Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Cotto-Jennings / Pavlik-Rubio Experience

By Jeff Pryor

Madison Square Garden is always a wild venue on a Cotto fight night. Though I've been privy to these occasions before, for some reason the raucousness of the crowd that gathered for Cotto's inevitable deconstruction of Michael Jennings took me a bit by surprise.

Last time out, for Cotto-Mosley, I recall a forty-ish year old woman twirling a shirt over her head (a shirt, not her shirt sicko's) and warbling like a siren at the top of her lungs each time Cotto landed a punch. At one point she looked over at me and smiled apologetically as though to say... I know this is crazy, but I can't help it.

This time I did not see a singular instance to top that annoyance, however in general it seemed like there were more flags, more fist pumping and a volume level at least on par with that night back in November of '07. Perhaps the intensity only seemed so startling because I may have been expecting a more subdued Cotto crowd, what with his recent devastation at the hands of Margarito. In any event, it was loud.

That said the "Mecca of Boxing" took a long while to fill up. As usual, by the main event it was pretty well stocked, yet still there were conspicuous gaps here and there in the lower seats. The floor looked to be close to sell out and the upper levels had a very healthy smattering.

As I sauntered into the arena, I grabbed a program for fifteen bucks; I guess in these tough economic times Top Rank decided to slash a fiver off their usual charge. With the booklet, they were handing out a free Cotto poster/banner, with his name on the back, obviously meant to be waved about in a gesticulating manner at the appropriate times. During Cotto's fight, I did not see a single one of these banners being waved. Perhaps I was the only sucker who dropped fifteen on a program.

The undercard...

As I settled in for about six hours of boxing, Heavyweights Terrell Nelson and Lenroy Thomas were just getting started. Mark my words, and remember these names... these two Heavyweights are destined for anonymity. Thomas got the decision and at 11-1 perhaps he can keep winning and make an appearance on Shobox, but that's probably as good as it can get for him.

Undefeated Super Featherweight, Hector Marengo was up next, facing Angel Rodriguez. Again, nothing to write home about, Marengo salvaged his undefeated record with a draw against better than expected Rodriguez.

The pattern for the evening was now pretty well set for virtually all upcoming bouts. Underachievement, and mild entertainment.

Another undefeated fighter, Super bantamweight, Jorge Diaz, of New Jersey, got love from the crowd and faced down a tough Lante Addy. The highlight was the final round where the two of them launched hooks at each other for a full minute or more. I'm not speaking in hyperbole here, they literally threw punches non-stop like rock 'em sock 'em robots for over sixty seconds. The crowd finally snapped out of it's nap and went wild in appreciation.

With forty five seconds left in the fight the punches stopped and each man seemed to have run out of gas. The next thirty seconds or so went by with nary a punch thrown as though to punish us for getting too excited. Somehow the antsy crowd held off booing in light of what we had just seen. Then for the final ten seconds Diaz dug down and rattled off one last flurry to put a mild exclamation point on a win that until the final two minutes or so had been rather mundane.

Ladies up next, and another area native, Maureen Shea enjoyed a solid backing vocal from the crowd. The first round held the further promise of action when Shea dropped Kina Malpartida with a solid blow. From there on, through the next ten rounds, they fought on mostly even and fairly dull terms with Shea generally getting a slight edge.

With the WBA Women's Super Featherweight belt on the line, as well as Shea's undefeated record, it is to Malpartida's credit she never gave up and in the tenth landed a right hand that put Shea face down on the canvas. The "Million Dollar Baby" Hilary Swank sparring partner, got to her feet, but the ref waived it off. Shea's left cheek (on her face sicko's) was badly swollen and the doctors immediately began to check it out.

Malpartida was in tears as her hand was raised and she became a champion, emotion overcoming her. The crowd grudgingly applauded her achievement, perhaps a guilty reaction to the woman's tears, circumstances I'm sure a few of the men in the crowd could relate to from personal relationship experiences.

Norberto Bravo should retire. He is game, he tries, he seems like a very nice guy and a good family man, but at some point someone needs to put his health above all else. The three rounds he spent with Pawel Wolak were not devastatingly damaging, in fact Bravo had some moments, particularly in the second round, but Wolak looked much bigger than him and ultimately caught him flat footed on the ropes, and threw a volley of unanswered punches to halt it.

Wolak is a limited face first fighter, but perhaps he'll get a chance at a belt sometime. I don't know... who cares. I guess probably the vocal Polish crowd that came to watch him does. I guess pointless bouts like this just rub me the wrong way. Bravo was brought in to lose. He got paid and for that I'm glad, I certainly can't blame him for taking it, but it was mostly a waste of time for all else involved.

Up until this point the loudest crowd reactions may have been for the Round Card girls in their extremely short dresses.

Undefeated Middleweight Matt Korobov's KO was spectacular. Considering that the crowd was booing this bout within the first three minutes, it was the least he could do to deliver Cory Jones to us as a face plant victim at 2:59 of the final round. That KO is all anyone will remember of the fight, though all but the final ten seconds were pretty pedestrian for one of Bob Arum's "Biggest signings in years".

Buffer announces the celebrities in attendance. Tony Danza gets the biggest reaction, and that should tell you the caliber of celebrity this card drew. There is also a nice tribute to Jose Torres, who is loudly appreciated by the Puerto Rican crowd. Then we get to the meat of this card... First up, the fighting Irish.

John Duddy is low hanging fruit at this point. If Arthur Abraham were smart, he'd make a run at landing the Irishman before Pavlik does. At any rate, I had been in the house to see Anthony Bonsante defeat Matt Vanda a couple years back, so I failed to see how Duddy could possibly lose this bout, or do anything other than completely out class Vanda. Well... he certainly won the fight, but the most dominant round went to Vanda, when in the tenth he suddenly decided to take it to Duddy and appeared to "tattoo" him (sorry) pretty good.

In retrospect, Duddy versus Rubio would have been ideal. In my opinion, Pavlik dispatches Vanda in six or less, which suggests that a valiant effort by Duddy against Pavlik will only end in brutal stoppage.

As I think about it now, this was like a united nations card of boxing. The crowd had vocal factions from multiple countries; we had the Puerto Ricans for Cotto, the Irish for Duddy, the Polish for Wolak, the English for Jennings, the Russians for Korobov and the American's for everyone in between.

The main-event...

So far, not a lot to get excited about, save for the two last second KO's that we'd been witness too. But now, excitement was in the air, Cotto was getting flashed on the big screen more and more often, to louder and louder cheers and the moment was nigh to cut to the chase; the fighter that we were all here for (unless you were Irish, English, Polish or Russian).

We get the first of three national anthems, "God Save the Queen". The American and Puerto Rican heavy crowd boo's throughout, drowning out the anthem. Lame. If you aren't going to have a general respect for the country at least respect the pleasant young lady singing the tune. Perhaps this was a concerted response to the UK crowd that booed the National anthem at one of Ricky Hatton's fights, but somehow I doubt there was any intelligence behind this booing.

The Puerto Rican anthem came next and was wildly cheered, followed by the American Anthem which was even more wildly cheered and then followed with the chant of "USA, USA, USA..." I had to grin at the mindless chanting. Sure we are the greatest country in the world, but do we really have to remind everyone, even when no one from the USA is participating in the fight?

So the answer to our collective question was at hand; how would Miguel Cotto look in the wake of his comprehensive defeat to Margarito last year. The answer? Cotto looked like Cotto. The crowd still loved him and in a bout that was reminiscent of his fight with Quintana, Cotto appeared to break Jennings down, mentally and physically just like old times.

After the bout, we were reminded by Buffer to hang around for the Pavlik-Rubio bout on the big screen. In response, thousands of Cotto fans immediately streamed out of Madison Square Garden. I guess they are Cotto fans, not boxing fans. And there is nothing wrong with that, though I wish it were otherwise.

Next on the agenda, a trip to Youngstown...

I was rather excited by the prospect of this closed circuit broadcast. For some reason, I suppose from stories of Ali fights on closed circuit, I always found the idea of watching such an event as an interesting novelty. Not being old enough to have done it myself before, it was just such a bygone experience that I tend to enjoy.

The couple hundred of us who stayed to watch Pavlik walk over Rubio were largely a subdued crowd. Unfortunately, there weren't really enough of us to generate much excitement removed from the fight as we were. Perhaps the lack of a competitive fight to watch had something to do with our general indifference too.

The press swung their chairs around to watch on the two large screens that had been erected at one end of the arena, while others of us watched on one of the many jumbo-tron screens. The grounds crew began to dismantle the ring before us, as we tilted our heads up to watch. As the bout wore on, more and more of the Madison Square crowd left in clumps. I would suppose the same experience was rather more entertaining for the jacked up Youngstown crowd as they watched Cotto dismantle Jennings. A full house would certainly provide the spark that our location lacked.

Fittingly the night ended with a bit of a whimper, as Rubio quit on his stool. I walked home and that was the end of my fight night. (although I did pop in Carl Froch vs. Robin Reid later, as apparently I hadn't spent enough of my day watching boxing yet).

So, while I have been a bit critical in pointing out the general dullness of the evenings fights, it's worth noting that had Cintron-Clottey or Peterson-Cherry ended up on the card, as originally planned, it may have helped considerably.

My final verdict on the Cotto-Jennings/Pavlik-Rubio experience? For a fight that was almost literally in my backyard, I'll take it. But for anyone else but the true-blue Cotto devoted... not sure I would have made the trip.

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