By Mike Indri
Retired Boxers Foundation
NEW YORK Having to compete against the Bernard Hopkins - Antonio Tarver showdown in Atlantic City didn’t faze the near sellout crowd at Madison Square Garden, which turned the hallowed halls of boxing’s Mecca a sea of red, white and blue with Puerto Rican flags honoring their beloved Miquel Cotto, the undefeated WBO Jr. Welterweight champion, who was taking on New York’s own Paul “The Magic Man” Malignaggi.
The frenzied crowd, which had spurted some minor eruptions throughout the ten previous bouts, was in full blown delirium mode, even before Cotto began making his ring entrance to defend his title belt!
The Cotto faithful would be given plenty to cheer and kept in their euphoric state from the first heavy handed punch landed in round one, through the twelve rounds of dominance from their homeland’s newest hero and boxing champion, en route to his resounding unanimous decision victory over the game and willing, yet over-matched, Malignaggi.
Carrying the torch passed by the once again retired Felix “Tito” Trinidad, Cotto showed his brilliance when he caught the usually slick and hard-to-hit Malignaggi with a beautifully placed left hand bomb to the jaw, which quickly dropped his hurt foe, early in round two. Although easily beating referee Steve Smoger’s count and not appearing too severely affected, the impact of Cotto’s power would change the fast talking fighter’s outlook, and more importantly, his fight plan.
With a possible broken jaw and broken nose, as well as nasty cut over the left eye, the usually seldom hit Malignaggi must be commended for his larger than life heart and the guts and fortitude in making this fight happen and giving his all throughout the entire twelve rounds.
The night’s co-feature saw Notre Dame football player Tommy Zbikowski making his pro debut, against Akron, Ohio’s Robert Bell. Tommy Z, with 90 amateur fights (75 wins, 15 losses) crushed his opponent as if he were a wayward quarterback trying to cross the line of scrimmage. With many of his teammates and alma mater rooting him on in attendance, the senior Fighting Irish strong safety sent his overwhelmed opponent to the canvas, on his knees, with a big two-fisted barrage. With referee Arthur Mercante Jr. close by Tommy Z drilled his still dazed foe with a monstrous right hand which spun Bell into the ropes and forced a stoppage at the 49 second mark of round one. Bell, who came into the ring sporting an archrival Ohio State football jersey, left with a 2-3 (2 KO’s) record.
Irish John Duddy also brought many of his fans with him, in droves, as he battered Chicago’s Freddie Cuevas (now 25-9-1, 17 KO’s) into submission. The gutsy Cuevas, his face showing the adverse affects of going seven rounds with the granite fisted Duddy, was unable to come out for round eight.
Former world champion Kevin Kelly returned home, challenging Bobby Pacquiao (fistic superstar Manny Pacquiao’s younger brother) for his minor WBC title belt. Unfortunately for the “Flushing Flash,” Bobby fought too much like Manny and gave the former NY golden glove champ a very Pac Man-like working over. Dropping Kelley in round three with a big left hand, Pacquiao kept Kelley down for good at 1:24 of the fourth with a crushing left hook to the body. Pacquiao improved to 27-11-3 (12 KO’s), while Kelley slipped to 58-7-2, with 39 KO’s.
Julio César Chávez Jr. was able to pad his unbeaten record, now 26-0, with another hand picked mid-western fighter. Aaron Drake made the trip from Kansas City, Kansas to become the 20th knockout victim of boxing legend Julio César Chávez’s son, via second round TKO.