Ebbs, Flows, and Puerto Rico
By JD Camacho, DoghouseBoxing.com (June 17, 2009) Photo © Will Hart/HBO  
Part of the pleasure of going to a fight is reading the newspapers next morning to see what the sports writers think happened. This pleasure is prolonged, in the case of a big bout, by the fight films. You can go to them to see what did happen. What you eventually think you remember about the fight will be an amalgam of what you thought you saw there, what you read in the papers you saw, and what you saw in the films. The films are especially insidious.
- Joe Liebling

After viewing HBO’s broadcast of the Miguel Cotto vs Joshua Clottey welterweight match at Madison Square Garden on the eve of the Puerto Rican Day parade, the films indeed helped shape my perception of the fight. However, rather than insidiously disrupting my view of the bout, the films reinforced my initial impressions and deepened my appreciation for what had happened. Unlike the black and white of Liebling’s day, high definition television well replicates the sights (but perhaps not the sounds and smells) of reality, and the same uncertainty in Cotto I thought I saw in-person, I witnessed again. Cotto’s gash gushed down his face like a faucet, each of Clottey’s blows wrenching the wound and increasing the stream. Clottey’s blows seemed even cleaner on the screen than they had at the fight, courtesy of television’s multiple angles and repeated replays. And actually seeing Cotto’s expression during the several tough moments – a look of worry and turmoil, as a marathon runner might have during the final stretch – provided a running commentary to the fight: Grimace. Pound. Wince. Smack. Drip. Drip. Smack. Exhale.

The graphic gash and the withered face added to the images I had already
collected at the Garden. I saw Cotto’s leg wobble more than once. I saw the Puerto Rican ineffectually flurry against the ropes. I saw Clottey grin from time to time – a grin wide enough to be seen from the rafters, I’d reckon. I also saw Clottey reaching with some of his shots. I saw Clottey’s punch output drop in the final rounds, and I saw (and heard) him loudly complain after the match, much to the chagrin of the pro-Cotto crowd.

When I arrived at the Garden, many Cotto fans were already milling about the arena, both inside and outside. I decided I’d go straight for the pressroom on the sixth floor. After picking up the Top Rank press sheets (which feature, in detail, every bout on the card, down to each fighter’s trunks color and arm reach), I took a free refreshment from the bar and observed the boxing people around me.

The pressroom was a peculiar place. To everyone in the room, talking boxing came naturally. Writers listed off weight classes and fighters like comic book collectors listed off special series and rare editions. There was also an absence of a uniform dress code for the boxing media, even amongst well-known writers. RING columnists Michael Rosenthal and Doug Fischer kept it classy with tie-less suits. Muhammad Ali biographer Thomas Hauser wore a pinkish purple dress shirt that I’d seen him wear before. ESPN’s Dan Rafael, meanwhile, adorned himself in jeans and what might have once been an oversized polo. Everybody had his thing, I guessed.

After finishing my drink, I headed down to the press box and took a seat just as the first undercard bout had concluded. According to my Top Rank sheet, Riddick Bowe was supposed to be in the corner of the losing fighter but I was too late to catch a glimpse of the big man from Brownsville. The next bout featured the first Puerto Rican fighter of the night and, even though the arena was only half-filled then, the crowd vociferously showed their support. After a fierce exchange in the first round, the second stanza had a bit of odd officiating. Alberto Cruz, the Puerto Rican fighter, ripped his opponent Rudy Valdez with an uppercut and dropped him. Because Cruz followed with a late blow, however, the knockdown was not called and the referee deducted a point. The loud crowd let him hear it. It was all irrelevant in the end, though, as Valdez’s corner stopped the fight after the second. I scored one for Puerto Rico and wondered if they could pitch a Puerto Rican shutout over the night. Two Puerto Ricans went at it in the following match, ensuring that the streak would be stretched to two at least. The flashier (and undefeated) one knocked out his countryman in the third round.

After that fight, I went up a few levels to visit my friend AJ, who had purchased a ticket. He had met a bald, mildly heavy man who had come to the fight alone, and we began trying to talk boxing with him – “trying” only because the gentleman’s thick Irish brogue made communication quite a chore. “I first thought he was speaking Spanish,” AJ told me later.

“Did ye see that Youtube video of Tyson Fury? He done whacked hisself in the face with his own punch!” said the man.

“Ya, that’s ridiculous,” I said.

“Craziest thing I’ve seen in awhile, it was,” he replied.

I waited there with the two and watched more of the undercard. A New Jersey kid dominated a game Texan in the next match. The Texan went down off of the first power punch, but somehow lasted the distance. Two Mexicans fought a close fight afterward, but I missed most of the bout due to my difficult conversation with the Irishman.

Because the cat-like Ivan Calderon was up next, I left the two and went back down to the press box. Before the Calderon fight, a man proposed to his girlfriend on the overhead television screen. The woman offered a shocked expression, but you could tell happiness circulated through her face. That’s a brave thing to do – not just to propose, but to propose before a reported 17000 fight fans. “You better be sure, if you’re doing something like that in front of all these people,” said someone behind me. Wouldn’t you have to be sure anyway, no matter the crowd? I’d be scared to drop to a knee in front of my family, much more in front of thousands of strangers.

The Puerto Rican crowd erupted when Iron Boy Calderon emerged into view. Dressed like a Hispanic Mighty Mouse, Calderon bounced around the ring and, having never seen him live before, piqued my interest. It quickly deflated, though, once the fight started. Having only seen his matches with Hugo Cazares, I gave Calderon a pass for excessive clinching because of Cazares’ size advantage. However, what I found out was that Calderon liked to clinch no matter the opponent. Was he slick? Sure he was slick, but he wasn’t slick like Pernell Whitaker or Floyd Mayweather. He was slick like Bernard Hopkins. He was rough. It was dirty. And I thought to myself that he’d suffer against an opponent any bigger than mini-flyweight or any opponent faster than himself. Due to the rough nature of the fight, Calderon and his Filipino opponent knocked heads so much that the fight was called. The decision came to a draw. “There goes Calderon’s pound-for-pound ranking,” said a writer in front of me. I nodded in agreement. So much for the Puerto Rican shutout, I thought.

Russian Olympian Matt Korobov participated in the penultimate match, and while I noticed he was handling his overmatched opponent, I was much more interested in the group circling the arena. A small train of people, dressed head to toe in Ghanaian colors and wielding the flag of Ghana like an angry scimitar, sang and showed their praise for the Ghana native Joshua Clottey. Their tiny red, yellow, and green contingent was only a blip in the mist of Puerto Rican red, white, and blue around the Garden. The boos followed the train to each gate, where the Ghana fans stopped to heckle just enough. By the time the convoy had made it all the way around, Korobov had scored the first decision victory of his short pro career.

Michael Buffer then introduced the fighters in attendance. The crowd greeted Winky Wright with a sonata of jeers. Apparently, they haven’t forgiven the Winkster for jabbing their hero Tito into retirement. Buffer announced Joe Calzaghe second to last, and despite the Welshman’s myriad accomplishments, the Garden denizens responded with a hushed holler that suggested more John Doe than Super Joe. Manny Pacquiao, boxing’s resident pound-for-pound ruler, received the loudest ovation when his affable face appeared on the big screen.

Everyone stood up for the trio of national anthems. The Puerto Ricans booed the Ghana anthem, but I’d heard worse. They had given the English national anthem a shellacking the last time I had been here. The Puerto Rican anthem received passionate backing, far outdoing the support for “The Star Spangled Banner” that followed.

Joshua Clottey entered the ring first. The robed figure had a jig in his step and a bop to his walk that belied the tough, solid build underneath. Miguel Cotto emerged from the hallway next, and the fevered shrill that followed exceeded everything before. Seeing the two next to one another, the size difference didn’t seem to lean in any one way, but Clottey appeared to possess the more definitive physique. As many have said, though – this is prizefighting, not bodybuilding.

When the bell rang, I noticed that Clottey retained the jig in his step that he had entered the ring with. He appeared to place most of his weight on his front left leg and would occasionally lift it to skip back before resetting. This movement in addition to his high guard garbled most of Cotto’s offense until the final few seconds of the first. Stepping forward, Cotto caught Clottey with a push-jab just as Clottey dropped his guard and moved away. He went down and the writers around me jumped up and tried to see what had happened. “Balance and caught him. Clot fine,” texted AJ.

Clottey was more than fine. The next two rounds saw Clottey slam hard right crosses over Cotto’s shoulder. An accidental butt in the third opened the aforementioned gash over Cotto’s left eye. Fierce exchanges occurred in the fourth, where Clottey for the first time seemed a little uncomfortable in there. Sometime in the fifth, Clottey jumped out away from a turnbuckle and onto Cotto. Seemingly frustrated, Cotto shrugged Clottey off, just as he had done Oktay Urkal a few years ago. Clottey, however, collapsed face-first and lay motionless, as if he had skydived from a mile up rather than the five feet eight inches from Cotto’s head to the floor.

“What the hell happened?” said a writer beside me.

“Looked like a body slam,” I said.

“He’s not movin’.”

“No, he’s not. Looked like a body slam, WWE-style.”

“Really? I looked down to jot a note and I look up and think ‘Did Cotto just score the best knockout ever?’ He looks dead.”

“Hope he walks it off.”

The replay showed that Cotto didn’t really slam Clottey, but Clottey reacted all the same. In the sixth, Clottey holed himself in the corner when Cotto whirled in. Clottey waited out the storm and punched only when the eye revealed itself. The crowd deafened.

“Wow, Clottey’s not moving again,” said the writer to my right.

“Clottey’s pushing those uppercuts through the middle, though.”

“I think it’s a 10-8 round.”

“Na, man, he’s fightin’ back.”

Perhaps realizing that Clottey was fighting back, Cotto decided to box in the seventh, even though his punches began to slow in the eighth. Clottey stalked throughout the ninth round, and not until the final three – the championship rounds – did Cotto start to be effective.

During the tenth, many in the crowd looked back towards the rafters. A fight had broken out and dozens of security rushed over to break it up. All eyes were on the rooftop and away from the ring. I’ve never understood why that happens at boxing matches. There’s a fight already in the ring, probably between better fighters than whatever drunken hooligans are exchanging in the stands.

Cotto continued to box until the final bell and he only stopped his boxing once to rabbit punch Clottey in the closing round. Clottey lost precious seconds complaining about the foul, but his reluctance to throw in the last two stanzas might mean a few seconds wouldn’t have made much of a difference. After the bell rang, a writer in front of me turned backwards. “114-113 Cotto. The knockdown’s what won it,” he said. I and the other writers exchanged agreements. “Knock down decides it,” texted AJ. As it turned out, only a single official scorecard relied on the knockdown. When Buffer announced Cotto the winner by split decision, thousands of Puerto Ricans raised their arms in simultaneous triumph along with their fighter.

When I exited alongside AJ, we listened to an upset Clottey fan on the phone behind us. “Clottey was robbed, man,” said the fan. “Cotto ain’t shown me shit. My man ain’t have a mark on him, while Cotto’s face is fucked up as shit. Cotto ain’t shown me shit, man. Cotto AIN’T shit, man.”

So maybe Clottey’s fans were as passionate as the Puerto Ricans all along.

JD at: jdcamachorj@gmail.com

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