Sunday, June 14, 2009

Cotto vs Clottey: The Madison Square Garden Experience

Included among the nearly 18,000 spectators in attendance at last night's Madison Square Garden show featuring Miguel Cotto and Joshua Clottey, was The Boxing Bulletin's Jeff Pryor.

Another night. Another fight. Once again Madison Square Garden was tossed into a roiling storm by the Miguel Cotto faithful that poured in and watched their boxing pride bleed and win.

Along with that we got, girls in short skirts, Manny Pacquiao, the Green Bay Packers, "The Eye of the Tiger" and much more.

Before I get to all that let me run down a few of the opening bouts...

On the undercard I got to see a few Puerto Rican prospects, none dazzled me too much, but I'm sure we'll hear more from one or two of them.

You should know that anyone and everyone who was a Puerto Rican fighter had undying support from the amped up crowd, I pitied the fighters brought in to face down the writhing monster that was MSG.

Jorge Diaz, an 8-0 Bantam Weight knocked down Guadalpe De Leon a couple times in round one in what everyone then expected to be a blow out, however for such a dramatic open, De Leon fought admirably from round two on and Diaz failed to close the show impressively. A name like Jorge Diaz doesn't exactly stand out in the crowd, and with this performance he really didn't distinguish himself either.

The robbery of the night was Rafael Guzman's (21-0) split decision win over Juan Carlos Martinez (14-9-1). Guzman came out looking like he wanted to be the tougher man, and he had a few moments, but he has a bad habit of pulling back with his hands down. Martinez took advantage of this and caught Guzman repeatedly. Martinez also came forward to good effect the entire fight. He is either better than his record would indicate or Guzman is far less than his intimates.

It was after this bout that a rippling buzz went through the crowd... Enter pound for pound king, Manny Pacquiao, with wife Jinky in tow. Aside from Cotto, Pacquiao was clearly the star of the night, receiving massive ovations each time he was shown on the jumbo-tron or mentioned by Michael Buffer.

Isn't it nice to have a PFP King Pin that seemingly everyone likes? It's been awhile; Floyd, Bernard, Roy... each had their detractors and attitude idiosyncrasies which turned some off. I don't know how anyone canNOT like Pacquiao's grinning good natured demeanor or the tenacious way he fights.

It was a bad cut that halted the Ivan Calderon bout. The blood was streaking down his face like a jagged crack and certainly seemed to spur the little man on to violence generally unheard of at a Calderon clinic. Of course it was a pity that the excitement was short lived. I don't think Mayol did anything intentional to cause the butt, however it should be noted that he was celebrating awfully hard when the fight was stopped.

Between rounds, the crowd was enthralled with three lovely ring card girls bedecked in extremely short, skin tight electric blue dresses. Once in awhile I would pry my eyes from these supple, long legged, young ladies to spy Pacquiao giddily grinning in his seat, while wife Jinky sat straight mouthed unamused beside him.

I've seen Matt Korobov live a couple times now... he's going to be a fun guy to watch if there is anyone else in the middleweight division when he gets to the top. Make no mistake, he's still got a ways to go. The new wrinkle I noticed this time was that he has a hellaciously fast lead right uppercut. He landed it four or five times against his hapless opponent and the crowd got into the habit of gasping each time he launched one of the dangerous (both ways) shots. Flashy punch and very effective against this level opponent at least.

The other thing to note about Korobov; his ring music... when the opening guitar riff from "Eye of the Tiger" comes on, it never fails to set the crowd on fire. Yes it's cheesy and ridiculous, and it's the greatest song ever... with the word "tiger" in the title.

Finally we were on to the main event. The HBO broadcast got underway and the audience was treated to the package they ran on Cotto. One of the two Ghanians next me pointed out to his buddy, when a clip of Margarito came on, "That's the guy Clottey beat!". Not sure if that was revisionism, honest mistake or wishful thinking, but I refrained from pointing out his blunder. Hey, maybe he only saw the first half of the fight.

The package finished and it was time for the national anthem portion of the show. First up Ghana. I'm sure they have a nice anthem and in all honesty I was looking forward to taking a listen... but I didn't hear a word. The Puerto Rican crowd loudly booed from opening note to final chord. Do we really have to boo the other country?

As you might imagine, there was a somewhat different reaction to the anthem that followed. After Puerto Rico's rousing singalong, the final soaring note swallowed up by thunderous applause and overwhelmed and engulfed by the crowds ovation, there was just one tune left. Strangely at least to jaded old me, the American Anthem got the loudest, most sustained reaction. The Ghanians next to me wildly cheered it and the Puerto Rican throng rendered it all but unintelligible with their enthusiastically loud reception. I guess I'm just used to everyone hating America and it was nice to hear a positive reaction. It brought a tear to my eye. Nah, just kidding.

It did however give me an opportunity to reflect, somewhat disappointedly that America doesn't really have many uniting moments like a Cotto fight to Puerto Rican's or a Pacquiao fight for Filipino's. The closest we have is probably football, but of course there is not one solitary figure that we all get behind, just 32 separate teams. One we devotedly root for and the others we unabashedly despise. Which reminds me...


Anyway, the string of Anthems up, we all remained standing excitedly anticipating the main event. The crowd was hyped as Puerto Rican flags flashed across the jumbo-tron and we stood and waited. And waited. And waited... finally after about fifteen minutes, I decided I'd take a load off, and sat down. At which point they immediately swung into the entrances and I stood back up.

Enter Clottey, stage left, to uproarious boos. He dances in the center of the ring and his fellow countrymen love it. They are jumping around next to me. One exclaims "AHHHH, I COULD FIGHT A HUNDRED MEN RIGHT NOW!" Pumping a fist. They grin at each other, living in the moment.

Cotto is shown on the screens; deafening reaction. Shrill screams from grown men. Throaty moans from grown women. It's the first time leading up to the fight that I think Clottey has a chance to win. As this applause launches out for Cotto and he begins his walk, Clottey and his team all start pumping their fists in the air and bouncing around as though the ovation were for them. If there is to be a book on how to be loose and defiant in the face of a hostile crowd, Clottey writes the first chapter in those moments. He impresses me before the bell has been touched.

It's the first time I can remember not being able to hear a word Buffer says, even his fabled catchphrase is drowned out by the steady din of the energetic crowd. I can only compare the sound to a crowd at Minnesota's Metrodome, it's third largest in history, some 70,000+ if I recall, for a Monday Night Football game shortly after 9/11 against the New York Giants. That sound was unbelievable, and undoubtedly louder than this MSG crowd, but then again it was also three times the number of people. Still, the Puerto Rican contingency at least make me compare, and that's saying something. By the way that night at the Metrodome, one of the biggest outbursts came when the big screens showed Burt Reynolds sitting in one of the boxes. He bemusedly waved when he realized he was the reason for all the commotion. What can I say? We Minnesotans love a good mustache.

Back to MSG.

The fight is on, it's interesting; all the usual first round stuff... until the end when Clottey goes down from a fairly pedestrian punch. I think, wow, the fights probably over. This runs through my head because I feel Clottey will win by a close decision if at all. It's going to be mighty tough to overcome.

Next stanza we get the headbutt. I was expecting it. It's what Clottey does. Hard to tell how intentional it is, but Joshua has a history. The fight turns on a dime here and things become difficult for Cotto.

Then we get the fall-push-slip by Clottey in the corner and most likely a nice bit of acting. Again, I was expecting this. Joshua has a history; against Margarito, he claimed broken hands that hindered his output in the second half. Later it turned out that the knuckles were merely bruised. As Paulie Malignaggi put it in an interview when asked about this fight, Clottey has "a little fold in him." He looks for an out when things get tough. Not to ultimately give in mind you, but to save face with a claim.

Hey my hands were busted, my ankle was hurt, he went low, the headbutt was accidental, he rabbit punched me... according to him he's never culpable in his losses, some other factor is.

Something tells me that had Clottey suffered the cut Cotto did, we might not have gotten to see more fight. He'd tap out and take his chances on the cards, knowing that little blame would be put on him because of the cut.

At any rate, we did see the rest of the fight, and to me it was a close decision win for Cotto. The big moments belonged to Cotto; from the knockdown in round one, to the sustained pounding on the ropes in round six. Later in the fight after one of several moments when Clottey went to a corner and let Cotto tee off, he came out shaking his head, apparently telling Miguel that he could not hurt him. In reality he was answering the question of whether he could win the fight giving up moments like that, or plodding forward without punching.

Several occasions found Clottey rushing, almost running, towards Cotto, only to then stand in front of him with his gloves earmuffed, without punching, and allowing the Puerto Rican to jab and move away yet again.

These moments are emblematic of Clottey's moments on the big stage within his career. Enthusiasm to get there, promising actions that make it appear like he is on the brink doing what a champion does, only to ultimately do nothing when the time comes.

The fight breaks down to this, when Cotto was coming forward he was winning. When Clottey was coming forward he was winning fifty percent of the time.

A tough, but fair loss for Clottey to swallow.

Where does Clottey go now? He's fought two of the big three names at welterweight and after promising moments in each bout, he has failed to deliver. Mosley has no reason to fight him. In fact... who does? He is in a tough spot. A Berto-Clottey bout would be interesting but unlikely. Clottey may need Collazo or Quintana to step to the plate for another notable fight.

A few final summations... on the fight and fighters.

Clottey is not an elite fighter. He is a great challenger. A leopard cannot change his spots; Joshua gassed again. Cotto is pound for pound as tough and determined as anyone. Miguel may now be on the downswing of his career. Choosing the correct opposition will be paramount to his continued success.

As I left the arena, ebullient Puerto Ricans singing in the hallowed halls of the Mecca, I cut through the throngs and followed a stream of smarties dodging down the side stairwell. One which probably looks much like it did years ago in the era of Frazier-Ali; orange painted, dim and dingy.

On the ground level the party was spewing out onto a rain speckled Seventh Avenue. Puerto Ricans and a few defiant Ghanian revelers too, were singing, dancing and waving enormous flags together, bouncing around in an impromptu mosh pit, as the flow of spectators began to back up into MSG like a slow moving river, stagnating as no one had wanted to be bothered bringing an umbrella into the nights activities.

Wishing to partake in our shared experience, I hollered, PACKERS SUCK! one more time for good measure and then trudged home, shoving my twenty dollar program and free Cotto poster under my coat, hugging it closed like a pervert, to keep them from disintegrating in the drizzling night.

Another night. Another fight.

e-mail Jeff Pryor


Mark said...

Totally agree, Clottey just doesn't want it enough. I have no doubt, it would have been a much easier night if not for that butt. It was all there for Josh and folded, that's nothing new.

Great recap.