WHEN KOBE BRYANTsuffers through an off shooting night, his place among the NBA's elite is neverquestioned. When Peyton Manning tosses three interceptions in a game, fans inIndianapolis don't start clamoring for Jim Sorgi. So why is it that in boxing,one poor performance can push fighters with otherwise impressive records offtheir pedestals? If you figure that one out, let Kelly Pavlik and Miguel Cottoknow.
Less than a yearago Pavlik and Cotto were considered the cream of their sport's crop. Both werehighly skilled, well-schooled fighters with aggressive, hard-punching stylesthat had earned them passionate fan bases as well as lucrative TV contracts.Both were also undefeated. But lopsided losses to Bernard Hopkins (Pavlik) andAntonio Margarito (Cotto) in 2008 created a perception that neither fighter wasquite as good as the boxing world thought he was. Never mind that Pavlik, the26-year-old middleweight champion and pride of Youngstown, Ohio, lost to afuture Hall of Famer at a weight 10 pounds heavier than his ideal one. Or thatCotto, at 28 Puerto Rico's latest ring hero, lost his welterweight title to oneof boxing's most fearsome warriors—and one who has since been caught loadinghis gloves. No, suddenly Pavlik was one-dimensional. Cotto was too short(5'7"). The first obstacle in their meteoric rises had sent both crashingback to Earth. "The whole 'lose a fight and you're finished' is a terriblestereotype," says Todd duBoef, president of Top Rank promotions."Everyone likes invincibility, but the value of those losses was toomuch."
Last Saturdaynight Pavlik and Cotto took big steps toward reclaiming their reputations. AtNew York's Madison Square Garden, Cotto picked up the WBO title by pickingapart former British welterweight champion Michael Jennings on the way to afifth-round TKO. Then, before a Chevrolet Centre--record crowd of 7,228 inYoungstown, Pavlik, back at his proper weight class, successfully defended hisWBC and WBO 160-pound titles by battering No. 1 contender Marco Antonio Rubiointo submission after nine rounds.
Like Cotto,Pavlik understood the need for a dominating performance, but he still found itgalling. "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? Comeon."
Pavlik and Cottocan now return their focus to the top contenders in their respective weightclasses. For Pavlik, that could mean an anticipated showdown with IBF championArthur Abraham. Cotto had been eyeing a summer rematch with Margarito, but withMargarito barred from fighting in the U.S. for one year after being bustedtrying to apply a hardening substance under his gloves before his January fightwith Shane Mosley, that's unlikely. Which leaves Mosley, whom Cotto edged bydecision in 2007 and who assumed the mantle of the world's top welterweightwhen he KO'd Margarito. On Saturday, Cotto sounded open to a rematch. "Iwant 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'sgrounds for retirement.
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A Dud of a W
Never mind a loss, can a series of bad wins derail afighter's career? John Duddy (right, in green) is about to put that theory tothe test. Last February the hard-hitting, New York City--based Irishmiddleweight was in line for a shot at champion Kelly Pavlik. But a lacklustervictory over unheralded Walid Smichet killed the Pavlik bout and stalledDuddy's rise. Duddy, 29, did himself no favors last Saturday either, when, onthe Cotto-Jennings undercard at Madison Square Garden, he trudged to aunanimous-decision victory over Matt Vanda (above, in red), taking some lumpsalong the way. "He took the wee out of me," said Duddy, "but I'mstill standing." While the win improved Duddy's record to 26--0 (17 KOs),it didn't enhance his chances at a title shot. A more likely scenario isDuddy's facing undefeated Julio César Chàvez Jr., with the winner earning theright to challenge Pavlik.
CROWNING BLOWS Cotto (left) picked apart Jennings to claim a welterweight title.