Years ago, Patrick Kehoe wrote, “We must be ever vigilant to record the truths and meanings that take place in the boxing ring.”
With that in mind, let’s take a look at Miguel Cotto’s December 1st outing against Austin Trout at Madison Square Garden.
Cotto has fought with honor as a professional boxer for twelve years. At his best, he could choose between outboxing opponents and mauling them in the trenches. He was always willing to go in tough.
Miguel followed Felix Trinidad as the standard bearer for Puerto Rican boxing. He’s soft-spoken with aura of dignity about him. An awareness of the gravity of what he does for a living is etched on his face. The desire for self-improvement through hard work has been a constant in his life. Late in his ring career, Cotto decided to learn English. To have learned it as well as he has at an advanced age is a significant accomplishment.
Cotto-Trout was Miguel’s eighth fight at Madison Square Garden, where he has been a profitable franchise for seven years. Team Cotto and Golden Boy (the lead promoter for the fight) were priming Miguel for a big-money outing against Canelo Alvarez in Las Vegas on May 4, 2013. Viewed in that light, the choice of Trout as an opponent was a high-risk low-reward gamble. Austin is the kind of fighter who would always have given Miguel trouble. His 25-and-0 record had been built against limited opposition. But he’s a tall elusive southpaw with skills.
Also, Cotto’s power hasn’t carried well to 154 pounds. Opponents at 140 said that his hook to the body felt like an iron wrecking ball. Opponents at 154 take his punches and return fire.
Fighters rarely say that they aren’t as good as they used to be. But at the final pre-fight press conference for Cotto-Trout, Miguel acknowledged, “I’m getting older. Everybody knows it. I just want to be the best myself that I can be.”
British promoter Frank Warren once observed, “The knockout punch is about perfect timing. So is matchmaking; picking the right guy at the right time.”
Many believed prior to Cotto-Trout that the selection of Austin as Miguel’s opponent was the product of careless matchmaking.
There’s a special feel to a night at the fights at Madison Square Garden. But Cotto-Trout never caught on as a must-see promotion. There were 21,239 fans in the arena when Miguel exacted revenge against Antonio Margarito last December. This time, the announced attendance was 13,096 and the atmosphere was far less torrid.
Despite being the fighter with a belt, Trout entered the ring first and was introduced first as well. Then the action began.
During fight week, Miguel had looked older than his thirty-two years. When he got in the ring, he still looked older.
Cotto was the aggressor early in the fight. He knows how to cut off a boxing ring, and he worked the body nicely when he got inside. But for the most part, Trout kept him at bay with good footwork and a stiff jab. By round six, Miguel was visibly tiring. Then he stopped pushing the pace, which allowed Austin equal say in the flow of the fight.
In the second half of the bout, Cotto gave it all he had. He seemed to dig deeper than Trout. But as the Gospel According to St. Matthew recounted in a somewhat different context, Miguel’s spirit was willing but his flesh was weak. The reserves of strength simply weren’t there.
The scoring of the judges was a lopsided 119-109, 117-111, 117-111 in Trout’s favor. Most ringside observors (including this one) thought the fight was closer than that. But one was hard-pressed to find an impartial observor who thought that Miguel had won.
After the fight, Cotto told the media, “I still have boxing in my mind. I just want to rest with my family the rest of the year. I never make excuses. I accept my defeats and I learn from them and I just move forward.”
What Miguel should learn from this fight is that it might be time to retire. He’s still a capable fighter. There will always be a sanctioning body eager to designate a Miguel Cotto fight as a “world championship” bout (for a sanctioning fee, of course). But he isn’t Miguel Cotto in the ring anymore and never will be again.
Cotto is an “old” thirty-two. Twelve years of professional boxing on top of a high-profile amateur career have put considerable wear and tear on his body. The beatings he suffered at the hands of Antonio Margarito and Manny Pacquiao took something out of him, physically and psychologically, that will never be restored. He can fight on as a name opponent in the manner of Shane Mosley, winning some and losing some while taking debilitating blows to the brain. Or he can retire with dignity and look back on his career at a job well done.
Billy Graham, who trained Ricky Hatton from his first pro fight through the glory years of Hatton’s career, once said, “The last thing I want for my fighters is longevity. Longevity takes a fighter into dangerous waters.”
Miguel Cotto should ask himself, “How much money is enough? How many more blows to the head in the gym and in fights should I take before I say, ‘It’s over.’”
* * *
On another note –
As traditional news outlets cut back on boxing coverage, the Internet is keeping the sport alive. It’s an anything-goes environment. Truth and misinformation are often found side-by-side. The power of a media outlet frequently counts for more than the quality of the work it hosts. There are no barriers to entry, so the universe of blogs, columns, and websites keeps expanding. Unfortunately, some very good writing is lost in the sludge.
Boxing fans should Google the names of Bart Barry, Carlos Acevedo, Jimmy Tobin, and Hamilton Nolan and get to know their writing. It’s very good.
Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. His most recent book (And the New: An Inside Look at Another Year in Boxing) was published by the University of Arkansas Press.