By Gary Purfield
Let’s get this out in the open before I start. This is not a coverage or news piece of Cotto-Margarito. This is more an editorial about my night at Madison Square Garden. I was a paying customer sitting in the seats to get the full experience of a Cotto fight and the Puerto Rico-Mexico rivalry from the stands.
So with that disclaimer out of the way let’s get to it. I had been looking forward to this fight for months, could not wait for the much-anticpated rematch. I ventured up the Jersey turnpike with my barber/buddy Miguel in his fancy rental car to hit Jersey City where we made camp for the night at a cheap hotel. Miguel spent part of his childhood in Puerto Rico, so the proud Boricua was just as psyched as I was to be heading to the Garden.
After a few glasses of rum (it was a Puerto Rico night) we split the hotel and got on the Path train to NYC. The plan was to arrive by 6:15 to meet up with some buddies and Boxing Tribune readers that were also in the city for the fight. Unfortunately, my dumbass in my excitement and beginning-to-be-buzzed state, realized three stops in on the train that I had left the tickets in the hotel room. One jump off the path, jump back on the other way, run to hotel for tix, run back to path, jump back on, an hour later in the same spot. Finally we reach 33rd St in New York at 7:20. Way past schedule and missed our buddies who had already headed to their destinations to watch the fight.
Not one to miss out on some fun in New York before the fights we found a local sports bar, slammed down some cold ones before hitting the garden. Once getting inside, it was obvious we had entered Puerto Rico North. Other than the fact that we had no beaches and cold weather, this may as well have been the island that has produced Felix Trinidad, Wilfredo Gomez, Wilfred Benitez, and so many more ring greats. Everywhere you looked you saw a different way to cover yourself in the colors of Puerto Rico. Flag capes, bandanas, Cotto Ecko gear, straw hats, and my favorite, a Puerto Rico colored slip-on Mohawk.
We took our seats as Mike Lee of Notre Dame Fame was entering the ring to complete the untelevised undercard. Ironic because of all the 22,000 seats in the Garden we were seated on the aisle of the two rows that represented the Mike Lee fan section. Complete with Mike Lee shirts they were primed for their Fighting Irish fighter, who made their night with his fourth round KO of Allen Medina.
Unfortunately, this would turn into a problem throughout the night as several of the Lee fans became far more interested with getting up and going to the concession stands every few minutes (literally) for more beers and bathroom breaks to flush the booze. Normally, I am a patient patron but after about the twentieth trip they had to be told to stop walking in front of me during the fights and at least wait for a round to end.
Nine o’clock rolled around and it was time for my secondary reason for the trip. My own city of Philadelphia’s Mike Jones entered the ring to take on Sebastian Lujan with a title opportunity on the line. The Mike Lee crowd was unaware of Mike Jones so Miguel and I did our best to give them the particulars. I explained Jones may have to make it a boxing match early but look for your drunken excitement and fireworks later when Lujan has been worn down.
At one point during the fight I thought the crowd had grown restless with the “boxing” as boos began to rain down. Then I noticed the monitor was showing the villain for the night, one Antonio Margarito aka Margacheato entering the arena. The boos and screams were filled with anger and venom. I knew this was going to be fun. During the next round, the reaction was 100% opposite as Cotto’s entrance was shown and the building exploded with PR flags a-waiving.
Jones did not disappoint, putting on a boxing clinic and winning a clear unanimous decision (I had it nine rounds to three from my seat in section 119). Jones won but the careful performance against the awkward and dangerous Lujan did not quiet grab the Puerto Rican crowd the way I had hoped, but Jones has plenty of time and fights in the future for that. He won today and can look good tomorrow.
On to Wolak-Rodriguez rematch. I assured everyone around me as I returned with my Tecate that this would provide guaranteed fireworks. No way these two won’t beat each other senseless and bring the crowd to life. But this is boxing and nothing is guaranteed. While it was a decent fight, it did not produce the back and forth action of their FNF contest earlier this year with Rodriguez using his reach and skill to run away with the bout. It was a darn good bout, but not the barn-burner expected.
No sweat though, Brandon Rios is guaranteed action up next. Except Rios had done too much sweating in a futile effort the last four days trying to force his body to 135lbs when he probably should have moved up more than a year ago. Rios-Murray provided some good inside brawling action, but again failed to capture the crowd until the later rounds when Murray’s face became a bloody mess. As the fight went on, the crowd began getting into the action and the crowd atmosphere I had come to see began to emerge. But all in all it was clear this audience came for one thing and was only partly focused on the undercard as they prepared for the main event. The loudest moments of the undercard were when Cotto was shown on the jumbotron and chants of Cotto-Cotto broke out throughout the arena.
Backing up, we had one crisis amongst the Mike Lee crowd during the Rios fight when one kid came from the concourse announcing the devastating news that they had cut off alcohol sales at 11pm. While I was not feeling the grieving loss over this matter the Lee fans felt, I was regretting not getting up earlier to get one more Tecate. This was made worse when we noticed that those in the VIP ringside seats down low were being brought beer by staff, but when we asked the MSG waiters for the same treatment we got a flat denial that they don’t serve to our section.
Side note, this is my first time at the Garden since the renovations and it was done very nicely. The place is really modern but still feels like the garden (although I am still upset about this early closing of the booze distribution).
Now, if you have gotten this far in the article you are waiting for the fun just like I was at this point in the night. Immediately following Bam Bam’s flattening of the Englishman, the chants began. Cotto-Cotto, songs of Puerto Rico where I could only make out a few Spanish words that were sung and I got the feeling that something special was about to happen.
A tribute to Joe Frazier highlighted by the fight of the century where Smoking Joe defeats Ali is shown with Joe’s son Marvin in the ring. The crowd gave a roaring ovation after the ten count which was great to see. While they are here for Cotto, they are boxing fans and showed great love for Frazier and the respect the Philly warrior deserves.
With a color guard ring it was National Anthem time, beginning with Mexico. It was here the greatest boxing rivalry began to come out. Boos and jeers rained down as the poor singer belted out Mexico’s national anthem. Personally, I am not one for booing any anthem, but this crowd was so heated and into the rivalry feeling that no such thoughts of proper decency were applied to the song that represents Mexico and, at that moment, Margarito. After a fun-filled Puerto Rican anthem and the song of USA it was finally time for the entrances.
By this point, the crowd was rocking and ready to go. Everyone knew Margarito would go first and it was clear they wanted their shot to let him know how they felt. When the monitor began showing a highlight reel, they let it fly. Then it was time to “open the door for the criminal” as Margarito referred to himself earlier in the week and he began his entrance. His smug smile and clear enjoyment at playing the villain role was apparent and simply fueled the crowd to rain down boos and other insults you can’t put on a respectable news site.
Then the monitor began the Cotto highlight reel with the song Seven Nation Army from the White Stripes. Half the audience bounced up and down to the bass and drums awaiting the chance to spur on their Puerto Rican hero. Ironically this was the song that Cotto entered to in the first bout with Margarito. I started thinking, is this some psychological ploy by Cotto to relive that night in 2008 where he took a career changing beating and prepare himself to right what he felt was the ultimate wrong. When he began his entrance, the crowd reached its biggest fever moment.
Once inside the ring the two combatants could not have been more opposite. Margarito with his easy smile and Cotto looking like a cold determined man on a mission. The names were announced with the now common theme of anger towards Margarito and adulation for Cotto. And it was not just the Puerto Ricans. Other than the few Mexican fans in attendance, everyone was clearly for the man in the white hat, Miguel Cotto, and letting their feelings be known.
When the bell rang, what struck me was the nervous energy within the crowd. While they roared every time Cotto landed head-snapping combination, there loomed a concern that Margarito would repeat the performance of three years ago and wear down the crowd favorite.
Cotto took round one and took round two in a big way that had the crowd in a frenzy. But then Margarito came on, pushing Cotto back and giving everyone visions of 2008. That nervous energy crept in again and for moments the crowd went quiet. But Cotto would bring them back in as once again his hands did damage and his feet got him out of harm’s way. Round six was tighter with Margarito trying to use his pressure to turn the tide but Cotto was not having it this time.
By round seven, Margarito’s Pacquiao-beaten eye was closing fast and Cotto was getting stronger. The visions of the first fight were crawling away. Whether Margarito had no power from too many ring wars, or a lack of plaster, he was not able to impose himself this time. Cotto had no trouble keeping up the hit and move pace using superior skills to control the bout. He took Margarito’s shots and targeted the eye with his famous left hook. The crowd, now sensing the win was inevitable, was able to let loose and roar at every punch landed, waiting for the moment that Cotto’s hand would be raised for redemption and revenge.
A quick note of analysis on the actual fight. In this writer’s opinion, the biggest difference for Cotto was he hit and moved back to the center of the ring most of the night opposed to laying on the ropes. Sure the fact that he took his opponents shots better played a part, but he never allowed Margarito to pin him for prolonged periods of a round and this was the difference in the two fights. Margarito never stopped coming and he took Cotto’s shots with no issue other than the bad eye closing, but Cotto’s crisp punching and improved ring movement controlled the night.
Moving forward to that moment after round nine. As the bell for the tenth round sounded, but referee Steve Smoger called for the doctor to look at Margarito’s eye the crowd sensed the end was about to occur. Cotto’s pre-fight prediction that he would take advantage of the eye the way Margarito took advantage of the plaster came to fruition. Even without sound it was clear on the jumbotron that Margarito was begging for the fight to go on but the doctor and ref had seen enough. The fight was ended, giving Cotto his redemption and a TKO win.
This gave the crowd what they had come to see. Madison Square Garden erupted into a Boricua fan fest. Roars and cheers, chants of Cotto, screams of venom one more time at Margarito were heard all around us. I have been lucky enough to be present in Philly when the Eagles beat the Falcons to go to the Super Bowl and was in South Philly when the Phils won the World Series in 2008. The crowd excitement for Cotto was just as wild as those two nights. It is the kind of thing as a sports fan you hope to be present to witness.
We sat to enjoy Cotto’s post-fight comments with my favorite being when he told Max Kellerman,”I’m still standing,” in reference to being asked if Margarito’s punches hurt less this time. We marveled at the spectacle of Cotto simply standing several feet from Margarito after the fight was halted, staring down the man he felt had assaulted him illegally, to say quietly in his way say he had exacted justice on this night. Then it was time to head out and let the party start.
It did not take long. We hit the concourse to find a group of Puerto Ricans with drums and instruments playing and singing. Fortunately I had Miguel with me and his fully fluent Spanish talents. The drums beat as the singer sang
Hay Bendito, a Margarito le comieron el culita. I was told this translated roughly to poor baby, Margarito they ate your butt (they kicked your ass).
This song was picked up by everyone around. It continued non-stop down the stairs out of the garden and rolled onto 7th avenue outside of the garden.
Outside on the streets of New York the party continued into the night. Proud Puerto Ricans and boxing fans of every nationality enjoyed the celebration. Songs from Puerto Rico and various chants were heard everywhere. You could jump ten feet and join a different group of singers. One group continuing the poor baby taunt of Margarito and others chanting in Spanish, “I’m Boricua,” just so you know.
As I said above, it reminded me of the great football and baseball moments I have experienced in Philly and why not. For Puerto Ricans, (and Mexicans who suffered that feeling of loss but they stayed proud waiving their flags in pride in NY afterwards as well) this was the biggest accomplishment in their biggest sport. So they soaked it in and reveled in the moment.
Finally at 1:30am we headed to a sports bar for one last beer to talk about the night. When we walked past the Garden after 2am to catch the Path back to the hotel in Jersey, they were still outside singing songs. We smiled and laughed, but kept moving as exhaustion had finally gotten us and we wanted nothing more than a bed to crash.
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