning evidence against Cotto’s heart.

(Author’s Note:  I, like countless others, have serious questions about the legitimacy of Margarito’s victory over Cotto in light of his disgusting attempt to plaster his hands against Mosley.  However, in discussing Margarito-Cotto, I really have no choice but to approach it as a legitimate win for Margarito.  Cotto himself has gone on record as choosing to believe that Margarito won the bout cleanly.  If Cotto doesn’t want to use the questionable circumstances to excuse his loss, for the purposes of this article, I won’t either.)

Many have chastised Cotto for kneeling it out against Margarito in the eleventh round after sustaining a terrible beating.  In a sport where quitting is never acceptable, Cotto’s decision to stay down against Margarito was an act of surrender.  Such moments linger in the minds of fans, and are acts for which fighters spend the remainder of their careers searching for redemption.  

This all seems a bit unfair to Cotto, who has proven himself to be a warrior in other trying moments in his career.  In the aforementioned fight against Corley, Cotto showed much poise in getting himself out of a very unexpected situation he’d never faced to that point.  And his battle with Ricardo Torres was the type of grueling shootout that Cotto never would have won had it not been for his heart.  Even in his last bout with Joshua Clottey, Cotto had to battle through a nasty cut early in the fight against a tough, skilled opponent in another physically draining encounter.  

It seems ridiculous for anyone to assert that Cotto has no heart.  Sure, the Margarito fight showed that Cotto does have a breaking point, but it also showed that it takes an extraordinary amount to get him there.

Heart Grade:  A-

 
 

On Saturday night, Cotto will find himself in the blinding spotlight again.  With the eyes of the boxing world on him once again, it will prove to be a telling moment in his career.  The hopes for greatness once so high will rise once more, or be put to rest.  As has been the case in the past, the spotlight for Cotto will prove to be a blessing or a curse once more.

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Articles of 2009

UFC 108 Rashad Evans vs. Thiago Silva

David A. Avila

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Former champion Rashad Evans meets Brazil’s venerable Thiago Silva in a non-title belt that can lead to a return match with the current champ, but first things first.

Evans (15-1-1) and Silva (14-1) meet in Ultimate Fighting Championship 108 in a light heavyweight bout on Saturday Jan. 2, at the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. A win by either fighter could result in a world title bid. The fight card is being shown on pay-per-view television.

Events can change quickly in the Octagon and anybody can beat anybody in the 205-pound weight division. Just ask Silva or Evans.

Silva and Evans are both experienced and can vouch firsthand about the capriciousness of fighting in MMA and especially as a light heavyweight. On one day this man can beat that man and on another day, that man can beat this man. It can make you absolutely daffy.

Evans, 30, is the former UFC light heavyweight world champion who only defended his title on one occasion and lost by vicious knockout to current champion Lyoto Machida of Brazil. It’s the only defeat on his record.

Silva, 27, is a well-rounded MMA fighter from Sao Paolo, Brazil who is versed in jujitsu, Muy Thai and boxing. He can end a fight quickly in a choke hold just as easily as with a kick or a punch. His only loss came to who else: Machida.

Evans and Silva know a win can push open the door to a rematch with current UFC light heavyweight champion Machida.

“A win against Rashad would put me in the track against Lyoto,” said Silva, in a telephone conference call. “That's what – what I want to do.”

When Silva fought Machida the two Brazilians were both undefeated and feared in the MMA world. The fight took place in Las Vegas and with one second remaining in the first round a perfectly timed punch knocked Silva unconscious.

“I was humbled big time, man,” says Silva who fought Machida in January 2009. “I learned a lot from that fight.  I think I can correct the mistakes from that fight, not overlooking anything else right now, but just I want to get the chance to fight him again.”

For Evans it was a different circumstance. The upstate New Yorker held the UFC title and was defending it after stopping then champion Forrest Griffin by knockout. Still, many felt Machida was far too technically versed. Evans was stopped brutally in the second round.

“I've made it a point to not – to not get distracted on what I want to do, because you know Thiago (Silva) is a very hungry fighter,” said Evans who has not fought since losing the title to Machida last May. “My focus is just on Thiago so much.  You know I don't want to overlook him, you know, not even a little bit.”

Dana White, president of UFC, says the winner of this fight could conceivably fight Machida in the near future. Evans and especially Silva are motivated by the open window.

“I learned a lot from that fight. I think I can correct the mistakes from that fight,” says Silva. “Not overlooking anything else right now, but I just want to get the chance to fight him again.”

What a prize. The winner gets to face the man who beat him: Machida.

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Articles of 2009

Ten Boxing Wishes For 2010

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As 2009 comes to a close, one reflects on what went well and what went wrong during the year in boxing. There were many highlights. Pacquiao vs. Cotto and Showtime’s Super Six tournament were part of the best that boxing had to offer. But there were some low points too therefore the industry has some work to do in order to keep generating fans. Here are some suggestions for 2010:

10. Better pay per view cards

Paying 40 to 50 bucks to watch the main event gets old real quick. Why do we have to sit through a horrible under-card to get to the main course? It’s like being fed spam appetizers before the Thanksgiving turkey. It seems that the pay per view promoters just don’t get it. Are they watching what they put on or do they only watch the “big fight” as everyone else is slowly being conditioned to do so?

9. Time to make Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. fight

Okay, I understand he’s the son of one of the greatest fighters that ever lived. But he’s had 42 fights against low to mid level competition and has never managed to look spectacular. It’s time to throw the 23 year old out of the nest to see if he can fly. My suggestion is a fight against Sergio Mora or maybe even Yuri Foreman. Neither of these guys can punch. They may outbox Junior but they won’t totally humiliate him.

8. No more ridiculous Pay Per View mismatches

Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs. Juan Manuel Marquez should’ve never been made. It was a ridiculous fight when it was announced and it was more ridiculous when it took place. Unable to bring Manny Pacquiao to the bargaining table for a third match against Juan Manuel Marquez, someone figured that pairing up the 135 pound champion against a natural 147 pounder like Mayweather would be a great idea. The pay per view generated over a million buys but the fact that millions of people were treated to an incredibly boring mismatch is what’s truly worrisome. I can guarantee you one thing about this card. The sport of boxing lost fans once the show was over and done with. Talk about short term thinking.

7. Chris “The Nightmare” Arreola shows up for a fight in amazing shape

It was painful to see Chris Arreola take a beating from the Ukrainian giant, Vitali Klitscho. The champion certainly earned his “Dr. Ironfist” moniker as he plowed his powerful shots into the former #1 WBC heavyweight contender’s face. He reddened and bloodied the young Mexican American with an assortment of weapons and foot movement seldom seen on a six foot seven inch heavyweight. Arreola was brave and unrelenting in battle. He never stopped coming forward and took chances when he could. His work in the ring at the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles wasn’t the problem. Where Arreola let himself down was outside the ring. His unwillingness to condition himself into a finely tuned athlete cost him certain immortality as the first ever heavyweight champion of Mexican descent. Arreola has the heart and skills but it was his mental fortitude that broke down. Anyone who’s followed the Riverside fighter knows that his best weight is somewhere in the 230 pound range. It certainly isn’t at the 252 pounds he registered on the scale at the Staples Center.  Those fifteen to twenty extra pounds might have made all the difference in the world. Maybe he would’ve been a little quicker, maybe he could’ve sustained a faster pace in order to tire out the champion. In his most recent fight against Brian Minto, Arreola weighed in at a career high 263. It looks like “The Nightmare” isn’t willing to change for anyone. At this pace, the only nightmares he’ll be providing will be to the management of Hometown Buffets all across Riverside.  Just kidding “Nightmare”!

6. More respect for the lighter weights

Real boxing fans know that the most exciting fighters in the sport are usually found toiling in weight divisions south of 154 pounds. Pacquiao, Cotto, Juan Manuel Marquez, Edwin Valero, Israel Vazquez, Juan Ma Lopez, Vic Darchinyan, Rafael Marquez and countless others have been the real driving force behind this sport. It’s those great fighters that have made boxing fanatics out of casual fans. The heavyweights may get all the money and glory but it’s the little guys who make the sport shine and it’s time they received greater compensation. It’s dismaying to think that a mediocre heavyweight can make three or four times as much as the great Rafael Marquez.

5. An American Heavyweight champion

Speaking of heavyweights, two Americans tried and failed at dethroning Vitali Klitschko this year. Both Kevin Johnson and Chris Arreola did their best to wrestle the belt away from “Dr. Klitschko” but came up short since they were easily outclassed. What happened to the great American Heavyweight? Where’s our new Joe Frazier or Ali? Even a new Gerry Cooney or a Ken Norton would do at this point. I’ve got a feeling that the only way we’re going to see an American champion is if Klitschko retires. My money is on Arreola. Although undisciplined and rough outside the ring, he’s got tons (no pun intended) of natural talent. He’s without a doubt the most talented American heavyweight on the scene.

4. More ShoBox

The Showtime Cable network gave us the best boxing on TV for the price of a cable television subscription. Their ShoBox series has been a proven hit for Senior VP of Sports Programming Ken Hershman. The concept is simple yet brilliant. Match up two up and comers with great records and let’s see what happens. Sometimes the results are surprising. Many have passed the ShoBox test and went on to bigger and better things. Others have been exposed as having padded records and eventually their careers stall and take a dive.

3. More safety in Mexico so I can attend a show without a gun battle breaking out

Having lived near the Tijuana border all my life I’m dismayed at the war zone that the city has evolved into. Every day there are reports of shootings fueled by the drug war trade. Believe it or not, there was a time when Tijuana was safe and most wouldn’t have thought twice about crossing the border for some seafood and nightlife. No more. Having covered several boxing cards on Revolucion Avenue many years ago, I got a taste of just how important the sport is to Mexican fans. It’s also important to me but not that important. For now I’ll stick to covering shows at the Pechanga Casino and in the less dangerous city of L.A. I never thought I’d say that.

2. Pac Man vs. Mayweather

This is the fight everyone wants to see. Seeing how Mayweather dominated Pac Man’s arch enemy, Juan Manuel Marquez, you have to wonder if the Filipino can handle Lil’ Floyd’s speed and size. One thing is for sure, betting against Pacquiao doesn’t usually work out for me. It never has. There’s no future in it. So if the fight gets done it’s Pacquiao by TKO in ten.

1. And finally

One final wish is reserved for all the readers of TheSweetScience.com I wish you all a healthy and happy 2010. Thank you for your continued loyalty to the site. It’s very much appreciated.

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Articles of 2009

A Very Special New Year's Day Column

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It has been just over four months since Nick Charles, the play-by-play announcer for Shobox: The New Generation, was diagnosed with stage IV bladder cancer and forced to take a medical hiatus from the monthly show that has aired since 2001.

Since then he has undergone grueling chemotherapy treatments that have resulted in him losing all of his hair as he forces himself to live as normal of a life as possible. Through sheer force of will, as well as the strength and support that he receives from his wonderfully loving family and his strong Christian faith, the 63-year-old Charles has managed to keep his weight up while not falling prey to the always lingering threats of depression, cynicism and negativity.

If one was unaware that he was battling such an insidious disease, you’d never know from talking on the phone to him that he has been to hell and back. He has lost none of the inspiring energy that has endeared him to members of the boxing community and legions of worldwide viewers.

“I’m doing great,” Charles said during a telephone conversation on December 30th. “I’ve been off the chemo for a month, and the doctors have told me that I’m 80 percent in remission. I’m going to see them again in three months. It may come back, but if it takes one year, or two years, or however long, I’m going to make the most of the good time.”

As physically and emotionally wrenching as the grim diagnosis and subsequent treatment has been, even for someone as perpetually positive as Charles, the longtime announcer said a lot of good things have come from it.

Having been married three times, Charles is the father of four children: Jason, 38, Melissa, 34, Charlotte, 22, and Giovanna, 3 ½.

While Charles is not big on regrets, he is the first to admit that he wasn’t always there for his older children. For many years he traveled the world as a CNN correspondent, often putting the demands of his career above all else, including those closest to him. Nowhere was the strain more evident than in his relationship with Melissa.

Having been divorced from Melissa’s mother since 1977, Charles said his relationship with that daughter has been especially “hot and cold, all of our lives.”

His illness has enabled them to forge a relationship that has been “based on a massive amount of forgiveness and understanding.”

“This has had a tremendous healing effect on both of us,” said Charles. “My illness has had a fortifying effect on a lot of things, the most important of which is my relationships with my family.”

That also includes his first wife, with whom he has had an often acrimonious relationship over the past three decades.

“It took a long time for the scab to become a scar, but we had lunch one day and it was so great to once again see the gentle, soft sides of each other,” he explained. “The whole divorce process creates a hardness that doesn’t always go away.”

Charles is also the grandfather to three children, some of whom are about the same age as his youngest daughter. He jokes that he has a “nuclear 21st century family” because of the similar ages of two generations of children. One of the hardest things for him has been the realization that he can’t always play with them in manner in which he would like.

“The hemoglobin is the fuel in your tank, so when it’s low you can’t will yourself to do things no matter how much you want to,” said Charles. “You can’t just sleep it off or work through it. I don’t want the kids to wonder why I can’t play in the backyard with them, or kick a soccer ball, or throw them in the air.”

Particularly difficult is when Giovanna reminds her father of how handsome he is, but then innocently asks him what happened to his hair, eyebrows and lashes.

“You try to keep things on a need to know basis, which is not easy when dealing with curious kids,” said Charles.

While Charles might look like the kind of guy that things have often come easy to, the reality is that his beginnings were far from auspicious. But, he says, his often challenging Chicago childhood blessed him with the steely resolve that has helped him so much during the arduous journey he is now on.

“I had it pretty rough growing up,” he explained. “I remember the lights and the heat being shut off and eating mustard sandwiches. I went to work at 13 and always had insecurities about the future. But I always expected and saw the best in people, so when I got sick, never once did I say 'Why me?”

Since taking a leave of absence from Shobox, the outpouring of support from the boxing community has warmed Charles’s heart. For a guy that is battling for his life, he actually considers himself fortunate to be surrounded by so much goodness in both his personal and professional lives.

“I always hear that boxing people are ruthless, but I couldn’t disagree more,” said Charles. “I’ve probably received about 1,000 e-mails, and people are always following in sending their best wishes. From the relatively unknown people in boxing to many of the more famous people, there has been an outpouring of true affection.”

Charles said that the Top Rank organization has been exceedingly kind and gracious. He was touched beyond description when he learned that officials in Oklahoma got special permission to have a seamstress sew “Keep Fighting Nick” onto their sleeves. He chokes up when talking about cut man Stitch Duran giving up an endorsement opportunity so he could put Charles’s name on his outfit. He never tires of hearing shout-outs from fighters on television.

Charles has always been a people person with an inordinate faith in the goodness of his fellow man. Battling this illness has only made his already strong faith in humanity even stronger.

“Adversity is a great teacher, and it really teaches you who your genuine friends are,” said Charles. “I have a lot of friends.”

He also has a remarkable wife, Cory, a CNN producer to whom he has been married for 11 years. She is the daughter of an electrician, a self-made woman who exudes all of the warmth of her native Brooklyn. She has reinforced her husband’s spiritual base by her love, optimism and strength of character.

“If I get down, she reminds me to not get too caught up,” said Charles. “I believe in eternity, and that has put me pretty much at peace.”

More than anything else, Charles wants to get himself back behind a microphone sooner rather than later, and hopefully on Shobox. He is the first to admit that viewers “don’t watch the series to see Nick Charles,” but he is proud of the fact that he was “part of the identity” of such a popular show.

“And people love comeback stories,” added Charles. “That’s the message I’m getting from the people out there.”

In boxing the word “champion” is often overused because it pertains only to winning belts and receiving worldwide recognition for being the best at your craft. The reality is that life’s real champions have other qualities, such as the innate ability to treat people well and always make them feel better about themselves, especially when the recipients of the goodwill are in no position to give them anything back.

By that standard of measure, Charles is as much, if not more of a champion than all of the boxers he has covered during the nine years that Shobox has been on the air.

I know I speak for scores of others when I say, “Happy New Year, Champ. We hope that you are the comeback story of the year in 2010.”

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