Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Cotto Gets a Gift in the Garden

Miguel Cotto enters the ring under the big top circular roof at Madison Square Garden - The World's Most Famous Arena.

NEW YORK – Let's say this right off the top – Miguel Cotto received a gift with a decision win over Joshua Clottey tonight.

Peering through blood and with a hideous, jagged gash that tore open his left eyebrow in the third round, courtesy of an unintentional clash of heads, Cotto obtained the split-decision win on the cards of two of the three official judges and escaped to go on to a possible mega fight against Manny Pacquiao.

Judge John McKaie saw it 115-112 for the defending WBO welterweight champion, Don Trella was way off base at 116-111 also for Cotto, whereas Tom Miller had it 114-113 for Clottey. This writer scored it 115-113 for Clottey.

CompuBox counted Clottey as landing more punches (222-179) with the decided edge in power punches (168-124). Cotto landed one more jab (55-54).

There was a lot of talk over the weekend about this fight. No matter where you went or who you asked, everybody had an opinion about who was going to win and who was going to lose. With the annual Boxing Writers Association of America dinner held here on Friday and the big fight on Saturday there was no shortage of boxing types kicking around town.

The entire occasion brought out all the big, old-time boxing names. Can you say Pete Hamill, Leonard Gardner, Budd Schulberg, LeRoy Neiman and Bill Gallo? With an electric night inside Madison Square Garden it made you realize what it must have been like when newspapers were king and boxing was the biggest game in town.

The only one missing was A.J. Liebling – and I think Joe would have loved it.

Abbott Joseph Liebling in his office at The New Yorker. "Joe" as his friends called him, was the greatest boxing writer that has ever lived.

The general consensus going in was that Cotto would come away with the win- most thought by way of decision. The difference, most surmised, was that Cotto simply possessed a higher gear, one that Clottey couldn't hope to match.

But Clottey proved to everyone, nearly a full house at Madison Square Garden and an HBO television audience, that he does indeed possess a higher gear. It seemed that tonight, it was the man from Ghana that landed the harder punches and came forward most of the fight.

“Yeah, I won the fight,” was all an exasperated and disappointed Clottey could say when it was all over. He tried to leave the ring immediately after the decision was announced, but was coaxed into staying and giving his comments. He was unmarked.

It was a raucous, festive atmosphere inside the Garden (music, banners, flags, colorful hats) on the eve of the city's annual Puerto Rican Day parade. The cheer that went up for La Borinquena, the national anthem of Puerto Rico, was ear-splitting. The Puerto Ricans booed the Ghanian anthem but cheered for Manny Pacquiao who was here in the house as though he were one of their own.

When Cotto made his way into the ring the ovation was deafening. He was carried to the ring with a tidal wave of support and as usual, he was all business. Clottey, who has a proud heritage to Ghana's Ga tribe was definitely in enemy territory.

The first round was a feel out if there ever was one with each man landing jabs. Surprisingly, Cotto put Clottey down at the end of round one with an innocuous looking jab. Clottey seemed as though he may have been a bit hurt by it, but he did rise on steady legs. Cotto, 10-8

Clottey was decked in the first round, but he came back like a house afire to give Miguel Cotto the fight of his life.

The second round was closer, but Cotto seemed to do more work and was looser. He let his hands go nicely and scored well when he punched. Cotto, 10-9

In the third Cotto was not as light on his feet and he stayed in the pocket more. Clottey hit him with left uppercuts and left hooks to the body. Right at the end of round, the two fighters clicked heads and Cotto came away with a deep cut over his left eye. Clottey, 10-9

The fourth saw Cotto bothered by the blood from the cut over his left eye. Clottey got the better of the action and was not bothered by Cotto's punches. Clottey backed Cotto up. With 30 seconds to go in the fourth Cotto seemed to hurt Clottey and the fight exploded with good two-way action. Clottey, 10-9

The fifth round saw Cotto getting hit flush. The blood stopped early. He was not seeing the right hand that Clottey was throwing. Cotto could be seen shaking his head and wiping away blood. Cotto threw or Clottey fell to the floor. Clottey down. Manny Pacquiao standing up during the break in action and watching Cotto intently. Clottey got up after a break and took over the remainder of the round. Clottey, 10-9

The sixth saw Clottey do his own version of rope-a-dope and his strategy seemed to be to make Cotto wear himself out. Cotto's primarily because of Clottey's inactivity. Cotto, 10-9

Cotto was cut, horribly so, over his left eyebrow. The blood was an impediment to his vision and he had a hard time seeing Clottey's right hand shots.

In the seventh Clottey did very good work. He delivered sharp punches. A big uppercut backed Cotto up. Cotto took a lot of heavy punches. Clottey controlled the ring and Cotto took many hard punches to the body and head. Clottey, 10-9

The eighth saw Cotto laying along the ropes not landing anything with power. The Puerto Rican crowd senses danger and begins chanting “Cotto! Cotto!” Cotto seemed weary, was bleeding heavily and his punches didn't seem to be hurting Clottey. Clottey, 10-9

The ninth round saw Clottey still coming forward. Cotto went back to the ropes ropes. Cotto not the same man that I saw beat Zab Judah two years ago. Cotto's punches are not moving Clottey. Clottey, 10-9

Cotto did the sign of the cross before coming out for the tenth. This was the lowest action round of the fight. There was a vicious exchange at the end of the round. Cotto landed with a big left hook, Clottey fires back. Even round

In the eleventh, Cotto could be seen shaking his head to get blood out of his eyes. The crowd against is chanting “Cotto! Cotto!” Cotto is not the type of defensive whiz that can fight effectively with his back on the ropes like fellow countryman Wilfred Benitez used to do. Cotto has a granite chin as Clottey hit him with some tremendous punches. Any other welterweight in the world would be on the floor. Clottey, 10-9

Cotto reels after getting hit with one of Clottey's shots. It was a brutal fight in which both boxers were pushed to their mental and physical limits.

In the final round, Clottey walks into a right hand. Crowd roaring, “Cotto! Cotto!” Cotto boxing smartly. He nails Clottey with a rabbit punch. Referee Arthur Mercante, Jr. who did a great job tonight calls time for Clottey to recuperate. Action resumes and Cotto is warned for a low blow. Clottey stalking. Cotto, 10-9

Most of the same people that were milling about afterwards were split in their view as to who won the fight. Manny Pacquiao and Bob Arum were smiling as Cotto could be next.

Cotto looks beatable now. He's not the same machine that he was before the Margarito fight. He may now be damaged beyond repair.

All-in-all, a good night of fights in a city that still does boxing better than any city in the world.

Joe would have loved it.

June 2009

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