By Jake Donovan
Another close fight, another split decision… another debate on who deserved to win and why.
“The right guy won; get over it,” one side argues.
“We wuz robbed,” cries the other side.
Almost every remotely close fight will generate debate of some kind. Sometimes, it’s just for the sake of debating, only because it’s too boring to admit a clear cut winner.
Other times, you have to shake your head in disbelief that two or three judges actually watched the same fight as you.
Then there are those fights that were so good and so close, that the debates begin well before the scorecards are read and often don’t end for months, if not years. The debates run at great length often because the fight was that good and, no matter your horse in the race, there really is no correct answer in the end.
Saturday night offered one of those fights, as well as a reminder of the subjectivity forever intertwined with the sport.
There were few in the industry who believed that Saturday’s headlining act at Madison Square Garden between top welterweights Miguel Cotto and Joshua Clottey would be anything other than a close, hard-fought battle. Throw in the bonus of it being Miguel Cotto playing the main room on the eve of the Puerto Rican Day parade, and you cold all but take it to the bank that an exciting affair was sure to come of the evening.
The fight delivered on every promise, from the atmosphere, to the action between the ropes, right down to both fighters sweating it out once the final verdict was read.
For Miguel Cotto, it would be the closest he would come to losing without actually not having his hand raised in victory at night’s end. This of course would exclude the lone loss of his career, an 11th round knockout against Antonio Margarito in a fight where the ending was far more conclusive.
A November ’07 Garden party shared with Shane Mosley produced similarly tight scores, but with the final outcome not quite in doubt. Cotto built up an early enough lead to where a late Shane rally proved to be the difference between a decisive victory for Cotto and the close-but-clear win that would ultimately come of the night.
Beyond that, there aren’t any other moments among his 34 prior prize fights that could properly prepare him for the nervous anticipation that would come before being able to breathe a sigh of relief upon hearing the words “… and still.”
While a foreign occurrence to Cotto, it was an all-too familiar experience for Joshua Clottey. Oddly enough, it was his previous loss that would ultimately put the Ghana-born fighter on the boxing map.
Clottey went 12 hard rounds with Antonio Margarito, who at the time possessed the same alphabet title that was at stake in his fight with Cotto last Saturday. Much like the Cotto fight, there reached a point late in the fight with Margarito where it was believed that Clottey merely needed to stay on his feet and hear the final bell in order to have his arm raised in victory.
Much like in the Cotto fight, Clottey failed to close the show, instead settling for lasting 12 and leaving the rest in the hands of the three ringside judges. Against Margarito, Clottey was truly a man without a country. In a fight where many at ringside and many, many more fans watching at home believed Clottey did enough to win, all three official judges not only had Margarito winning, but turned in final scorecards suggesting the fight was off the table well before the final round.
Clottey was given a fighting chance this time around, even if only by two of the three judges.
There whispers of Cotto possibly benefitting from home cooking if the night would ultimately come to that. It mattered little that Clottey was the one in fact based out of New York, while his opponent only claims the area as his home away from home while spending the rest of his time in his hometown of Caguas, Puerto Rico.
It mattered even less that both fighters share the same promoter (Top Rank). This was a weekend dedicated to Boricuas, as well as the sixth time Cotto has played the main room. Looming in the horizons was a mouthwatering Cotto-Manny Pacquiao matchup should the Puerto Rican emerge victorious.
In other words, Clottey better knock him out if he wants to leave with a win.
But it would never come to that, but instead how one scores a close round. There were two in particular – rounds three and ten – that cause a four-point swing in all reasonable debates.
The aforementioned margin of error ignores the scorecard turned in by Don Trella, whose 116-111 tally suggested that, barring a late round knockout, Clottey’s night was over by the time the fight entered the championship rounds.
To put it bluntly, if you had Cotto winning eight rounds or more in this fight, then thanks for playing but your input is no longer required. Move on to the next fight – oh and leave your scorecard and pencils at home.
Everyone else can lay their (score)cards on the table and argue their side of the story.
It’s a discussion that will go at length and most likely prove the ending to be every bit as inconclusive as the very fight you debate. It was that close. The arguments for both sides are that reasonable.
There’s only one problem: all the coudla, shoulda, wouldas ultimately don’t change the outcome of the fight.
Arguments have been made that Cotto should’ve docked points for separate fouls in rounds five and twelve. But even if points were taken for Cotto’s body slam in the fifth and a rabbit punch in the final round, it’s almost impossible to imagine the ensuing moments panning out any different.
As it stood, Cotto lost the fifth round. Even if it was 10-8 instead of 10-9, he still clearly took the sixth round. Clottey was a bit shook after the fifth round takedown, and it’s not unreasonable to suggest he needed some of the sixth round to continue the recovery period. Whatever the case, he did next to nothing in the round, and a Cotto point deduction wouldn’t have changed that.
The final round saw Clottey chase, but nothing in the way of effective aggression. He fought as if he believed Cotto would be penalized on the cards for fighting any other way than in a phone booth.
Does a point deduction for the rabbit punch that took place in the round cause a sense of urgency and force Cotto to take more risks? Maybe, maybe not. Cotto knew the fight with Margarito was beginning to slip away, yet still didn’t change up his style at any point in the final four or so rounds. And as close as this fight appeared to be, Cotto still believed it to be in his best interest to fight from the outside and stay the hell away.
Likewise, Clottey’s never met a close fight he didn’t try to give away. The next fight in which he closes with a bang will be his first.
All three of his career losses are result of this glaring psychological flaw. A sure win over Carlos Baldomir a decade ago turned into his first career defeat due to his penchant for leading with his head like a battering ram, an issue that resurfaced Saturday night, leaving Cotto with a bad gash over his left eye.
Now, 2 ½ years after fading down the stretch against Antonio Margarito, Clottey once again approaches the final rounds of a fight with nary a sense of urgency. Even knowing he was up against the house fighter, and that nothing had ever come easy in his career or his life in general, Clottey entered the championship rounds of the biggest fight of his professional career as if the outcome was never in doubt.
He was half-right. The fight was in fact off the table on two of the three cards entering the final round, only not in his favor. Clottey was in such disbelief over the final tallies that he no longer wanted to stand in the ring on this night, but any other as serious thoughts of retirement entered his mind and exited past his lips.
But in the end, there was nothing about which to be surprised. Regardless of how you scored the fight, there had to exist the belief that another saw the fight in the exact opposite light.
It could’ve come from the patron sitting next to you, or the words of an anonymous username on a boxing message board. But what never should’ve come was a surprise reaction that yet another closely contested fight would reacquaint all with the subjective nature of our sport.
Jake Donovan is the managing editor of Boxingscene.com and an award-winning member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Contact Jake at JakeNDaBox@gmail.com.