A boxer’s identity is something they have worked long and hard to achieve. Whether they want to be perceived as charming, polite, and gracious such as the identity crafted by the Golden Boy, Oscar de La Hoya; or a mean, frightful, vicious persona such as Ferocious Fernando Vargas.
The identity the boxer chooses is one that generally affects what the public perceives them to be. I think of Oscar and I think of something so pure it farts rainbows. On the other end of the spectrum when I think of Vargas I think of a monster who would rip your heart out and show it to you before your untimely demise.
The two fighters in this article, Vargas and Miguel Cotto, both like to present the feeling that they would absolutely die on their sword and be carried out on their shield rather than give up the conquest.
They both started out meteorically. Fernando Vargas reeled off 20 consecutive wins before sampling the acidic taste of defeat. On the other hand, Cotto had fought 32 times before his initial undoing.
Why do I draw comparisons between these two? What do they have in common?
Vargas and Cotto both fought some very good fighters on their way to the spotlight. Vargas was good enough to win a majority decision against Winky Wright in an IBF Light Middleweight title fight in 1999. That fight provided the impetus for Wright to go on a nearly seven-year streak where he didn’t lose again.
Miguel Cotto’s first fight with a marquee opponent, in my opinion, was in 2006 when he dealt Carlos Quintana his first defeat for the vacant WBA Welterweight title. Cotto beat Quintana into submission forcing him to retire in five rounds.
Vargas went on to beat Ike Quartey and Ross Thompson before giving us one of the most thrilling fights of the year when he succumbed to Felix Trinidad in a unification of the IBF and WBA Light Middleweight crowns. Vargas nearly fell on his own sword as Trinidad knocked him out in the 12th and final round. Both men had been down previously in the contest, Vargas twice in round one and three times in the final round. Trinidad was knocked down in the fourth.
After Cotto dispatched Quintana he went on to defeat Zab Judah, Shane Mosley and Alfonso Gomez before he met his “controversial” Waterloo. In a fight which he was being soundly whipped by Antonio Margarita, the corner threw in the towel near the beginning of the 11th round. Cotto’s camp claimed that Margarita had used an illegal substance in his gloves during the fight. It certainly tainted a beautiful performance by Margarita, but meanwhile left Cotto’s “superman” status somewhat deflated.
After Vargas was starched by Trinidad, he went on a successful two-fight rebuilding tour that brought him to the gates of Goldentown. That’s right a war with the Golden Boy. Oscar beat him badly that night and Fernando was tested positive for steroids, resulting in a suspension of nine months and a $100,000 fine. Vargas denied the abuse of drugs but served the sentence and paid the fine.
Cotto knocked out Michael Jennings in a comeback cruise that was comprised of two fights. In the second fight he won a hard-fought split decision over Joshua Clottey in September of 2009, setting up what would be a fight for the ages with Manny Pacquiao, the pound-for-pound champion in the world.
Fernando Vargas went on to win against four handpicked opponents in the next two years and set up a big money fight with Sugar Shane Mosley. Mosley beat him like he stole something, twice actually, and then he lost a decision to Ricardo Mayorga, whose claim to fame was a three-round devastation of the late Vernon Forrest, and for smoking a cigarette in the ring after the fight. Vargas retired after that fight realizing that whatever he had once was gone.
In Cotto’s showdown with Manny it was evident that the beating he took at the hands of Margarito had taken its toll. He looked good for the first round or two but then was completely outclassed and ultimately disassembled by the non-stop action of Pacman.
There you have a portrait of two careers, both promising at the beginning. Both promoted highly by HBO and other puntiffs of the sport. Both fighters eventually revealing a chink in their proverbial armor, and both having it handed to them but a superior fighter.
Though Vargas’ career is over, the light switch hasn’t been turned off yet by Cotto. There is still millions to make, stiffs to fight, and much, much rebuilding to do if he should get another big money fight.
There is nobody left that Cotto can beat. Mosley would pick him apart this time, as would Pretty Boy Floyd Mayweather.
The end has come to Cotto’s tenure of greatness just as it did with Ricky “Hitman” Hatton.
Cliff Eastham is a Featured Columnist on Bleacher Report, where this article was first published.
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