The Fight That Had to Be

Avi Korine and Graydon Gordian on Cotto-Margarito 2
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Graydon Gordian: So, Avi, we've been to the joyous
center of the Puerto Rican soul and back. I, for one, have never seen a boxing crowd that ecstatic.

Avi Korine: It was pretty incredible, I have to say. Never been to a fight quite like that, with blood so much in the air and the joyous celebration of violent and bloody revenge. As a non-boricua, this was much more enjoyable than my normal howling at being stuck trying to get across the Puerto Rican day parade.

How was it for you, being that you had ethnic pride on the line?

Graydon: As a boricua, I can fully sympathize with your frustration at the PR day parade. I relish my ethnic ambiguity that day more than any. Truthfully, I've always had a weird distance with my ethnic heritage. I don't speak Spanish. I was raised in Texas, where there aren't any Puerto Ricans. And anyone in MSG on Saturday can firmly attest to the fact that this whole "pan-latin brotherhood" notion is kind of bullshit. So Saturday night was kind of a cultural baptism by blood and reggaeton.

Avi: Well, you deserved to be proud Saturday night. That was an edgy room as the fight began. And even before the fight with the lusty booing of the Mexican anthem. Margarito really played up his role as the heel. He truly is a satisfying villain. As the fight began what were your impressions of the early rounds, when Cotto seemed to take control with his quicker hands and better boxing skills.

Graydon: The early rounds seemed to mimic the early rounds of their first fight, which was both reassuring—further evidence that Cotto is the superior boxer—and unsettling because the first fight's trajectory still seemed possible. The fourth round, the only round I gave to Margarito, left me paralyzed with anxiety. The thought of this fight slipping away from Cotto would have shattered my world. Had Cotto lost, I surely would have moved to Puerto Rico and joined a radical leftist separatist movement, or started working for a hedge fund, or something. Part of me would have died.

Once the fight began, was there ever a moment when you were genuinely concerned Cotto would lose?

Avi: Absolutely! Sure, Cotto looked sharper than ever and was picking Margarito off with ease. But you just knew that Margarito would never stop coming. He's like a mummy from some shitty horror film, no matter how many times you burn him or cut off chunks off his corpse he'll still be doggedly marching forward. Cotto dominated the first round, but afterwards I looked up at the scorecard and was terrified that there were still eleven rounds to go; and you just knew Margarito wasn't going everywhere. Every time Cotto stopped along the ropes or traded I would scream, "too early," or simply, "Move!"

And every time Margarito landed one of his looping body shots you felt the entire crowd go silent. It was as though it became more stressful the more Cotto's mastery became apparent, because it would have been even more tragic if he lost the same way again.

Graydon: Dear Lord, the ropes! And the trading shots. I nearly threw up. I could hardly yell "get off the ropes" my chest seized up so tight every time he got stuck on them. Thank God he knew to get off them without my expert advice ringing out clearly over the quiet hum of the very relaxed, almost indifferent crowd.

They had some great exchanges, but Christ, they were nerve-wracking. It seemed like Cotto's rage might get the best of him and he would end up fighting Margarito's fight. A true brawl was not for the best.

Avi: Definitely not. Cotto has always been a little fragile, even earlier in his career. Even though he could dominate with his boxing skills he always had a little too much rumble to him.

Graydon: Even after the fight, when I first saw a close-up shot of Cotto's face, I got worried because it looked like Margarito had worked him.

Avi: But when Margarito's eye began to swell, things changed. Manny Pacquaio had crushed the Mexican's orbital bone in their last fight, but you had to know the doctor's would be extra careful after sanctioning the fight was touch-and-go in the first place.

Graydon: Hell, they almost let the fight go on too long. When Margarito failed to come out for the ninth round, I thought it was done.

Avi: The one saving grace was referee, Steve Smoger, every fight fan's favorite. He reffed the Gatti-Ward fights and never stops a fight. He let a fighter continue with this earlier this year.

Graydon: Well, for some reason it's always unsettling to explore, that's what we want DAMN SON. That guy's eye is in bad shape.

Avi: If Margarito's eye had popped out Smoger would have taken it to the corner, wiped it off, and then jammed it back inside. Still, I knew the doctor's would be extra cautious and they stopped it.

It didn't really come to a natural conclusion. Was it completely satisfying for you, or did you want a little more bloody recompense?

Graydon: Honestly, I was satisfied. Sure, any fight fan wants the bout to go the distance or see an actual knockout. But Cotto truly whooped his ass. My blood-lust was satiated. Given the amount of fights that broke out in the crowd on the way out of the arena, that might not have been true of all of us. I can only assume you were one of the guys brawling in the entryway.

Avi: I was the guy with the ragged fur coat talking earnestly to the cardboard cutout of Miguel Cotto. I told him, "You did it, Miguel. You restored justice to an unjust world ... And you whooped that ass!"

Graydon: I may have seen that guy. He looked like a homeless Dan Aykroyd in Trading Places, but Latin.

Avi: The big question is after seeing this fight, does it change your opinion on whether Margarito actually did use the tampered wraps during their first fight? I didn't need any confirmation that he was a dirty cheat, but this sure seemed to add a bit of evidence.

Graydon: I've honestly believed he soaked his wraps since the moment I saw Larry Merchant announce that Margarito had been caught with tampered wraps during the the Margarito/Mosley pre-fight pomposity. I needed no confirmation, but Cotto's dominance was an emphatic closing statement for that argument.

Avi: Yeah, it truly was a satisfying evening, and to me the capper was Cotto, in English no less, telling the audience after the fight, "He means nothing to me." A truly cathartic moment. Though the baser part of me still wanted to see Cotto's fat best friend tumble over during the celebration and tear one of Margarito's vital ligaments. And so, what do you think is next for these two?

Graydon: Well, I think Margarito should take the two mil, or whatever he made, and hang up the gloves, especially given the state of his eye. At this point, anyone with any notoriety will most likely pick him apart.

For Cotto? If they can figure out a sensible catch weight, I'd love to see him fight Sergio Martinez. If it's not crazy to talk about a Martinez-Pacquiao fight, it's not crazy to talk about Martinez-Cotto.

Avi: Youch! I think that might be a bridge too far Cotto. I'd prefer he takes on one of the bright young Mexicans, either Saul Alvarez or Julio Caesar Chavez Jr. I think he has a much better chance to beat those guys than the bigger and ultra-sharp Martinez. Plus we'd get another terrific Puerto Rico-Mexico grudge match! I'd make time for that one!

Graydon: Fair enough. I'd love a Chavez Jr. fight. That's a great fight. Martinez is obviously a stretch—he is bigger and more skilled. Cotto would be shooting the moon. It's just that I'd love to see Cotto fight someone above him in the rankings and possible increase his stature, but there is great dignity in assuming a Mosley-like role and be a well-respected gate-keeper for the upper echelon of the weight class.

Avi: To me, it felt like this night was Cotto's defining moment. No, he'll never be Pacquiao or Mayweather, but he'll be as great as anyone else, and he'll always make great fights and be a compelling and winning figure. Anything he does after this point is just icing. And if he ever fights at MSG again, in front of a crowd like that again ... Well, I'll see you there!

Graydon: After Saturday night, Cotto-at-the-Garden has become a can't-miss event for me. One of the great sporting memories of my life.

Related: Avi's fight preview.

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left me paralyzed with anxiety. The thought of this fight slipping away from Cotto would have shattered my world. Had Cotto lost, I surely would have moved to Puerto Rico and joined a radical leftist separatist movement, or started working for a hedge fund, or something. Part of me would have died.
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Margarito really played up his role as the heel. He truly is a satisfying villain. As the fight began what were your impressions of the early rounds, when Cotto seemed to take control with his quicker hands and better boxing skills.
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Though I think that Dodgy is correct in drawing attention to the fact that this sport is one of the ultimate examples of the candles-burning-at-both-ends existence, neither Cotto's (now clearly problematized) loss to Margarito, nor his decisive (though contextual) loss against the Pacquiao force-of-nature seem to definitively state that Cotto should retire. If anything, this seems like a reiteration of the fact that Cotto is a believable, inspiring man. One of the very few men who can have tribal arm tatoos without it being a categorical statement about his feelings towards statutory rape.

I agree completely with the structure of this analysis: Cotto came out early with noticeable dominance--a fact that was exhilarating until I realized that it was so reminiscent of the first fight. Margarito's hulking punches exert that bizarre Queen-of-Hearts sort of authoritative control that you see and just hope can't possibly be as hard as they seem. But the more the fight moved along, the more oceanic Cotto's determination seemed. The damage to Margarito's face only became more pronounced the more gradual it appeared. The ending was sincerely beautiful in a way that I find normally so lacking in sports.

Shoefly has it at the nub: a Cotto/Alvarez fight, or a Cotto/Cesar Chavez Jr. fight would be fantastic. The "gatekeeper" role fits Cotto's current stature perfectly without insulting it with the Kafka-isms that term normally evokes. Cotto has proved himself in a way that very few people do. I can only hope that he keeps fighting at this level, because he is, without a doubt, a fighter to believe in.

Here's a radical concept: what about retirement? It won't happen, but perhaps it should. I adore Cotto, both as a fighter and as a fellow PR with a misshapen and distant concept of being Boricua. He's slower than he once was, however, and is now at a point in his career where he's avenged the one unjust defeat he's had (Pacquiao obliterated him) and, hopefully, has enough money to retire on in comfort. One of the great questions that all superb athletes have to consider is how long is too long. For a boxer, the stakes are higher than in any other sport--all it takes is one fight too many. Wilfred Benitez, who fought several fights too many, is the cautionary tale for Puerto Rican boxers, while Tito Trinidad seems to have escaped just in the nick of time. Unfortunately, the temptation (and often necessity) for boxers is to push right up to and past the limit of their capacity to endure punishment. Can Cotto keep fighting? Absolutely--and I will gladly cheer him on. Should he? That's a more ambivalent question.