Thursday, June 08, 2023  |


Pavlik, Cotto: Fine line between acceptance and denial

Fighters Network

Kelly Pavlik apparently was still trying to figure out during post-fight interviews what Bernard Hopkins did to him. Photo / Tom

Excuses are like people who still use that tired clich├® about excuses being like a certain body part: We don’t care to hear them.

It’s unfortunate for the folks who have legitimate excuses and should have every right to use them to clear their names, but the reality is that if you want to make excuses, you need to find someone else to do it for you. If you’re a fighter who had a valid reason for underperforming, the classy move is to say, “No excuses,” then let your manager, trainer or promoter step in and explain why you weren’t 100 percent. Then all of you sit back and hope the media spreads the excuse for you.

That’s the game that middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik and top welterweight contender Miguel Cotto have had to play lately. The young stars return to action as co-headliners on a pay-per-view show this Saturday, both coming off their first career defeats – defeats that are accompanied by excuses.

Pavlik entered his fight with Bernard Hopkins last September still recovering from a left elbow injury and a battle with bronchitis. “The Ghost” lost pretty much every second of every round, and Hopkins was so masterful that most observers were left with the impression that even a healthy Pavlik couldn’t have won.

After looking so limited in defeat, Pavlik surely felt a burning urge to tell the world about the elbow and the illness, but he bottled it up, gave respect to his opponent and said he just didn’t feel like himself and left it at that. In the ensuing weeks and months, however, the people around him explained why he didn’t feel like himself, doing their job in making his excuses for him.

For Cotto, there truly were no excuses after he caved in the 11th round against Margarito last July – at least not for the first six months after the defeat. But then Margarito’s handwraps were confiscated prior to his fight with Shane Mosley. The evidence suggested that his trainer, Javier Capetillo, was loading his gloves and suddenly every one of Margarito’s wins looked suspicious.

And just like that, Cotto had an excuse for the media to spread, even if the Puerto Rican took the high road and declined to make the excuse publicly.

In the long run, however, it’s not what’s projected publicly that matters; it’s whether a fighter is making the excuses internally and whether he can accept defeat, even with excuses linked to it, and grow from it. That’s the challenge facing Cotto and Pavlik as they move on to this next phase of their still-promising careers.

Accepting defeat involves walking a fine line. You want to have a little bit of a “deny, deny, deny” mentality, because complete and total acceptance could mean the erosion of your confidence. But you can’t deny it too much, or else you’re setting yourself up to lose again the same way.

Nobody in recent years has conquered the demons of defeat more effectively than Vic Darchinyan, who suffered a shocking knockout at the hands of Nonito Donaire and returned a far better fighter than he had been before, even cracking THE RING’s pound-for-pound list this month.

“One million percent, the loss made me into a better fighter,” Darchinyan told THE RING. “It was hard to accept the loss, but I accepted it when my manager, Elias Nasser, pointed out that it was a blessing. I realized after the fight how many mistakes I made and how I abandoned all the skills I possessed as an amateur. It’s that fight that motivates me every time I step into the ring. I will never abandon my boxing skills again and I will never underestimate my opponents ever again. I must really thank God for the Donaire loss, because without it, I wouldn’t be in the position where I am today.”

Not only did losing force Darchinyan to rediscover some of the skills he’d gotten away from during his time of perceived invincibility, but it also drove him to prepare more diligently than he had previously.

“We take every fight like we are fighting Mike Tyson; there are no shortcuts in any fights,” he said. “Even in the fight against (Jorge) Arce, I sparred the most rounds I have ever sparred, over 180 rounds, because we knew that Arce was coming to fight and coming to win. A lot of people comment on my lack of respect for the guys I fight. In the ring, I don’t have any respect for them, I only respect them after the fight. But the preparation we put into every bout is really total respect for our opponents.”

Nobody would ever accuse Pavlik or Cotto of lacking respect for their opponents. But until they get back in the ring with elite-level opposition – which is not how anyone would describe Marco Antonio Rubio or Michael Jennings, their respective foes this Saturday – it’s difficult to gauge how much they respect the defeats they’ve suffered.

From what he’s had to say, Cotto doesn’t seem to be dismissing defeat as insignificant.

“The fans might have a question about (Margarito’s handwraps in their fight), but I don’t,” he said in a recent conference call. “Margarito had a great night and I’ll leave it at that.”

Cotto is saying all the right things, but deep down inside, you have to suspect he feels like there should still be a zero at the end of his record.

With Pavlik in particular, it’s tough to tell whether he’s learning from the loss or just chalking it up to entering the ring in a compromised state against Hopkins. From what Pavlik recently said, even Hopkins encouraged him not to fully accept the defeat.

“The main thing was it was just a bad, bad night,” he said last week. “(Hopkins) came over to the corner and said, ‘Put that away.’ He pretty much told me not to let it bother me. A lot of great fighters have lost. He’s lost four or five times and he’s going to go down as one of the great fighters.”

Darchinyan, for one, believes losing won’t affect either Cotto or Pavlik’s upward trajectory.

“Both fighters are great champions that will bounce back,” THE RING’s No. 1-rated junior bantamweight said. “I know because I was in the same position they are in now. All these boxing writers have been criticizing Kelly Pavlik for his loss to Bernard Hopkins. Bernard Hopkins is one of the greatest boxers to grace our planet ever. The loss will be a learning one for Kelly Pavlik; he will learn so much from that loss and he will be a much, much better fighter.

“If I was Miguel Cotto I would be very upset and feel cheated. I have seen Miguel Cotto fight a lot. He is a true warrior and one of the best fighters going around at the moment. What happened on that day has to be because of loaded wraps. The guy has been in wars and always conquers, but in that fight against Margarito, you could see something was not right. He wasn’t KO’d, but he took a knee from being punished so badly.”

That last comment from Darchinyan reminds us of something important: Whether it was a fair fight or not, Cotto took physical punishment. And Pavlik took a pounding from Hopkins, particularly in round 12. The road to mental recovery can be difficult to pave, but sometimes the road to physical recovery can’t be paved at all. It’s unlikely that we’ve reached that point already with the 26-year-old Pavlik or the 28-year-old Cotto, but you never know.

Regardless, they’ll both enter the ring on Saturday night hearing the ring announcers mention “one defeat” for the first time in their careers. That could be a crippling change to deal with. Or it could be a launching pad toward a new level of pugilistic success. We’re unlikely to find out which it will be in these first fights back.

But eventually, we’ll find out if they’ve found the right balance between denial and acceptance. If they haven’t, they may find themselves on the losing end again soon, and they may find themselves meaning it when they say, “No excuses.”


ÔÇó Is it possible that on the heels of Nate Campbell missing weight by three pounds for his fight with Ali Funeka, I’m going to be the first one to make the joke that he can now pursue an endorsement deal with Campbell’s Chunky? (And on a related note, Funeka ought to be able to secure a deal to endorse some brand of matchsticks, since he’s built just like one.)

ÔÇó Never have I regretted owning an HD television as much as I did when HBO zoomed in on Alfredo Angulo’s third eye between rounds on Saturday night. That was truly disgusting. I half-expected that thing to start talking to me (in Ray Torres’ voice, of course).

ÔÇó It’s worth noting that Telis Assimenios, the ref who couldn’t find an appropriate moment to stop the Angulo-Cosme Rivera mismatch on Saturday night, is the same guy who stopped David Tua-Hasim Rahman I with Rahman completely clear-headed and ducking nearly every punch as he bobbed and weaved along the ropes. There are quick-stoppage refs and there are late-stoppage refs, but neither are as maddening as the inconsistent-stoppage refs, who never seem to know quite what they’re supposed to be looking for.

ÔÇó I’ll say this for the Sergio Martinez-Kermit Cintron fight: Rarely has a fight so forgettable been so memorable.

ÔÇó The Lennox-ism of the week, on the topic of whether Antonio Margarito knew what was in his handwraps: “Even if he didn’t know, he would have to know.” Hey, HBO, if you’re looking for someone to talk nonsense and add absolutely nothing of value to your broadcasts, I’m available for considerably less money than Lennox Lewis.