“As it is with a play, so it is with life—what matters is not how long the acting lasts, but how good it is.” - Seneca
“The prognosis dipped the future in bronze. There was an inevitability attached to it now, a looming vista that refused to retreat. Unable to slow his pace or change his course, his focus switched. No longer concerned with evasion—a fruitless pursuit in the face of the inevitable—he prepared to meet his fate. It was a time for courage, courage and a new, perhaps final, preparation.
He enlisted the expertise of those he trusted in preparing for this challenge. Age and deterioration had exacted their price, and he was well aware that he would never regain the form of his prime. But the obstinacy, the rigidity of conduct that throughout his life invariably characterized his actions, had tempered somewhat. He’d come to embrace both change and help. Those in his circle were each given a responsibility vital to his success. These entrusted companions met their responsibilities with a solemnity born of terrifying potential of the unknown.
Initial preparations produced mixed results. There was some concern that he was being defeated by the very processes that were intended to fortify him. A clammy fear, worn like an exaggerated mask, could be detected in the faces of his companions. Surely he read something ominous in their physiognomy? Those familiar faces could never successfully lie to him, not as he moved toward the rendering of his ultimate verdict. Never one for soothsaying, he assuaged their concerns with a peaceful resolve that vanquished any timorousness.
The day came as they all knew it must. There were serious questions asked of them all in their preparation for that moment; questions from within and without. The most challenging queries however, would be posed only to him. There’d be little the rest could do but watch. Before engaging in this last interrogation, he made his peace with those who had shared in the compounded experiences that produced this end, this stage, this trial. With a reassuring nod to his wife, he met his solitary test with the stoic resolve that typified his demeanour. In this final performance a verdict on his life was delivered, followed by embraces, tears, and pride made elegant by humility.
It’d be disingenuous to say that he’d been perfect. Certainly the facts didn’t support such an idealistic estimation. Moreover, to deny the man his faults would be to deny him the character demanded to overcome them. Too often the urge is to ignore the imperfections of a man to the glory of his virtues. This strategy however, is stultifying. If we are to believe—and it seems like sage council—that what’s most valuable, most indicative of worth, is forged in struggle, then very little should be thought of the man who has no faults. He hasn’t earned anything. No, the man wasn’t perfect. But on that day, in his greatest trial, he triumphed.”
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The above narrative might read like a romanticism of Miguel Cotto’s journey to victory over Antonio Margarito last night. It isn’t: it’s a cathartic eulogy, something for the recently departed. But considering his performance last night, Cotto’s alive and well. In a poetic moment denied to so many in the sport, he produced arguably his greatest performance.
And this is why he should retire.
It says here that the fertile conditions that produced yesterday’s career-defining victory can’t be duplicated. Essentially, it can never get better than it was last night for Miguel Cotto. This means it can only get worse, though what this worsening need not be tragic. It isn’t an issue of setting, though the atmosphere for last night’s fight was undoubtedly incredible. Madison Square Garden may never sellout for a Cotto fight again, but the attendance will always be strong, the New York fans unfailingly crazed by their emotional investment whenever Cotto fights. No, what this fight had that makes it impossible to equal or surpass is the presence of a double-dyed villain and some serious questions.
In Margarito, Cotto was given the opportunity for vengeance over his nemesis. The man who had made him capitulate three years prior was again within arms length. Margarito meanwhile, had emerged from his public disgrace intent of vindicating himself. The rich drama of that narrative has been discussed here and elsewhere. For brevity’s sake it will be omitted on the assumption that all are familiar with it. Given that familiarity it’s unlikely that anyone could imagine that a greater foil will ever present himself to Cotto. The stoic Caguas fighter rarely, if ever, exhibits any emotional reaction to the task at hand. But with Margarito, though the application was surgical, the motivation was malevolent. A victory over Margarito meant more than a title defence, more than a place in the division rankings, more than a purse. Cotto’s name will evermore be linked to Margarito’s—they’re etched in the pantheon of boxing’s modern rivalries, if not for the action, than for the narrative. Moreover, this rivalry’s unlikely to fade from memory given that it’ll always resonate along nationalistic lines and there’s plenty of victim to be cried on behalf of each fighter. Truth may be stranger than fiction, but it’s beyond the potential of this pre-established harmony to forge, in the short amount of time remaining in Cotto’s career, a nemesis greater than Antonio Margarito.
Only Margarito could ask the serious questions.
Would Cotto be able to implement a strategy that navigated him to victory? The answer is yes. There were subtle yet crucial changes in his movement on display last night: stepping to the side instead of retreating to the ropes, and occasionally turning his slower opponent and firing off quick punches before Margarito could reposition himself for his downhill assault. The vaunted body attack of Cotto’s prime has been discarded somewhat, but he still finished enough combinations to the body to elongate the hittable surface of his target.
Would Cotto wilt again in the face of Margarito’s relentless pressure? While he certainly looked like a participant in a fight at the post-fight press conference, Cotto didn’t wilt. Rather than continuously back up—a strategy that contributed greatly to his defeat in the first fight—Cotto drew the proverbial line in the sand and ripped malicious combinations into his iron antagonist. He engaged just enough to retard the development of Margarito’s dangerous disregard.
Would Cotto, notorious for tiring in the last third of a fight, have enough energy to implement a strategy that was predicated on movement? Only a partial answer was provided to that question, as the fight was stopped at the beginning of the tenth round. Margarito had some success in the ninth, as Cotto undoubtedly tired from the movement he employed and Margarito’s pressure. But the fight had been a tense though one-sided affair up to that point, and there was no evidence that a repeat of their initial encounter would transpire.
The greatest question was whether Cotto would capitulate again when he realized that he couldn’t hurt the man standing across from him, when it became clear that Margarito still punched with enough power to finish him. Cotto never capitulated, never deviated from his plan, and would not be goaded into a brawl. Margarito was able to impose his strengths on Cotto intermittently, but the consummate professional would extricate himself from the onslaught, and retrace his steps back to the path to victory. Given Cotto’s deterioration, and the danger Margarito represented, it was a masterful performance. This was the fight to validate his career—having validated it, he need never do so again. The serious questions have been answered.
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Boxing is a drama inclined to tragedy. Very rarely does it permit a happy ending. One need only look to the Civic Centre in Atlanta, Georgia this upcoming Saturday for proof that boxing can be a wanton cannibal. On that night Roy Jones Jr. faces Max Alexander. It’s been eight years since Jones’ crowning achievement, when he easily won the WBA heavyweight title from John Ruiz. On that night that Jones should’ve retired, sparing himself the embarrassment of the last eight years. Cotto, a fighter clearly on the decline, has a chance to walk away after his own crowning achievement. It’s unlikely that he does, but he should.
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