In boxing, one bad night can wreck a career. No two active fighters are better proof of this than Miguel Cotto and Antonio Margarito.
Two fights, six months apart, seemed to stunt their fast-moving careers, and for most observers, their rematch on Saturday seems less about securing their future than answering the questions surrounding their first encounter.
Cotto’s run as an undefeated welterweight titleholder ended in a corner in the MGM Grand in Las Vegas at the conclusion of his first fight with Margarito in July of 2008. Cotto, a Puerto Rican boxer-puncher who came in with a 32-0 record, seemed to be out-boxing Margarito through the early rounds, but Margarito’s relentless pressure eventually wore him down.
By the late rounds of the HBO Pay Per View-televised bout, blood gushed from Cotto’s nose and mouth, as well as a cut from his left eye — at one point, a punch from Margarito splattered a few drops onto an HBO camera in the corner. In the 11thround, Cotto dropped to a knee, succumbing to exhaustion. Referee Kenny Bayless stepped in with a merciful stoppage.
After his dramatic victory, Margarito’s stock shot up, and fans wondered whether he could be beaten at welterweight. However, one terrible night against Shane Mosley had some fans wondering whether he’d ever be a top-flight fighter again. Shortly before the fight, which took place in Los Angeles in January of 2009, commission inspectors found illegal implements in his handwraps, which immediately cast a shadow, at least unofficially, over his sensational win over Cotto.
To add injury to insult, Mosley thrashed him for eight rounds before putting him on the ropes and snapping a whip-like left hook that sent Margarito to the canvas.
Cotto and Margarito haven’t quite been the same since.
Margarito continues to charge his opponents with reckless abandon, but since the first Cotto fight, he hasn’t been able to wear down any of his opponents for a TKO, the way he did in his prime.
Cotto’s damage appears to be deeper and more psychological. He’s won three of his last five fights, but he seems to fight with a tentativeness and lack of killer instinct that wasn’t there before. He showed signs of his former brilliance against Manny Pacquiao and Joshua Clottey, but the Miguel Cotto that got off the canvas to knock out Ricardo Torres and ran over Zab Judah isn’t there anymore.
Boxing fans are familiar with the phenomenon. The physical and psychological damage from one fight can derail a fighter’s entire career. Just ask anyone who saw the first Cotto-Margarito fight, Meldrick Taylor’s controversial TKO loss against Julio Cesar Chavez, or Naseem Hamed’s humiliation at the hands of Marco Antonio Barerra.
So how and why does it happen? What separates a bad night from a career-ending night? Why is it that some fighters never recover from devastating losses, while others — such as Wladimir Klitschko or Thomas Hearns — continue to put on great performances even after heartbreaking defeats? The answer isn’t always clear.
“Every human being is different,” said Emanuel Steward, a hall-of-fame trainer who has been in the sport for more than 60 years. But observers do see a few key patterns that separate the bad nights from the utterly devastating ones.