by David P. Greisman
There are the boxers whose careers go on far too long, who take unnecessary punishment, whose risk to their health gets even greater even while the numbers in their paychecks get ever smaller.
And then there are the boxers whose careers need not be done yet — yet we proclaim them to be.
Miguel Cotto is not shot. Paul Williams does not need to retire. The reports of their demises were greatly exaggerated. Cotto is earning millions of dollars in what will be one of the year’s biggest events, a May 5 pay-per-view main event against Floyd Mayweather Jr. Paul Williams, meanwhile, just put on a good performance this past Saturday, winning a unanimous decision over Nobuhiro Ishida, shutting his challenger out across the board, 120-108 on all three scorecards.
Williams’ previous fight — a majority decision victory over Erislandy Lara — wasn’t even over before the HBO commentators calling the bout were also calling for him to retire.
Those commentators watched as Lara socked Williams with clean, hard left hand after clean, hard left hand, the same shot that Sergio Martinez had caught Williams with again and again in December 2009, and the same shot that Martinez knocked Williams out with in November 2010.
To continue to fight on was to continue to be in danger, some people said. Williams should quit now, they said, before it is too late.
People weren’t necessarily worrying about Cotto because of susceptibility to a single shot — he was being worried about because of the accumulation after all his action.
He had always been an action-friendly fighter, even if being action-friendly in the ring isn’t necessarily friendly to the fighter’s health later. There had been the punches taken in tough fights he won, but most worrisome were the shots suffered in his two losses, extended beatings at the hands of Antonio Margarito in July 2008 and Manny Pacquiao in November 2009.
This is what we do in boxing. We are fans of the sport yet choose to dedicate most of our attention only to those we feel are most deserving. And those we feel are the most deserving are those we feel still matter.
So we look at prospects and contenders and decide whether they have potential or whether they are over-hyped frauds. We use hindsight on world titleholders and label them as never being that good. We wait for anyone in the spotlight to be exposed and shoved off the stage.
Nearly every fighter will reach his limit. Nearly every fighter will be defeated, decline and then disappear.
Every fighter has his time. That time isn’t here yet for Cotto and Williams.
Williams return came seven months after the Lara fight, a win that most observers saw as an unjust verdict, a robbery in a bout that clearly seemed like it should’ve been found in Lara’s favor. In Ishida he was facing a foe of nearly the same dimensions, someone who wouldn’t be overwhelmed by Williams’ height.
Ishida was seen a respectable opponent, though not top-flight opposition, someone who had upset James Kirkland last year but remained a considerable underdog against Williams.
It wasn’t Williams’ height that overwhelmed Ishida, but rather his activity. Williams returned to his busy style, throwing combinations and moving, out-working Ishida for 12 rounds. It was a good win and a confidence builder.
Cotto had two confidence builders following his loss to Pacquiao, stopping an out-matched Yuri Foreman in June 2010 and then doing the same to the typecast fall guy of Ricardo Mayorga in March 2011. With those wins under his belt, he gained revenge with a beautiful performance in December against Antonio Margarito. However apparent it was that Margarito has faded, the win meant more for Cotto personally than it did for him professionally.
Neither Williams nor Cotto will ever approach what they were before their shields were cracked, their records blemished. The body does slow from age and damage. Cotto is 31, Williams 30. World-class fighters their age are typically either nearing the end of their prime or are doing their best to put off their decline.
Cotto will try to summon up everything he has left against Mayweather, a task that would have been difficult even in his younger, better days. Williams called out younger, less physically gifted foes in Saul Alvarez and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., but he also mentioned a third fight with Martinez.
That Martinez bout is, for the moment, a bad idea.
Fighters will be hit. Fighters will be hurt. What the fighters and their trainers need to do, though, is make sure that they get hit and hurt less.
This is what Wladimir Klitschko — another fighter we were quick to declare as exposed, quick to cast out as done — was forced to do after his stunning stoppage losses against Corrie Sanders and Lamon Brewster. He bettered himself, regained his confidence and has become a dominant heavyweight champion.
This is what Williams needs to do, too. There should not be the continued assertion from Williams and his team that Martinez caught him with a lucky shot, not when that punch landed often over the 12 rounds in their first fight and the two rounds of their rematch, and not when Lara was able to do the same.
Martinez and Lara were able to do so because of their styles, boxing and countering a fighter who doesn’t use his height the way Klitschko does, but rather holds his chin up high and then leans down to punch at his smaller foes. That countering didn’t happen against Ishida, who showed a completely different style and strategy.
Even if Williams never fixes his flaw and goes on to lose again, and even if Cotto loses to Mayweather, their demises don’t have to be declared.
Even the end of world class isn’t necessarily the end of the world.
It depends on how much a fighter is willing to swallow his pride for smaller shows and smaller paydays. It also depends on how much a fighter is willing to risk his health.
A fighter must decided if it’s worth it anymore, if he’d be endangering himself if he went in there for the biggest fights against the best fighters, whether he wanted to step into the ring if that ring wasn’t on the grandest stage.
Ricky Hatton left after suffering a knockout against a world-class fighter in Manny Pacquiao. Jermain Taylor took time off after suffering knockouts against world-class fighters in Kelly Pavlik, Carl Froch and Arthur Abraham.
It’s okay to come back and fight at a lower level than a fighter was once at. Erik Morales showed that he could stand in there against Marcos Maidana, even as he no longer belonged in with Pacquiao.
It’s okay, that is, until his level continues to drop, until the end really is near.
There is a big difference between what we saw from Roy Jones Jr. against Jeff Lacy — and what we wish we hadn’t seen with him since.
The 10 Count
1. You Know What I’m Saying: a linguistic glance at Paul Williams’ post-fight interview with Showtime’s Jim Gray (notations mine).
Gray: “Paul, congratulations tonight. How would you assess your performance? You pleased?”
Williams: “I’m pleased, know what I’m saying (1), with the win, you know what I’m saying (2). We got to go back to the drawing board, you know what I’m saying (3), and work on some more stuff, you know. I tried not to get hit that much, know what I’m saying (4), so I stayed on the outside a little bit. And Mr. Peterson wanted me to go more to the body, but you know, you know when you’re in the ring, you just go with what you know, you know what I’m saying (5). You go for it.”
Gray: “So you feel you need a lot of work or just a little bit to sharpen up?”
Williams: “Just a little bit of tightening up. And you can see with the performance that I never stopped punching. I’m going to make you fight, you know what I’m saying (6). And I’m glad the fans in Texas down here enjoyed it a little bit, you know. Ishida, he tough to look good (indecipherable) … you know what I’m saying (7). I give a lot of credit to him, you know what I’m saying (8). He came to fight, you know, but I just outworked him.”
Gray: “After the controversy with Lara and the seven months, the time that you’ve taken off since then, how much does this help you regain confidence and just step back into this ring and know that you can be in command of a fight and put that past you?”
Williams: “I feel real good, know what I’m saying (9). I got another belt, know what I’m saying (10). It’s a little WBC belt, but it’s a step to the big belt, you know what I’m saying (11). Guys out there like Chavez Jr., I would d love to get in the ring with him. Alvarez, I’d love to get in the ring with him. And definitely another Martinez, you know what I’m saying (12).”
Gray: “How about Kirkland?”
Williams: “Kirkland, I’ll leave that up to Dan, Al and Mr. Peterson and stuff, but, you know, I’m looking for big names, you know what I’m saying (13). And Alvarez, Chavez and Martinez are the biggest names out there right now in my weight besides Mayweather and Pacquiao, and I know that ain’t gonna come true, so, you know I look for the ones I can make.”
2. The way that Showtime’s co-feature between light heavyweights Tavoris Cloud and Gabriel Campillo began was reminiscent of Manny Pacquiao’s first fight with Juan Manuel Marquez. Cloud downed Campillo twice in the opening round and looked to be on his way to overwhelming Campillo for a surprisingly quick win. But then Campillo began to show his skills, making Cloud miss and strafing him with combinations.
Suddenly Cloud-Campillo was reminiscent of Shane Mosley’s first fight with Winky Wright — a bout between a very muscular fighter who thought he could rely on his power, only to realize that he didn’t seem quite as strong while in against a naturally larger man. Campillo, while not blessed with heavy hands, had enough pop and good enough placement to take over the action.
And then Cloud-Campillo became Pacquiao-Marquez again, ending in controversy. Somehow two judges saw Cloud the winner. Even more alarming, somehow one judge saw Cloud taking eight rounds.
Marquez and Campillo have both been on the short end of several controversial decisions. It took years for Marquez to get another shot at Pacquiao. Of course, Cloud doesn’t have the star power Pacquiao did. Cloud-Campillo was a good fight with a bad finish. With much of the rest of the light heavyweight division seemingly tied up, it seems a rematch is both in order and inevitable.
3. James Toney is facing Bobby Gunn on April 7. The Mayans were right about 2012…
4. It had been years since anyone gave one of the Klitschko brothers a good challenge. Tony Thompson might have come the closest to doing so back in 2008 against Wladimir. But otherwise you’d need to go back to 2005 for Wladimir’s first fight with Samuel Peter — and even deeper into history to find a tough night for Vitali.
Vitali beat Dereck Chisora by a clear unanimous decision this past Saturday — clear, though many agree the scorecards were far too wide — but Chisora made him work for it.
This was not the typical Klitschko brothers bout in which an aggressive-talking opponent would quickly be rendered ineffective in the ring, then beaten into submission over the course of the fight. Chisora was out-worked and out-boxed by Vitali, but he wasn’t beaten up.
Vitali had to keep working down the distance due to Chisora’s pressure. That might have been due to a combination of Vitali finally showing signs of his 40 years, and, also, Chisora’s sheer tenacity. Klitschko did suffer an injury — it came out afterward that he had torn a ligament in his left shoulder in the early rounds.
David Haye, there in Germany working for the British broadcast in his pseudo-retirement, said he saw plenty of vulnerabilities in Vitali Klitschko that he could easily exploit. It seems possible, and that is potentially exciting to imagine.
5. Then again, we said the same thing before Haye took on Wladimir…
6. Boxers Behaving Badly, part one: Klitschko’s win over Chisora was overshadowed by what happened in the post-fight press conference — a brawl between Chisora and Haye that led to Chisora being arrested and Haye being sought by police.
Authorities were initially looking into charging Chisora with assault, causing grievous bodily harm and making a threat, according to the Associated Press. Instead, with Haye nowhere to be found, police released Chisora and said he will be facing one count of simple assault. Chisora’s trainer, Don Charles, faces an assault charge as well.
From video of the melee, Haye appeared to have struck Chisora with a left hook and a right hand. Chisora yelled angrily that Haye had hit him with a beer bottle in Haye’s right hand. Adam Booth, who trains and manages Haye, said that he, too, was hit with a bottle (British news reports suggest Booth’s injury came from Haye throwing a camera tripod). Chisora, at separate times, could be heard saying that he wanted to shoot Haye or burn him.
It wasn’t pretty, but, honestly, it could’ve been worse — many post-fight press conferences in the United States allow in significant numbers of fans and entourage members.
7. Boxers Behaving Badly, part two: Derrick Campos — a designated opponent to many a prospect from junior lightweight to junior welterweight — was arrested Feb. 12 in Kansas after allegedly vandalizing his ex-girlfriend’s car.
(Happy Valentine’s Day?)
Campos, 30, has been charged with one count each of criminal damage to property, obstruction and simple assault, according to The Topeka Capital-Journal.
He is accused of breaking the vehicle’s windows, causing more than $1,500 in damage, and then trying to run away from arriving police officers.
This is only the latest run-in with the law for Campos. Last year alone he was arrested on at least three occasions, according to newspaper reports at the time. In August, he pleaded no contest to one count of domestic battery, was given a six-month suspended sentence and a year of probation.
Campos is 20-12 with 11 knockouts. Those losses include defeats against some familiar names: Diego Magdaleno, Archie Ray Marquez, Jorge Paez Jr., Eloy Perez and Dmitriy Salita. He last fought in July, suffering his sixth-straight loss, this one via second-round technical knockout against Terence Crawford.
8. The various antics involving Dereck Chisora aren’t what I want when it comes to the rare mainstream news coverage of boxing — the big blogs, for instance, were all over Chisora slapping Vitali Klitschko at the weigh-in, Chisora spitting water on Wladimir Klitschko before the main event, and the Chisora-Haye melee — but I’m not offended by these antics to the point of thinking he shouldn’t be in the sport.
We let fighters accused or convicted of far worse get into the ring.
What is nevertheless concerning, however, is Chisora’s history of trouble, both in the ring (he bit an opponent in 2009) and out of it (he’s been in legal trouble before).
It’s up to the commissions to hold Chisora accountable for what’s done between those ropes. It’s up to his team, to his friends and trainer and manager and promoter, to hold him accountable for both the in-fight and extracurricular activities, for those are the actions that could derail promotions and cost everyone money.
Chisora’s promoter, Frank Warren, spoke of his disappointment with his fighter’s actions (slapping, spitting) immediately after the bout was over, and then of his disgust after the press conference brawl. Warren needs to stick to his words, then, and not let money trump his morals should this kind of thing happen again.
9. Fighters will get into trouble out of the ring. I’m not necessarily okay with it — I’d rather it not happen — but it never shocks me, not after all these years of Boxers Behaving Badly entries.
I prefer strong action for those who disturb the sanctity of the sweet science between the bells. Yes, there will be elbows and head butts and low blows. But there cannot ever be the history of blatantly filthy tactics exhibited by Luis Lazarte.
That’s why I’m glad the International Boxing Federation has banned Luis Lazarte for being involved in any fight related to that sanctioning body, a punishment that isn’t actually due to the riot that followed Lazarte’s stoppage loss Feb. 10 against Johnriel Casimero, but rather from something that happened during the 108-pound bout.
According to translations, Lazarte threatened referee Eddie Claudio after being penalized a point: “Do you want to make it out of here alive?”
I am curious, however: Would any of the sanctioning bodies still have banned Lazarte had he come out victorious in that fight — rather than being a nearly 41-year-old man who’s now lost two of his last three?
10. You know what upsets me most about the Chisora-Haye incident? What a waste of beer…
David P. Greisman is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. His weekly column, “Fighting Words,” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com.
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