WHEN KOBE BRYANT suffers through an off shooting night, his place among the NBA's elite is never questioned. When Peyton Manning tosses three interceptions in a game, fans in Indianapolis don't start clamoring for Jim Sorgi. So why is it that in boxing, one poor performance can push fighters with otherwise impressive records off their pedestals? If you figure that one out, let Kelly Pavlik and Miguel Cotto know.
Less than a year ago Pavlik and Cotto were considered the cream of their sport's crop. Both were highly skilled, well-schooled fighters with aggressive, hard-punching styles that had earned them passionate fan bases as well as lucrative TV contracts. Both were also undefeated. But lopsided losses to Bernard Hopkins (Pavlik) and Antonio Margarito (Cotto) in 2008 created a perception that neither fighter was quite as good as the boxing world thought he was. Never mind that Pavlik, the 26-year-old middleweight champion and pride of Youngstown, Ohio, lost to a future Hall of Famer at a weight 10 pounds heavier than his ideal one. Or that Cotto, at 28 Puerto Rico's latest ring hero, lost his welterweight title to one of boxing's most fearsome warriors—and one who has since been caught loading his gloves. No, suddenly Pavlik was one-dimensional. Cotto was too short (5'7"). The first obstacle in their meteoric rises had sent both crashing back to Earth. "The whole 'lose a fight and you're finished' is a terrible stereotype," says Todd duBoef, president of Top Rank promotions. "Everyone likes invincibility, but the value of those losses was too much."
Last Saturday night Pavlik and Cotto took big steps toward reclaiming their reputations. At New York's Madison Square Garden, Cotto picked up the WBO title by picking apart former British welterweight champion Michael Jennings on the way to a fifth-round TKO. Then, before a Chevrolet Centre--record crowd of 7,228 in Youngstown, Pavlik, back at his proper weight class, successfully defended his WBC and WBO 160-pound titles by battering No. 1 contender Marco Antonio Rubio into submission after nine rounds.
Like Cotto, Pavlik understood the need for a dominating performance, but he still found it galling. "What really pisses me off is that I lost to Bernard Hopkins," Pavlik said. "I didn't lose to some nobody. Now I'm one-dimensional? Come on."
Pavlik and Cotto can now return their focus to the top contenders in their respective weight classes. For Pavlik, that could mean an anticipated showdown with IBF champion Arthur Abraham. Cotto had been eyeing a summer rematch with Margarito, but with Margarito barred from fighting in the U.S. for one year after being busted trying to apply a hardening substance under his gloves before his January fight with Shane Mosley, that's unlikely. Which leaves Mosley, whom Cotto edged by decision in 2007 and who assumed the mantle of the world's top welterweight when he KO'd Margarito. On Saturday, Cotto sounded open to a rematch. "I want to fight the best fighter available," he said.
Whoever that is, Cotto had better come to fight. One loss is bad. But two? These days, that's grounds for retirement.
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