Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Nature of the Game
All too often in the fight game, one loss is considered the end of a career. No matter how amazing one’s record may be, a loss is a sure-fire way to drop a few notches in the sweet science. This is no fault of the fighter, but of the fan.
Because of this notion, people like Floyd Mayweather, Jr., who have tremendous talent, refuse to fight the tough fights due to their unshakable connection to their "0" in the L column. This is the topic for another article, but the overall warrant still stands: a loss in boxing is not only hard to overcome mentally and physically, but hard to overcome with regards to fans’ lasting impressions of the fighter’s stature.
2008—Two Major Upsets
Miguel Cotto and Kelly Pavlik were the sport’s two up and coming superstars, a determined Puerto Rican boxer-puncher and a down-to-earth Youngstown slugger. For sure, analysts said, these fighters were the future of boxing. After Cotto’s knockout by the rugged Antonio Margarito and Pavlik’s ‘boxing lesson’ courtesy of Philly veteran Bernard Hopkins, who will have a harder time regaining the spotlight?
The conventional answer says: Miguel Cotto. After all, Kelly Pavlik still has his 160 lb belt and was fighting 10 pounds above his natural weight with Bronchitis and an injured elbow. Kelly Pavlik was not “The Ghost” we knew him to be on that fateful night in Atlantic City, whereas Cotto fought 110% in his own weight class and still fell short.
As a fighter, I know what it feels like to give your all and still fall short. At least Pavlik has the thoughts in his head “If I were healthy…If I were at 160…” These thoughts go a long way to rebuilding a fighter’s shattered ego.
Yet, as we all know, there are multiple views on any given subject, including this one. Miguel Cotto was literally beating Margarito up throughout the fight, especially in the first five rounds. Even after that, although many of the mid rounds went to Margarito, these were primarily the result of vicious flurries, administered while Cotto was in the corner or on the ropes.
While the fighters were in the center of the ring, Cotto was in total control of the bout, making Margarito miss and punishing him for the smallest mistakes. It was truly a site to behold for any boxing fan.
Pavlik did not have this success with Hopkins. Even though he fought Hopkins heavier than his natural weight and with multiple physical ailments, he was literally taken to school the entire fight. My father turned to me after the fifth round and drew a comparison between Hopkins and Cotto: “Perhaps Hopkins’ 43 year old body will finally show itself in the final seven rounds.”
How naïve of us. In no round could the observer say “Pavlik won this round single handedly,"—at best one could say “Pavlik may have edged out this round.”
And, to be frank, even if Pavlik were healthy, I don’t see any way he could beat Hopkins at 170. Much like his fight with Taylor at 166, Pavlik lacked the power and snap on his punches which has made him such a trademark figure in the past. One could argue “he beat Taylor with his work rate which he did not administer in the Hopkins fight,” yet Hopkins style is made for fighters with a high work rate.
He made Calzaghe look like a first-fight amateur, he made Roy Jones look mediocre, he made De La Hoya look like a joke…The man has skills.
Cotto lost his fight because he was too tired and too shaky to continue with the persistent Margarito. Pavlik lost his fight because he couldn’t find an answer to his opponent’s awkward style. We can see that one lost primarily on conditioning grounds, while the other lost with his inadequate boxing ability.
I realize I’ve made two very brash statements, yet do not take them out of context. I am not saying Cotto is out of shape and didn’t train hard enough, neither am I saying Pavlik (an Olympic trials qualifier, trust me I know how hard that is to attain) lost because he isn’t good at boxing. But from a psychological standpoint, Cotto is saying to himself “I got tired,” Pavlik is saying to himself “I had no answers.” Which would affect you most?
Although we may jump to conclusions and say because Cotto got knocked out in his own weight class he will have a harder time coming back into the limelight, we must be careful. I believe both fighters will come back from their losses with no loss in poise, even with the damage suffered.
However, I feel that Cotto has a far better chance to come back simply because his fight was competitive, whereas Pavlik’s fight was not. I know if I go into the gym one day sick and get beat in sparring, I’m generally not saying to myself “If I were healthy I would have won,” I am saying “I lost,” especially if I lost handedly.
However, if I go into the gym feeling great, have good sparring for 11 rounds but get tired and ultimately get stopped at the end, I’m saying “I did well until I got tired.” Of course, Cotto suffered hundreds of times more physical damage in his fight then I ever would in sparring (consider also that Cotto was a heavy favorite to win the fight), but the fact remains: a competitive fight, no matter what the outcome, has a much better effect on a fighter then an uncompetitive fight.
Ultimately, a fighter learns more from a loss then he ever could with a win. Both fighters will rest and have new things to work on, and I believe both fighters will come back hungrier than ever.