The days and weeks before Miguel Cotto’s final bout were a curious, wandering period. Immersed in nostalgia and solemn reverence, writers and ring side observers seemed to succumb to the narrative that Sadam Ali’s selection, and the sense of underwhelm they felt toward him and duly projected to their own parishioners, would assure Cotto’s career enjoyed a decorative final triumph. Without a perceived threat in the opposing corner, or, as they determined, even the prospect of a competitive bout, they opted to start the party early.
Such was the extent of this homage the actual fight became an inconvenience, an after thought, akin to collecting the discarded paper plates and half-empty champagne flutes when all you want is a taxi or your bed. As the great and good of the written and spoken word laid their respective garlands at Cotto’s feet and fans bowed their heads in respect, Boxing grew tired of this veneration and the disrespect to Her final commandment, that nobody leaves on their own terms, the tsunami of obituary represented. Sincerity was increasingly sacrificed in the media’s quest to draw the most emotionally laden tribute to Cotto’s career, great as it was, slipped into the apocryphal.
As Bernard Hopkins discovered a year ago, Boxing, if we are to infuse personality and intention to the sprawling, unfettered organism that the sport is and has always been, like Mother Nature herself, believes it necessary to remind its subjects that She will always remain more powerful than any single figure. Whether the subject be Arum or the town of Shelby, Montana, Ali, The Old Mongoose or Sugar Ray.
Were boxing as predictable as those evangelising the Miguel Cotto story in the days before his final bout would have us believe and subject to a linear, scientific series of outcomes then it wouldn’t maintain its appeal and certainly wouldn’t have endured in to the computerised age. The spectacle and intangibles of two men, mere humans both, stripped to the waist, willingly sacrificing portions of themselves, seen and unseen, to determine a victor and the unpredictability of that outcome, is what enthrals us all.
And in every fight, when the two men touch gloves, irrespective of their form, size, pedigree or future, where there is intent, hope and determination present in both parties; all eventualities are possible. A fighter, a promoter, a writer and the fans who make it all possible, should never allow hubris, cynicism or a fixation with a particularly poetic outcome to throw a veil over that reality. For it is within that sense of possibility, within however narrow the sliver of hope is believed to be, that Boxing’s eternal appeal resides.
Boxing respects, if without tenderness, the courage of an over-matched trier – like Jamie Conlon who fought for a World Title two weeks ago. A boy born to the sectarian troubles in Belfast, dark of brow and indestructible of heart, climbing from the canvas through excruciating pain, willed on by a defiance distilled through generations of resistance and hardship those grimacing and baying from ringside in Belfast could recognise if not replicate. The hope that glowed beneath his pale, battered frame couldn’t be extinguished for he knew the pain of now would pass long before the pain of quitting ever would.
She also allows Joe Hughes to show the mettle of mankind, to allow a man born with one arm shorter than the other, that he couldn’t lift to his chin as a child, to adapt, to inspire and to fight for the European title. But She doesn’t believe in fairytales. He lost bravely, but not dramatically, his story was told, and someone, somewhere began their own quest to do something they didn’t think they could do before. Maybe only one. Maybe a thousand. Boxing isn’t counting, one is enough to shape the parable.
Largely dispassionate and merciless, Boxing punishes bravery as readily as arrogance and cowardice, weakness and strength. In the final analysis, Boxing’s intervention last Saturday, in the shape of Sadam Ali’s fists and the failure of Miguel Cotto’s 37-year-old body, shouldn’t detract from the substance of the latter’s entire career. He will be remembered and he will be missed, he did not pursue the pre-emptive accolades or seek to be canonised on the eve of his final crusade after all. He possessed an enduring humility to match the depth of his courage and he finished as he had begun; trying to prove himself better than his foe with the tools he had available on the night. Driven by a desire to build a life for his family in which the risks and sacrifices Boxing insists upon would not be necessary and the opportunities of wealth and security would abound.
Miguel knew that Boxing cares not for those who enter the squared circle, offers no assurance of victory and scoffs at the notion of immortality fighters increasingly proclaim. It was this sense of knowing, this intuition that informed his determination to draw his fighting career to a close, despite the financial temptations available and the inconvenience the 2017 deadline represented for his promoters.
He was courageous and humble enough to recognise that, ultimately, his greatest opponent wasn’t Margarito or Mayweather, or Hatton – the one who got away – but Boxing Herself.
Farewell Miguel. Please, don’t come back.