Friday, December 2, 2011

Cotto-Margarito II: Keys to the Fight

Read below for the five keys to the Miguel Cotto-Antonio Margarito rematch and the official SNB prediction.  

1.  Can Margarito See?

If a boxer can't effectively see, he won't win. This may sound obvious, but it’s a truism that can’t be overlooked.  Sure, a fighter can survive a few rounds at the end of match with impaired vision, but Margarito won't last 12 rounds against Cotto if he can't see shots coming.  Cotto places his punches too well for Margarito to win without his vision being close to 100%.

Margarito suffered a detached retina and a broken orbital bone is his last fight against Manny Pacquiao.  These are potentially career-ending injuries.  Even if boxers are able to continue their careers after enduring these particular eye problems, there is no guarantee that they will return to their previous level of excellence. 

The New York State Athletic Commission cleared Margarito for this fight; however, some additional factors should be considered.  From the outside, one cannot fully gauge whatever internal and external political pressures were placed on the Commission, but it's clear that there were many powerful factions that did not want New York City to lose the millions of dollars of economic activity associated with this fight.  The live gate is $3 Million in it of itself.  In addition, there are hotel rooms, meals, shopping and transportation.  The economics of the fight should not be dismissed.  

I am not accusing the Commission of any underhanded activity, but it did express some reservations prior to Margarito's clearance.  Perhaps, due to the overall significance of the match, the Commission was more inclined to approve him rather than reject him.  If Margarito were some unknown scrub and had the same medical reports, would the Commission still have cleared him?  We don't have an answer to this question, nor will we ever, but it is worth consideration.

Additionally, receiving medical clearance to box and fighting at 100% are two entirely different propositions.  As anyone who has recovered from an injury knows, there are various physical and psychological hurdles to overcome before one performs at an optimal level.  Margarito has sparred in over 100 rounds during his training for Cotto.  But sparring takes place in a controlled environment, who knows for sure how well Margarito's vision will hold up during a live fight with only one minute between rounds?

We must assume that the Commission performed its proper due diligence and that Margarito is capable of defending himself in the ring.  However, if Margarito's vision is subpar, the fight could end very quickly.

2.  Punching Power

In their first fight, Cotto started beautifully, connecting with a high percentage of power shots and combinations.  His left hook and right hand landed with ease.  Nevertheless, his power shots were not enough to dissuade Margarito from pressing forward in the fight's second half.  In fact, as the bout progressed, Cotto was unable to keep Margarito off of him.  Before even addressing the possibility that Margarito used illegal hand wraps in their first fight, it must be emphatically stated that Cotto was unable to seriously hurt Margarito. 

The question remains about Margarito's punching power.  Were his damaging right hands and uppercuts the product of superior power, or merely a function of loaded gloves?  Margarito's power and pressure were enough for Cotto to bow out of the first fight, but it wouldn't be appropriate or just to attribute that outcome, in the wake of Margarito's hand wrap scandal, to Margarito's legitimate punching power.  The second fight will reveal what Margarito's true power is.   

3.  Skin

Both fighters have gotten cut in their latter years.  Margarito's face was grotesque by the end of the Pacquiao fight.  Cotto had serious cuts against Margarito, Clottey and Pacquiao.  There probably is a fair amount of scar tissue that both fighters have at this point in their careers (scar tissue opens up fairly easily).  An important aspect of this match might be where the cuts occur and how well their respective corners contain the damage.  In addition, the fighters themselves must determine how much impairment they are willing to endure.

4.  Will

Cotto took a knee to end their first bout.  Meanwhile, Margarito lasted to the bitter end against Pacquiao, even though he had a severely busted up face and lacked a legitimate chance to win the match.  To his credit, Cotto fought 12 tough rounds several times in his career, including battles against Shane Mosley, Zab Judah and Josh Clottey. 

However, when push comes to shove, will Cotto allow himself to take the type of punishment needed to defeat Margarito?  Is he willing to go out on his shield?  These questions have been answered by Margarito, who was transformed into a human piƱata by Pacquiao and beaten to a pulp by Mosley.  If this fight turns into a war of attrition, which will happen in all likelihood, does Cotto have the intestinal fortitude to survive, let alone thrive?

5.  Smoger

With the selection of Steve Smoger, fight fans received the best possible referee assignment for this matchup.  Smoger has the reputation of giving fighters the benefit of the doubt.  He often lets matches continue far longer than other referees would.  This helps both combatants in that Smoger will not be looking to stop the bout the instant that a fighter is in trouble or a bad cut appears.

Two of Smoger's best performances were the Wolak-Rodriguez fight, where the ref let the match continue despite a closed eye from Wolak, and Taylor-Pavlik I where he gave Kelly Pavlik the opportunity to survive an enormous knockdown; subsequently, Pavlik stopped Taylor.  Smoger will stop a fight when it is necessary, but he won't let the boxers' records, the crowd or the house favorite dictate when a match should end. 


This fight will be a war, with a fast pace and exhilarating periods of action.  In the early rounds, expect Cotto to establish his lead left hook and combinations with smart, short flurries.  He will target and test, as he should, Margarito's surgically-repaired eye.   Cotto will try to control distance, with lateral movement and periods of disengagement.  Margarito will use the opening rounds to attack Cotto's body and to establish his timing for his counter right hands. 

Essentially, I think the general tenor of the first fight will continue in the second one.  Cotto will win some early rounds based on clean punching.  He may even have Margarito in serious trouble in the first third of the match.  Eventually, Margarito will find his way into the fight and impose his will with constant pressure, body shots and straight right hands.  

I expect both fighters to open up severe cuts on their opponents as the match progresses.  Ultimately, the fight will be decided by the resiliency of the respective boxers' skin and body, and the talent of their cutmen.  The particular score of the fight will be less important than the physical condition of the boxers.  Cotto's history of cuts scares me the most.  I don't see his face holding up for 12 rounds.

Margarito TKO Cotto 9, fight stopped due to cuts. 

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