For twelve one-sided rounds at Madison Square Garden, NY, Miguel Cotto strained desperately not merely to remember his former greatness against Austin Trout, but to embody it. He lashed hooks to the midsection, harried Trout to the ropes, bounced rhythmically on his toes—and yet if these gestures resembled closely the former three-weight world champion so often associated with them, they nevertheless lacked the clarity or precision of previous years. Indeed, as Cotto was forced to discover for himself the science of age which unkindly governs the existence of the boxer, he was rendered a gauche, clumsy caricature of a formerly brilliant fighter. If brutal defeats to Antonio Margarito and Manny Pacquiao had allowed the Caguas native to establish himself as boxing’s most famed Renaissance man, the overriding impression left by a one-sided loss to Austin Trout in the twilight hours of Saturday night was that Cotto’s flame had finally begun its inevitable, irretrievable fade to darkness.
Though faced with an impressive opponent in Trout—one whose vast physical advantages and obvious talent had made him a daunting foe to return against after Cotto’s dalliance with Floyd Mayweather in May—this loss may prove paradoxically to be the most damning of the Puerto Rican superstar’s career. While Margarito and Pacquiao took turns inflicting grave violence on Cotto in a sixteen month period between July 2008 and November 2009, those losses could be explained away in part by Margarito’s dubious relationship with his handwraps and Pacquiao’s spectacular annus mirabilis. With only fourteen knockouts on his slate, Trout never threatened to enact comparable cruelty, yet here Cotto was forced to bow for the first time to an opponent not previously considered among the sport’s elite figures. Trout may yet prove great in the years to come, but at this time, Margarito, Pacquiao or Mayweather he is not.
Nevertheless, neither Trout’s skills nor his mentality can be doubted any longer. In Cotto, he was meeting the toughest, most talented opponent of his career; in Madison Square Garden, moreover, Trout had to face an environment infinitely more intimidating than anything his previous twenty-five challengers had been able to summon. Indeed, having spluttered and stalled to an insipid twelve round decision against an equally listless Delvin Rodriguez in his previous airing on national television, Trout determined to prove not only that he warranted a place in the upper echelons of the sport, but that he warranted, moreover, repeat viewing. For defeating a premier name fighter does not, as Timothy Bradley has recently discovered, a star make. Victory might be a requisite pre-condition to fame and its accompanying fortunes, yet a performance which enthrals—a victory gained "the right way"—is perhaps equally important.
Trout, then, resolved to assimilate the more mundane weapons in his arsenal—a shooting jab, a straight left to the body, a sprawling inside game—with the more imaginative ones. Leaving his hands slung low to invite Cotto forwards time after time, Trout’s chin appeared fatally exposed throughout the contest—and yet as Cotto prepared to deliver his famed left hook and chopping right hand, the New Mexico native would slide from danger and lace his snaking jab through the Puerto Rican’s high guard. Indeed, as his confidence grew after a brief Cotto resurgence in the fourth and fifth rounds, the sight of Cotto’s head being shunted back by jolting left uppercuts became an increasingly prominent feature of the fight, while check right hooks insistently denied him an opportunity to build momentum.
Yet though Trout’s assemblage of tricks and treats designed to torment Cotto scanned vast depths, perhaps the most significant weapon in the New Mexico fighter’s arsenal proved to be the most intangible of all—for it was on this night that time finally seemed to desert the famed Puerto Rican. 13,000 rabid Puerto Ricans might have been on Cotto’s side, but time was not: time stood with Trout, teasing Cotto as he sought unsuccessfully to burrow forward, grinning at Cotto as he was beaten to the punch over and over, again and again, cackling at him as his engine stalled when the fight entered the championship rounds. How Cotto must have longed for a few more drops of youth, for a few less years of punishment, as he found the elusive Trout increasingly difficult to pin down. How Cotto must have longed for Trout’s mastery of the second—time in its immediate, intangible appearance—and how he must have longed for Trout’s mastery of the distance. Boxing, though, offers little sympathy and less hope for those who can but rage despairingly against the dying of the light—and so Cotto was forced to succumb to the clinical precision of science as Trout outslicked, outsped and outworked his legendary opponent over the twelve round distance.
‘We resented at once the law of gravity, the Malthusian theory and the fact that a straight line is the shortest distance between two points,’ wrote Heywood Broun after Georges Carpentier’s 1921 loss to Jack Dempsey. ‘Everything scientific, exact, and inevitable was distasteful.’ However, while Broun attributed to Carpentier the mystical haunt of the tragic, Cotto was denied the significance or splendour of such an ending. Time—fate, even—might coldly claim nothing but victories and championships, while man retains gesture and glamour, yet the Puerto Rican great was left to flail hopelessly after a faster, younger, stronger opponent, faced instead by what the Ancients had once called enargeia: the bright, unbearable reality of his own inevitable mortality. Leaving behind an epic career without an epic ending might not be a thought which Cotto is currently willing to contemplate, yet he would be wise to remember other words of Broun’s—that though ‘history is largely concerned with arranging good entrances for people... later exits are not always quite as good.’