Derek Quizon

Can Cotto and Margarito overcome the agony of defeat?

TOO MUCH PUNISHMENT

Sometimes, the damage is physical. Like Cotto, Taylor seemed on his way to winning his 1990 title fight against another relentless Mexican brawler, Chavez. But while Taylor landed fast combinations on the inside, Chavez patiently wore him down with stiff right hands.

By the time referee Richard Steele made the controversial decision to stop the fight, awarding Chavez a 12th-round TKO victory with two seconds left in the bout, Taylor’s face was badly swollen, his eyes reduced to slits. As the cliché goes, the scorecards told one story, but Taylor’s face told another.

A few years ago, an HBO documentary showed the once-sharp Taylor badly slurring his words. Trainer Lou Duva, who wouldn’t comment for this story, told HBO that Taylor’s career declined after the Chavez fight.

“That was definitely physical,” Steward said, referring to Taylor’s decline after the Chavez bout. “The punching power of Chavez broke this man’s body. He took too much punishment and never recuperated from that.”

Boxing is one of the world’s oldest sports, but doctors still aren’t exactly sure how it affects the brain. Dr. Margaret Goodman, a neurologist and the former chief ringside physician for the Nevada State Athletic Commission, said fighters are required to undergo MRI scans every five years, but the scans sometimes miss what fight fans can see clearly — that a fighter is no longer the same.

“For an MRI to show damage, something really has to be off,” said Goodman, the former NSAC medical advisory board chairman who has worked more than 400 fights. “I’ve seen neurologists that have examined fighters that I know have deteriorated, and the doctor doesn’t come up with anything.”

Fights that leave permanent physical damage on boxers are usually long and drawn-out, she said, as opposed to the quick, flashy knockouts. Repetitive blows to the head damage the “tracks” in the nervous system that travel through the spine, connecting the brain to the extremities. Too much punishment will permanently diminish a fighter’s coordination, speed, and endurance.

That damage isn’t always apparent to neurologists when they conduct scans of a fighter’s brain, she said, but boxing fans can see it. That’s why, she said, state athletic commissions need to begin studying film when evaluating whether a professional boxer should be allowed to continue fighting. Combined with MRI scans and tests of a fighter’s speech patterns, it can give them a better idea of how much a fighter has deteriorated.

“That’s where the money is, to me — looking at how their performances change from fight to fight,” she said.

Margarito’s license was approved by the New York State Athletic Commission despite questions about damage to his eyesight after his brutal loss to Pacquiao last November. Goodman said she has examined Cotto since the Margarito loss, and there is nothing medically wrong with him.

Even if there is no medical reason to keep them from fighting, she said, as an observer, she notices a difference in both of them.

“I don’t think it’s the same Cotto fighting the same Margarito,” Goodman said.

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