Friday, March 25, 2011

Kermit Cintron -- A Land of Confusion

Kermit Cintron has lost to only two men, both elite fighters,  yet his career momentum has stalled.  Meanwhile, lesser fighters, with better promotional and network support, attain big fights.  Cintron's boxing career has been highlighted by bizarre happenings in the ring.  He has failed to capitalize on his big opportunities and many have questioned his mental toughness and boxing aptitude. 

Antonio Margarito destroyed Cintron in two separate fights with the combination of relentless aggression and merciless body punching.  Cintron crumbled both physically and emotionally against Margarito. 

Sergio Martinez defeated Cintron regardless of what the official ledger reads.  Martinez knocked down Cintron with a short left hand that was so precise and powerful, that Cintron claimed it was a head butt -- the ref agreed.  The bout was subsequently ruled a draw but Martinez easily won by knockout or by at least six points if scoring the fight accurately.  In hindsight, the loss to Martinez doesn't look so bad, as the Argentine has ascended to the top rungs of the boxing ladder.    

Paul Williams did not defeat Cintron -- again, discounting what the official record indicates.  Cintron was boxing beautifully before falling out of the ring.  After landing in the crowd, he did not make it back to the ring in the alotted 20 seconds.  According to the rules of California, the fourth round had to be scored.  In almost all other jurisdictions, the fight would have been ruled a no-contest.  Cintron easily won two of the first three full rounds and shouldn't have lost.

Cintron's achievements on the plus side of the ledger include a thorough outboxing of prospect Alfredo Angulo, a welterweight title, spectacular knockouts and tremendous right hands.  When he was a young titlist, he was regarded as one of the best knockout artists in all of boxing.  

Summing up Cintron's career to this point, his fights are never boring. He's almost must-see TV.   There could be sensational knockouts or additional entries in the annals of historically strange fights. 

Furthermore, Cintron's drama is not exclusive to inside the boxing ring.  He has been through at least four promoters and three trainers.  He has been sued by one former promoter (Main Events) and has essentially been pawned off on another (Lou DiBella recently enlisted Top Rank to co-promote Cintron).  

If it sounds like Cintron hasn't made a lot of friends throughout his boxing career, he's not receiving Christmas bouquets from HBO either.  After his bogus draw with Martinez, Cintron was brought back to be an "opponent" for Angulo, one of the fastest rising prospects in the sport.  The thinking by Gary Shaw, Angulo's promoter, was that Cintron would crumble under the constant pressure, like he did in the fights against Margarito.  After surprisingly and soundly defeating Angulo, Cintron had to wait another year to get a network fight.  Cintron has not fought since the Williams bout ten months ago; in short, he is a man without a country. 

A few years ago, Emanuel Steward was brought in to train Cintron.  It was thought to be a perfect match because Steward was an expert in coaching tall fighters to keep their height, use proper distance and hold or tie-up aggressive opponents on the inside.  Steward was supposed to improve Cintron's defense and vary his offensive attack. The union didn't lead to a better result against Margarito.  The two parted ways and Cintron selected Ronnie Shields as his next trainer.  

It seemed odd when Shields stated that he wanted to make Cintron more of a boxer.  Cintron always looked for the KO and had no "Plan B" if the knockout didn't come.  Usually trainers don't try to make radical changes with experienced fighters.  By emphasizing boxing over knockouts, from the outside it looked like Shields was trying to create a new Cintron -- no more "Killer."  After Martinez outclassed Cintron, the new approach didn't seem to be leading to better outcomes.    

However, if you squint hard enough, you can start to see the maturation of Cintron in the ring.  The new, more patient Cintron performed exceptionally against Angulo and dictated the early rounds against Williams.  Over his last few fights he has incorporated side-to-side movement and patiently works off his jab, awaiting opportunities for power shots.  That Cintron was able to fluster Williams and control distance shows that Shields' teachings have had a significant impact.  It also may be that Cintron is finally a willing pupil. 

However, real questions remain unanswered about Cintron's future.  Will a big network ever take a chance on Cintron again?     Big network money has good reason to shy away from Cintron, with his legacy of disappointments, excuses and mental fragility. 

Do any fighters really need to fight him? Lou DiBella couldn't get any big names in the ring against Cintron; perhaps Top Rank will fare better.  

Cintron will eventually get a shot at one more big fight.  He's still a name and is a dangerous opponent.  There has been talk about facing junior middleweight titleholder Cornelius Bundrage and possibly matching up with Miguel Cotto after Cotto fights Margarito.  Cintron has a good chance to win either fight (the Bundrage fight is a perfect style matchup).  

If he keeps progressing under Shields and stays poised, he might have a real second act.  He seems to have learned how to succeed against pressure fighters and has added different dimensions as boxer.  

But has he learned what it takes to be an elite fighter?  For Cintron has the skills to prevail; that has never been questioned.  He won a title with just a right hand.  Does he have the focus and self-confidence to be great? 

In the next 18 months, he could be on top of the world again, or out of boxing.  Neither outcome would be shocking.   

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