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Cotto Lost and Regained

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When Miguel Cotto entered the ring against Antonio Margarito on July 26, 2008, he did so as more than a well thought-of champion. With a record of 32-0 and 26 knockouts, Cotto was on the short list of best pound for pound fighters in the world. He had recent wins over near peak-level fighters like Shane Mosley and Zab Judah. When the bell sounded for round one, he was the favorite.

Early on, Cotto made the odds-makers look wise. His superior skill, hand speed, and activity kept him in control of the early rounds. However, his fortunes started to change midway through the fight. While he was still winning on points, he appeared to be the worse for wear despite what the punch counts might have told you. In some ways, it was similar to the great Meldrick Taylor/Julio Caesar Chavez fight, where for most of the fight, your brain told you one thing, but as time passed and you looked upon the faces of the combatants in their respective corner, your eyes told you another.

Everyone knew Margarito had a beard made of stone, so it was no surprise that while he may have taken more punches, his chin was holding steady. However, Cotto began to look more and more like a man who had been held at a CIA “black ops” site, undergoing enhanced interrogation.

Cotto had been stung in rounds before. His offensive heavy style meant there was always an element of risk involved in any of his fights. This was different though. He looked hurt. Broken down. By the time the fight hit the championship rounds, this suspicion became manifest as Margarito narrowed the scorecards and forced Cotto to a knee in the 11th. That night I saw something I had never seen before from Cotto. In the past when he had been tagged with something heavy, his response was to come back with some fire of his own. Against Margarito, Cotto looked afraid. He began to dance around the ring and was continually backing away in an effort to avoid the Mexican fighter’s heavy handed onslaught.

While Cotto would not quit, his corner wisely realized they needed to save him from himself and threw in the towel shortly after the 11th round knockdown. Even after taking a savage beating, Cotto was still only down on one card 94-96, with the other two scoring the fight a draw through the tenth.

Miguel Cotto has never been quite the same after that. The beating he took on that July evening slowed his speed and impacted his skill set. He is still a good fighter, but you can tell he has been changed. After a solid TKO victory over the ‘B’ level Michael Jennings and an uninspiring split decision victory over Joshua Clottey, Cotto suffered another beating in the ring, this time at the hands of Manny Pacquiao, who scored two knockdowns against the Puerto Rican before the fight was mercifully stopped in the 12th.

Cotto followed that loss with TKO wins over Yuri Foreman (who due to injury was fighting on one leg), and the faded Ricardo Mayorga. Cotto had always wanted a rematch against Margarito. On December 3, 2011, he got his wish. As fight fans know, some interesting evidence came to light about Antonio Margarito in the interim. Prior to his fight with Shane Mosley in January of 2009, Margarito had been unmasked as a cheat when a pre-fight inspection revealed he had been mixing plaster in with his hand wraps. Interestingly enough, Margarito took a beating of his own that night at the hands of “Sugar” Shane.

However, Cotto wanted justice of his own. And in their rematch, he found a measure of that when the fight was stopped in the 9th due to Cotto battering Margarito’s right eye into an unsightly swollen mess.

Still, it felt a bit like a pyrrhic victory though. Cotto’s once wildfire, audience-pleasing style had been diminished by caution, weakened reflexes, and an inability to fully recover from 10 plus rounds of punches from the likely loaded gloves of Margarito in their first fight.

Wide decision losses to Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Austin Trout followed. The latter defeat was particularly concerning. Trout is a fine fighter, but no world beater. Cotto was listless and all but outclassed against a boxer who he would have likely bounced around the ring prior to his first fight with Margarito. On that evening, Miguel Cotto looked very close to the end.

After that bordering on embarrassing loss, Cotto changed gears and reached out to Freddie Roach to take over the duties of trainer. The results were immediate and maybe even remarkable. Cotto looked spectacular in stopping solid pro Delvin Rodriguez in the 3rd and thoroughly dominated—if not ended—the once great Sergio Martinez with a 10th round retirement.

In both fights, Cotto showed a craft and skill level he had not shown in a very long time. While it’s fair to say that neither Rodriguez nor Martinez are “great” opponents at this point in their careers, the advancement of Cotto’s career—which seemed all but over after the Trout fight—is extraordinary. No one would have blamed you if you thought his days of being a top tier fighter in big money bouts was over. Were it not for the Mayweather/Pacquiao soap opera finally finding a penultimate date, Cotto might have fought either of them. This was a possibility that would have seemed not only unlikely, but depressing just two years before.

This second wind of Cotto’s is rather unexpected. Maybe it’s fool’s gold. Maybe he’ll be exposed if he gets in the ring with Golovkin or the winner of Manny/Money. That might not only be possible, but perhaps likely.

Still, when we consider all that Cotto has been through and what Margarito’s malfeasance may have robbed from him over three years ago, it’s essential to reach a favorable if honestly mixed conclusion about the career of Miguel Cotto. He will never be as great as he could have been, but he’s also more than he should have been. Those two thoughts may appear to be mutually exclusive. They are not.

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Adelaida Ruiz and Fernando Vargas Jr Score KO Wins at Pechanga

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Adelaida Ruiz and Fernando Vargas Jr Score KO Wins at Pechanga

TEMECULA, Ca.-After a long period of fighting out of the country, Adelaida Ruiz returned to Southern California and with her came hundreds of her ardent followers as she won by knockout over Mexico’s Maria Cecilia Roman on Friday.

Ruiz (14-0-1, 8 KOs) looked sharp and stepped in with a disciplined attack against Roman (17-8) who fought behind a peek-a-boo style throughout the fight. Ruiz fired away at openings with a measured attack in front of several thousand fans at Pechanga Arena on the MarvNation Promotions card.

Midway through the eight-round match Ruiz increased the tempo of the attack with blistering combinations to the body and head. During one of the combinations Ruiz connected with a left hook to Roman’s temple and down she went.

Roman beat the count, but Ruiz never slowed her attack and each round her blows seemed to increase with power, the impact of the punches resonating in the arena. The interim WBC super flyweight titlist, whose title was not at stake, seemed determined to win by knockout.

In the eighth and final round Ruiz staggered Roman with another left hook to the temple and that only sparked more punches from the Southern California fighter. She unloaded her bullet chambers and the referee decided to stop the action at 1:19 of the eighth round.

Other Bouts

Fernando Vargas Jr. (9-0) won the super middleweight contest by knockout when Heber Rondon (20-5) was unable to continue due to a shoulder injury at the end of the second round. Fans were displeased but it was not up to the fans.

Vargas showed patience against the veteran southpaw Rondon who showed some tricks in his bag. But after some exchanges in the second round it was a surprise to everyone in the arena when the referee signaled the fight was over at the end of the second round.

Undefeated Jonathan Lopez (11-0, 7 KOs) of Florida remained unblemished with a unanimous decision win over Mexico’s Eduardo Baez (21-5-2, 7 KOs) in a 10-round featherweight fight.

San Bernardino’s Lawrence King (13-1,11 KOs) faced veteran Mexican fighter Marco Reyes (37-10) and was able to use his speed and southpaw stance to win almost every round. But he had to work for it.

Reyes was able to avoid most of King’s attacks but in the sixth round after absorbing some heavy blows the Mexican fighter was unable to continue and the fight was stopped at the end of the sixth round for a knockout win by King.

In a super welterweight fight, Mario Ramos (11-0, 9 KOs) wore down Jesus Cruz (6-3) for three rounds with his left-handed assault and then lowered the boom with a non-stop barrage of lefts and rights. After nearly two-dozen nearly unanswered blows the referee stopped the battering at 2:09 of the fourth round.

Orlando Salgado (3-2) slugged it out with Squire Redfern (0-1) to win a super welterweight fight by decision after four back and forth rounds. Salgado connected with the bigger blows but never could stop Redfern from rallying round after round. All three judges scored in favor of Salgado.

A heavyweight battle saw Mike Diorio (1-5-1) win his first pro fight in out-punching debuting heavyweight Ian Morgan (0-1) after four rounds. Both fighters tired a bit but Diorio had a better idea of how to score and won by decision.

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Book Review

Reviews of Two Atypical Boxing Books: A ‘Thumbs Up’ and a ‘Thumbs Down’

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Reviews of Two Atypical Boxing Books: A ‘Thumbs Up’ and a ‘Thumbs Down’

Jack Johnson sheared the world heavyweight title from Tommy Burns in 1908 and lost it to Jess Willard in 1915. Between these two poles he had nine ring engagements, none of which commanded much attention with one glaring exception. His 1910 fight in Reno with former title-holder James J. Jeffries stands as arguably the most sociologically significant sporting event in U.S. history.

Toby Smith, who wrote extensively about Johnny Tapia while working as a sports reporter for the Albuquerque Journal, exhumes one of these forgotten fights in his meticulously researched 2020 book “Crazy Fourth” (University of New Mexico Press), sub-titled “How Jack Johnson Kept His Heavyweight Title and Put Las Vegas, New Mexico on the Map.” With 30 chapters spread across 172 pages of text and 10 pages of illustrations, it’s an enjoyable read.

The July 4, 1912 fight wherein Jack Johnson defended his heavyweight title against Fireman Jim Flynn, was dreadful. For the nine rounds that it lasted, writes Smith, Johnson and Flynn resembled prize buffoons rather than prizefighters.

Johnson, who out-weighed Flynn by 20 pounds, toyed with the Fireman whenever the two weren’t locked in a clinch. The foul-filled fight ended when a police captain decided that he had seen enough and bounded into the ring followed by a phalanx of his lieutenants. “Las Vegas ‘Battle’ Worst in History of American Ring” read the headline in the next day’s Chicago Inter Ocean, an important newspaper.

The fight itself is of less interest to author Smith than the context. How odd that a world heavyweight title fight would be anchored in Las Vegas, New Mexico (roughly 700 miles from the other Las Vegas), a railroad town that in 1912 was home to about nine thousand people. The titles of two of the chapters, “Birth of a Debacle” (chapter 1) and “A Misbegotten Mess” (chapter 27) capture the gist.

Designed to boost the economy and give the city lasting prestige, the promotion was a colossal dud. Fewer than four thousand people attended the fight in an 18,000-seat makeshift wooden arena erected in the north end of town. The would-be grand spectacle was doomed when the Governor sought to have the fight banned by the legislature, giving the impression the fight would never come off, and it didn’t help that Johnson and Flynn had fought once before, clashing five years earlier in San Francisco. Johnson dominated that encounter before knocking Flynn out in the eleventh round.

“Crazy Fourth” reminded this reporter of two other books.

“White Hopes and Other Tigers,” by the great John Lardner, originally published by Lippincott in 1950, includes Lardner’s wonderfully droll New Yorker essay on the 1923 fight between Jack Dempsey and Tommy Gibbons in Shelby, Montana, an ill-conceived promotion that virtually bankrupted the entire community. In the same vein, although more straightforward, is Bruce J. Evensen’s “When Dempsey Fought Tunney: Hokum, Heroes, and Storytelling in the Jazz Age.”

Johnson-Flynn II was suffused with hokum. Energetic press agent H.W. Lanigan cranked out dozens of puff pieces under multiple bylines for out-of-town papers in a futile attempt to build the event into a must-see attraction. His chief assistant Tommy Cannon, the ring announcer, had an interesting, if dubious, distinction. Cannon claimed to have copyrighted the term “squared circle.”

I found one little error in the book. The Ed Smith that refereed the Johnson-Flynn rematch and the Ed Smith that refereed the famously brutal 1910 fight between Battling Nelson and Ad Wolgast, were two different guys.  (It pains me to note this, as I know another author who made the same mistake and I see him every morning when I look in the bathroom mirror.) But this is nitpicking. One doesn’t have to be a serious student of boxing history to enjoy “Crazy Fourth.”

Knock Out! The True Story of Emile Griffith by Reinhard Kleist

knockout

Let me digress before I even get started. Whenever I am in a library in the city where I reside, I wander over to the “GV” aisle and take a gander at the boxing offerings. If, perchance, there is a book there that I haven’t yet read, I reflexively snatch it up and take it home.

When I got home and riffed through the pages of this particular book, I was surprised to find that it was a comic book of sorts, one that I would classify as a graphic non-fiction novel.

Emile Griffith, as is now common knowledge, was gay, or at least bisexual. Reinhard Kleist, a longtime resident of Berlin, Germany, was drawn to him because of this facet of his being. Kleist makes this plain in the introduction: “Despite [Berlin] being one of the most tolerant cities in the world, I have suffered homophobic insults and threats while walking hand in hand down the street with my boyfriend.”

Born in the Virgin Islands, Emile Griffith came to New York City at age 17 and found work in the garment district as a shipping clerk for a company that manufactured women’s hats. The factory’s owner, Howard Albert, a former amateur boxer, saw something in Griffith that suggested to him that he had the makings of a top-notch boxer and he became his co-manager along with trainer Gil Glancy. Kleist informs us that in addition to being “one of the greatest boxers ever seen in the ring,” Griffith was an incredible hat-designer.

Griffith, who died at age 75 in 2013, is best remembered for his rubber match with Benny Paret, a fight at Madison Square Garden that was nationally televised on ABC. Paret left the ring in a coma and died 10 days later without regaining consciousness. At the weigh-in, Paret, a Cuban, had insulted Griffith with the Spanish slur comparable to “faggot.”

The fight – including its prelude and aftermath (Griffith suffered nightmares about it for the rest of his life) – is the focal point of several previous works about Emile Griffith; biographies, a prize-winning documentary, and even an opera that was recently performed at The Met, the crème de la crème of America’s grand opera houses. The fatal fight factors large here too.

During a 17-year career that began in 1958, Emile Griffith went to post 112 times, answering the bell for 1122 rounds, and won titles in three weight classes: 147, 154, and 160. At one point, he had a 17-2 record in world title fights (at a time when there were only two relevant sanctioning bodies) before losing his last five to finish 17-7. No boxer in history boxed more rounds in true title fights.

Griffith, who finished his career with a record of 85-24-2 with 23 KOs and 1 no-contest, entered the International Boxing Hall of Fame with the inaugural class of 1990. There is absolutely no question that he belongs there, but to rank him among the greatest of all time is perhaps a bit of a stretch. Regardless, I take umbrage with the sub-title. The “true story” of Emile Griffith cannot be capsulated in a book with such a narrow scope. Moreover, it is misclassified; it ought not have been shelved with other boxing books but in some other section of the library as this is less a story about a prizefighter than about a man who is forced to wear a mask, so to speak, as he navigates his way through a thorny, heteronormative society.

Graphic novels are a growing segment of the publishing industry. The genre is not my cup of tea, but to each his own.

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Bazinyan Overcomes Adversity; Skirts by Macias in Montreal

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Camille Estephan, one of two prominent boxing promoters operating in Quebec, was back at his customary playpen tonight, The Montreal Casino, with an 8-bout card that aired in the U.S. on ESPN+. The featured bout pit Erik Bazinyan against Mexican globetrotter Jose de Jesus Macias in a super middleweight bout with two regional titles at stake. Bazinyan entered the contest undefeated (29-0, 21 KOs) and ranked #2 at 168 by the WBC, WBA, and WBO.

A member of the National Team of Armenia before moving with his parents to Quebec at age 16, Bazinyan figured to be too physical for Matias. He had launched his career as a light heavyweight whereas Matias had fought extensively as a welterweight. However, the battle-tested Macias (28-12-4) was no pushover. Indeed, he had the best round of the fight. It came in Round 7 when he hurt Bazinyan with a barrage of punches that left the Armenian on shaky legs. But Bazinyan weathered the storm and fought the spunky Macias on better-than-even terms in the homestretch to win a unanimous decision.

The judges were predisposed toward the “A side” and submitted cards of 98-92, 97-93, 97-93.

In his previous bout, Bazinyan was hard-pressed to turn away Alantez Fox. Tonight’s performance confirmed the suspicion that he isn’t as good as his record or his rating. He would be the underdog if matched against stablemate Christian Mbilli.

Co-Feature

In what stands as arguably the finest performance in his 14-year pro career, Calgary junior welterweight Steve Claggett dismantled Puerto Rico’s Alberto Machado, a former world title-holder at 130 pounds. Claggett had Machado on the canvas twice before the referee waived the fight off at the 2:29 mark of round three, the stoppage coming moments after the white towel of surrender was tossed from Machado’ corner. It was the sixth straight win inside the distance for the resurgent Claggett (35-7-2, 25 KOs) who was favored in the 3/1 range.

Claggett scored his first knockdown late in round two with a chopping left hook. The second knockdown came from a two-punch combo — a short right uppercut to the jaw that followed a hard left hook to the body. Machado, whose promoter of record is Miguel Cotto, falls to 23-4.

Claggett, who won an NABF belt, would welcome a fight with Rolly Romero. A more likely scenario finds him locking horns with undefeated Arnold Barboza, a Top Rank fighter.

Also…

Quebec southpaw Thomas Chabot remained undefeated with a harder-than expected and somewhat controversial 8-round split decision over 20-year-old Mexico City import Luis Bolanos. At the conclusion, Chabot, who improved to 9-0 (7), was more marked-up than his scrappy opponent who declined to 4-3-1. This was an entertaining fight between two high-volume punchers.

In a middleweight affair slated for six, Alexandre Gaumont improved to 8-0 (6 KOs) with a second round TKO over hapless Piotr Bis. The official time was 3:00.

A 37-year-old Pole making his North American debut, Bis (6-3-1) was on the canvas six times in all during the six minutes of action. There were two genuine knockdowns, the result of short uppercuts, two dubious knockdowns, a slip, and a push.

As an amateur, Gaumont reportedly knocked out half of his 24 opponents. This sloppy fight with Bis wasn’t of the sort from which Gaumont can gain anything useful, but he is a bright prospect who bears watching.

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