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, May 18, 2007

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Wacky Cotto Loses His Cool But Gets Draw
Judges Rob Deserving Singwancha on a Wild Night in Puerto Rico



Jose Miguel Cotto, 29, has long fought in his younger brother Miguel’s shadow.  And it doesn’t appear that he’ll be stepping outside of it anytime soon, if his recent performance on Telefutura from the Coliseo Angel Espada in Salinas, Puerto Rico, is any indication.  

A solid but not sublime pro, Jose fought Thailand’s Prawet Singwangcha for the vacant WBA lightweight strap. It was a chance at redemption for the 29-year-old from Caguas, P.R., as he fought for the same title last year against the relentless Juan “Baby Bull” Diaz, and lost by a wide UD.

According to this observer, Cotto should have lost this title bid, too. Instead, some kindly judges gave him a MD draw. Judges Guy Jutras and Samuel Conde had the 12-rounder 114-114. The third judge, Tom Miller, was the only one laying off the proverbial Kool-Aid; he scored it 117-111 for the deserving Singwangcha.

Prawet fights almost exclusively in his homeland, and has never gone outside of Asia. The southpaw has faced a band of no-name boxers and hasn’t lost since 1999. His handlers must’ve gotten gun-shy after putting him in with Korean badass In Jin Chi in only his third fight, and Chi’s 14th; he got stopped in the fourth.

Still, he put together a 30-2-1 (18) record going into this match and “earned” a #1 ranking in the WBA. Cotto, #2 in the WBA, has been in with much stiffer competition and was 28-1 (20) going in.

Round one showed Prawet to have good handspeed and movement. His comfort zone was on the outside. Cotto made awkward lunges at him and mostly missed. The Thai would jump inside punching range now and then and get off speedy four- and six-punch combos before Jose could react. But the shots were mainly arm punches and it was clear why his KO percentage is average against mediocre opposition.

The partisan crowd cheered whenever Jose did something that looked promising, however ineffective it actually was. Puerto Rican fans are among the most knowledgeable ones in the world, so they had to know that while the big right hand Cotto landed in the second was nice, Prawet’s response to it was what mattered.  By the end of the round, it was Cotto who was getting back up.

Throughout the third, Cotto struggled with Prawet’s southpaw stance and the majority of his punches fell short. The Thai became increasingly aggressive and confident, even though his punches lacked stopping power. The next two rounds were relatively close, with Cotto boxing off the ropes and the other man piling up points. Jose’s saving grace was that, inexplicably, Prawet would back off when things were going his way and relocate the action to ring-center.

In the seventh Cotto ws noticeably weary. After the round, his corner draped wet towels over his downward-turned head. Even though he had to be used to fighting in tropical heat, he wasn’t fairing well.

The action picked up in the eighth. But in the ninth both fighters were sapped. Prawet dropped his hands to his waist and shake them out whenever he was out of punching range. He still pot-shotted well or reeled off fast combos when he had to. Cotto was now the aggressor, threw the heavier blows, but didn’t do enough to decisively take the round.

The most interesting part of the fight occurred between the rounds nine and ten. When Cotto returned to his corner he pushed his trainer/uncle, Evangelista Cotto, who promptly pushed him back. They began to shout at each other. Then, Miguel Cotto himself—who had been doing ringside commentary during the fight—got up on the ring apron and attempted to quell his brother’s anger, even grabbing his head and whispering something to him.

Throughout the fight Evangelista was in his nephew’s face, demanding more of him. I don’t understand Spanish, but I believe the essence of his message was this: Whaddya doin’?  Start kicking some ass or else! But what actually set Jose off, I don’t know. And unfortunately I couldn’t make out what the commentators or anyone else was saying.

Tired as he was, Jose never sat before the tenth, didn’t let his corner work, and seemed mentally out of the fight. This was almost as wacky as when Oliver McCall had a meltdown against Lennox Lewis in their rematch.  Indeed, Jose barely punched in the tenth and although he displayed some fundamentally-sound footwork, even his fans couldn’t sugar-coat his actions.

While it would be impossible for any judge—not on the take—to give this round to Cotto, Singwangcha didn’t help himself. Instead of bum-rushing Jose, he took his time tracking him down and did a poor job cutting off the ring.

Evangelista was no longer working Cotto’s corner after the tenth and the eleventh. The hardest working man in boxing, Miguel Diaz, took the reins. Occasionally the TV would cut to younger brother Miguel, whose usually inscrutable face showed more emotion and concern than I’ve ever seen.

The fighters didn’t do anything differently in the eleventh and twelfth. I thought Prawet was doing more than Jose, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t frustrating to watch. The Thai seemed content to win these rounds but not put away the other man. And Cotto, who had to assume he was losing the fight, fought with no urgency, just coasting his way to the finish line.

When it was over, Prawet was raised onto his trainers’ shoulders and held his arms aloft. He rightly believed he was the new WBA titlist. Cotto’s behavior suggested that of the loser; he seemed upset with his effort. When the scores were read, the broadcast ended abrupty and switched to the news. It was as if the programmers were tacitly saying, “To heck with this. Let’s pretend this didn’t happen. Tune in next week, fight fans!”        

In the opening bout of the telecast, former IBF lightweight titlist Javier Jauregui dropped Jose Reyes in the first. But that was his best moment in the fight. He looked sluggish for the remaining rounds, making the Puerto Rican Reyes look like the second coming of Wilfredo Benitez. (Reyes is okay but let’s leave it at that.)  Scores were 77-74 twice and 78-73, all for Reyes. He goes to 20-4 (7) and Jauregui drops to 51-14-2 (35).




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