Cotto And Arum Headed For Divorce?

BY Michael Woods ON February 18, 2009
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I could have used one of those body language “experts” the NY tabloid papers always trot out to examine the mannerisms in speech and movement when some boldface figure has transgressed, and is then trotted out in front of the media to come clean, during the Top Rank/Cotto-Jennings press conference held at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday.

“Experts” studied A-Rod while he put on a show of contrition on Tuesday, and the MLB star chose to maintain that he didn’t know what he was being injected with from 2001-2003, though he conceded that he knew it wasn’t Tic Tacs. “Experts” concluded the same thing a bright 10 year old could, that A-Rod was being less than forthcoming, that he was exhibiting tendencies of evasiveness during his “mea culpa” session. But I could have used another set of eyes to study Bob Arum, Cotto’s promoter, and the fighter, while they were up on the dais together, trying to move some more tickets for the Saturday tussle at MSG. Because I’m thinking that the relationship between Arum and Cotto must be damaged, if not irrevocably, then at least quite seriously. Because Arum has so vehemently defended Antonio Margarito from the charges that he intended to use illegal material to wrap his hands before his Jan. 24 fight with Shane Mosley, he is at odds with Cotto, who has gone on record as saying that Margarito’s punishment should be stiffer than the one year suspension handed down last week by the California State Athletic Commission.

Arum blasted CSAC for their Feb. 10 ruling, which called for the suspension of Margarito and trainer Javier Capetillo, for conspiring to insert excessively hard pads, which were smeared with a mystery substance which is still being analyzed, into the boxer’s hands before his bout. At the hearing, Capetillo admitted culpability.

"I committed a big mistake. I don't want this young man to have problems," Capetillo said regarding the hard pads, though not the mystery smears, through an interpreter.

"To take a kid who's done nothing wrong and revoke his license for a year: Are you crazy?" Arum railed outside the Van Nuys hearing room on Feb. 10. "If this was anyone other than a Mexican kid, there'd be a different result. The trainer does something wrong and the fighter who knows nothing suffers the consequences? What kind of nonsense is this?"

You think Cotto took this in, and just shrugged it off? Or did he see Arum’s response, and ask himself why his promoter, who is also Margarito’s promoter, was so vociferously defending a boxer who’d just been busted for cheating. You think maybe Cotto was wondering what sort of hand wraps and mystery substance were maybe in Margarito’s gloves on July 26, 2008 in Las Vegas, when Margarito stalked him and pummeled him into an 11th round ‘No Mas?’ You think maybe he felt like the promoter was choosing his favorite son, and it wasn’t him?

Cotto tried his best to contain his emotions on a conference call on Feb. 11, the day after the California commission ruled against Margarito and Capetillo.

“I don’t have any reaction,” Cotto said after being asked to comment on the Hand Wrap Flap. “It’s not my business. It’s the business of Margarito. I’m not one to talk about that.”

But after a reporter asked him about the possibility of Margarito fighting outside the US, the Puerto Rican boxer spoke from the heart.

“I think we should all abide by the rule that was made,” Cotto said. “He’s suspended for one year [in California]. He should be suspended everywhere. I don’t think he should fight. I think it’s not right for him to go and fight somewhere else. I think he has to abide by the rules and I think if he can’t fight in the United States he shouldn’t’ be able to fight at all.”

So, do you think the 78-year-old Arum, the feisty Brooklyn born lawyer who has always relished a rousing debate, would back off his defense of Margarito, let the matter simmer down, let some other scandals sprout up, so the press jackals can find other fresh meat to tear into? Nope.

“Well Miguel is certainly entitled to his opinion,” Arum responded on the call. “I mean people can differ on the circumstances. As far as I’m concerned California revoked his license and he has to make a living and he has the right to fight anyplace that will license him. And Mexico has indicated - or a certain place in Mexico that they will provide him with a license. And I am his promoter and I will do the best that I can for him. Now Miguel may feel otherwise as far as you know serving the year, etc. but - and he’s entitled to his opinion. But I have expressed my opinion and that’s my opinion. I don’t say everybody has to agree with me or have the same opinion I have.”

Arum has held firm on his belief that a fighter may well not know if something funky has been inserted by a cornerman wrapping his hands. Cotto, on that call, took the opposite stance.

“All I know is that when everybody gets their hands wrapped we know what’s in them,” Cotto said. “Every boxer knows if there is something different in their hands or not. And I think, as a fighter, you would know if you have anything in there or not.”

After that, he told the Puerto Rican newspaper Primera Hora that he wasn’t pleased with Arum’s stance on the Margarito matter, and said Top Rank was putting “money ahead of the well-being of a human being.”

So, it was with this string of events that I surveyed Arum and Cotto at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday. Even without that body language expert, I could see that the two didn’t appear to be chummy. Arum sat next to Cotto on the dais, and his body was twisted to the microphone, while the boxer’s body was turned several degrees away from the promoter. The boxer looked down, at his shoes, while the promoter stared at the microphone, as Michael Jennings, and Maureen Shea, and Matt Vanda talked up their scraps. Arum and Cotto, when at the mike, both said the right things, thanked the people you’d expect them to thank. Emotions didn’t boil over. There was no talk of a divorce, not there. But Cotto’s contract with Top Rank is up next year, and other promoters have been eyeing this relationship seemingly splinter with fascination.

Miguel Cotto would be the lead horse in just about any stable. He himself pondered the possibility with the LA Times on Wednesday, after the press conference.

“I’m just going to stay with them until the contract is finished,” he told writer Kevin Baxter. He said he’d talk extension with Top Rank, but admitted he could see himself jumping ship in 2010.

I asked Arum if he was in between a rock and a hard place, between Cotto and Margarito. He indicated that was not the case. But he is holding firm on his wish to see Margarito fight in Mexico within a year, while he is under suspension in the US.

“Absolutely, the Mexican commission supports that,” he said. Arum said he’s confident the mystery substance being analyzed will not be plaster, and says it is more than plausible that a fighter not know if a hardened pad were inserted over gauze on his fist. Margarito should not be held accountable for the actions of his trainer, he reiterated.

“This is the American legal system. Ron Borges and everyone can preach as much as they want. I’m a lawyer, and this is the rule of law! What Miguel said, that’s Miguel’s opinion.”

Could Cotto your stance against you come contract time, I asked Arum.

“If he does, that’s too bad,” the promoter said.

If you were a betting man, would you bet the house—if it isn’t in foreclosure—that Cotto stays with Top Rank? Not me—not even if I get some bailout money to bet with. That body language on that stage, and the language being thrown around which shows that Cotto and Arum aren’t close to being on the same wavelength, indicates that the Puerto Rican slugger may well be a Golden Boy, King or DiBella fighter come 2010. That said, in the next 10 months, there figure to be another dozen or so steroid scandals unfolding, and Arum does have a way of fixing things, when he chooses to.

So let’s not get ahead of ourselves. And let’s remember that money can be an extremely effective healing salve, and there will be a bucketload of it up for grabs when Margarito-Cotto II gets made. Might Bob Arum slice off a larger than usual slice of money pie for Cotto come rematch time, to mollify the hitter’s sore feelings? That’s a bet I’d take.

SPEEDBAG Had a nice chat with Jennings' trainer Brian Hughes. The 70-year-old cornerman, whose highest profile client to this point was Robin Reid, the ex super middleweight champion, said that Jennings came to the US to win. Hughes, who wouldn't look out of place on a pubstool anywhere, was asked if his man would win. "Wouldn't be here if we didn't think that," he said. "We've done all the hard work. This'll be like climbing Everest blindfolded. The press is treating him like he's just an English fella comin' over for a few quid. He'll show the American people how good he is." Hughes said his man's less than sterling resume lacks big names because promoters haven't chosen to spotlight him, until now. The big stage at MSG won't have Jennings soiling his trunks, Hughes said. "He wants a bit of glory," he said. Jennings will bring mementos honoring his brothers, Ray and Stephen, who died from a drug overdose, and car accident respectively, into the ring with him at MSG.

---I was disappointed that Jennings didn't come away with a phone number from one of the Wilhelmina models who were at the press conference, and will hold up round cards Saturday. Kid might as well leave New York with something aside from his purse and bruises dished out by Cotto. But ya never know. But really, in this case, we do. Top Rank isn't sure that Margarito didn't do lasting damage to Cotto, and they are serving up a short putt for Cotto to put away, to help him restore his confidence.

---You can watch undercard bouts that don't make the PPV on Yahoo, FYI. PPV fans will see MSG fights, then the post fight interviews, and will then be switched to Youngstown for the Pavlik-Rubio beef.

---I expect Duddy-Vanda to be a crowd pleaser. The Minnesotan Vanda seemed pumped. "I love hostile crowds," he said. "I hope the whole crowd is against me, booing me. The best man is gonna win, I sure hope it's me." LOVE that last line.

---On the subject of Duddy. Not sure if he just had his gameface on or what...But he and I have chatted a few times. I walked up to him at the press conference, and wished him well. I asked him what would be next after a win over Vanda. "A fight," he said, stonily, sarcastically; he then disengaged quickly, and called out to his new advisor Craig Hamilton. Hey, maybe he was just in gameface mode. But this was not a particularly charming interaction for a guy TSS has covered quite heavily. Hope he's not getting too full of himself, too soon...

---Arum read a good luck note to Jennings he said was sent by British PM Gordon Brown. Obama didn't send anyone on the card such a note, sad to say. Maybe Pavlik got one?

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