Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Cotto-Ali Thoughts

On December 2nd the spotlight of the Boxing world shined on a familiar and historic setting the legendary Madison Square Garden in New York City, NY. A venue rightfully known as “The Mecca Of Boxing “and “The World’s Most Famous Arena.” A venue truly rich in Boxing history and through its several incarnations has been sight to so many memorable battles and historic moments.

Through the years many boxers have largely established their base in The Garden. One of those fighters has been future Hall of Famer Miguel Cotto. Cotto, a fighter who has won world championships from the 140lb. Jr. Welterweight to the 160lb. Middleweight divisions has truly had an illustrious career and has been one of the marquee draws of Boxing and of the sport in Madison Square Garden for many years having fought many of his significant battles inside The Garden’s ring.

After nearly seventeen years and forty-six professional fights, it was fitting that Cotto’s final battle would come in the venue he had largely established as his home. The thirty-seven year old would defend his World Boxing Organization (WBO) Jr. Middleweight world championship on that December evening. Cotto’s opposition on this night would come in the form of former United States Olympian Sadam Ali.

Ali, a native of Brooklyn, NY represented the United States in the 2008 Olympics entered the fight against Cotto with a professional record of 25-1, with 14 Knockouts. Ali’s lone defeat as a pro came in March of last year when he was stopped in nine rounds by Jessie Vargas in a bout for the vacant WBO Welterweight world championship. Since suffering that setback however, Ali had gone unbeaten in three bouts, winning one by knockout, and entered the bout against Cotto rated number nine in the world in the WBO Jr. Middleweight ratings.

Despite being eight years the junior of his opponent, his Olympic pedigree, and his momentum coming into the fight there was little disputing the significant experience disadvantage that faced Ali in the form of Cotto, who himself had an Olympic pedigree having represented his native Puerto Rico in the 2000 Olympics and who come into the bout with a professional record of 41-5, with 33 Knockouts. Even though it appeared Cotto had both an experience and power advantage over Ali, this appeared on paper as though it would be a difficult fight stylistically for Cotto.

Ali is a slick boxer with good lateral movement and quick hands. If Ali could withstand Cotto’s punching power, it interested this observer to see whether or not the champion Cotto would be able to nullify Ali’s elusiveness and be able to break the challenger’s will as he had been able to do to numerous opponents throughout his career. It is a task however that is often easier said than done even when one is discussing a great fighter as Miguel Cotto is.

Ali’s strategy appeared clear from the outset to use his movement to establish himself as an elusive target and in the process offset Cotto’s gradual pressure style. The champion appeared clearly bothered by Ali’s hand speed early on and the challenger was clearly intent on proving that he had come to fight and that this would not be the showcase farewell performance of a future Hall of Famer that some had anticipated.

It was the challenger who landed the first significant punch of the fight as he staggered Cotto with a flush right hand to the jaw in the second round. Despite appearing to have clearly hurt the champion, Ali appeared somewhat hesitant to press the issue perhaps out of awareness and respect for Cotto’s punching power.

Cotto, as he has shown throughout his career, was able to regroup and appeared to get a slight advantage in the third round. As the fight progressed and evolved into a tactical battle, it became apparent as is sometimes the case in strategic Boxing matches that rounds in this fight would be determined more so by moments that can sway opinion as to who got the upper hand in rounds rather than one fighter being able to stand out clearly from the other for the entire duration of a round.

This was primarily due to both fighters having periods of effectiveness throughout. A challenge that can be present when it comes to tactical fights that often end up being close for both official judges as well as observers watching a fight is to look for small, but distinguishable differences between the two fighters and what they are able to accomplish during periods when they are effective.

In this fight Miguel Cotto appeared in my eyes to have trouble cutting the ring off from Ali and also had trouble landing solid punches on the challenger consistently. Although Cotto did get the benefit of the doubt in some rounds on my scorecard based on effective aggression in being able to keep Ali on the defensive for periods of time, Cotto was not able to land consistently and was even made to miss punches he threw during periods where he was able to get Ali on the ropes where it was theoretically to his advantage. This was due to Ali’s lateral movement and ability to avoid being a stationary target for lengthy periods of time. It was also noticeable that Cotto was unable to establish a constant attack to the challenger’s body, which could have had an impact on Ali’s ability to use his movement to evade Cotto’s pressure and deflect the champion’s attacks in the middle and late rounds.

At the end of the twelve round world championship bout I arrived with a scorecard of eight rounds to four or 116-112 in points in favor of Ali. Although Cotto was able to be effective throughout, I felt the overall difference was Ali’s ring generalship in being able to dictate how the fight was fought as well as his hand speed. Given that this was announced as Cotto’s final fight it would be understandable how some might have felt that Cotto may have and perhaps should have been given the benefit of the doubt given how competitive and close the fight was.

It is important to remember that contrary to the beliefs of some, Boxing is supposed to be scored and officiated objectively though there have been several instances throughout Boxing history where a champion/marquee attraction has been given the nod in close fights that could have gone the other way. In this instance however, it would be Ali who was declared the winner by twelve round unanimous decision via scores of 116-112, the same score as this observer, and 115-113 on two official scorecards or seven rounds to five making Sadam Ali the new WBO Jr. Middleweight world champion.

As is often the case when it comes to close fights, there could be some rounds in this fight that could be open to interpretation. Rounds that I have often referred to over the years as “Swing Rounds” where there can be a healthy difference of opinion as to which fighter got the upper hand. Even though I feel Ali got the upper hand in this fight, Miguel Cotto was consistently aggressive throughout the fight, but was unable to be consistently effective in that aggression and this along with Ali’s speed and ability to periodically hurt Cotto throughout is what I based my score on. If there is one thing that may have made the fight appear more definitive in Ali’s favor that one could point to and say he did not do consistently was when he was able to periodically stagger Cotto with right hands, hooks, and uppercuts, he did not always press forward and despite being respectful of Cotto’s punching power and ability to counter punch, some could say Ali did not make the most of those opportunities when Cotto appeared to be in trouble.

Ali’s tactics were however, enough to score points particularly down the stretch in the late rounds when the fight was on the table. Although as I have also said over the years a scorecard of eight rounds to four may give the impression and appearance of a lopsided fight, in reality it often is an illustration of a close bout where one fighter was able to do a little more than his opponent. Speaking for myself, I felt Ali did enough to win two out of the last three rounds of the fight. If Miguel Cotto had won rounds ten and twelve on my scorecard, I would have ended up with a draw at the end of the fight. For those who scored the fight seven rounds to five in favor of Ali, the margin would be one round that would be the difference between a fight where a winner is declared and one that ends in a draw.

Unlike some bouts in the recent history of the sport, there was not an element of controversy, but rather this fight was one where one fighter simply bested the other in a close and competitive fight where both former champion and challenger turned new champion showed the class and sportsmanship that truly makes all of sports great when it is on display. Absent from the aftermath of this fight were accusations of a bad decision and/or questions regarding the scoring of the fight.

After what he insists was the last time he would step into the ring as a fighter, Miguel Cotto in his final act showed why he was a great fighter, world champion, and future Hall of Famer by first congratulating his opponent Sadam Ali on his victory and then expressing his appreciation for the support Boxing fans have given him his entire career. Whether or not the end of Miguel Cotto’s era as a superstar of the sport of Boxing will now signal the beginning of the era of the rising star of Sadam Ali remains to be seen. It is my hope however, that the “Class” these two world champions displayed before, during, and after their fight will be something that others in the sport and the fans who support it worldwide will follow as it was one of the highlights of a great fight on yet another historic night of Boxing at it’s “Mecca” Madison Square Garden.

“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”

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