The War Report: Tools of the trade (Week 48, 2017)
“I’d just like to say, when we were entering into this fight, all the naysayers who thought that Sadam couldn’t win are probably gonna be the same guys that (will say), ‘Sadam won by whatever – Cotto was an older man or maybe even washed up ’ – I don’t want to hear it. He came into the fight an underdog; he left this fight a world champion – give him the credit that he’s due.”
Trainer Andre Rozier concluded Saturday night’s post-fight press conference by getting in front of the inevitable nitpicks of Sadam Ali’s biggest win but, in the unanimous decision upset over Miguel Cotto, the championing of his fighter went far deeper than that on the HBO telecast that night.
“Listen to me, nephew – look at me! You’re making it harder than it’s gotta be. Really, you are,” Rozier told Ali in the corner after the fourth round. “Use your jab and walk him; be smart. And don’t pull up in the air – get low – don’t pull up in the air. Double that jab and start hitting him here. You hurt him again and you’re not looking at what you’re doing. Let’s walk him, then come up the middle with the uppercut.”
After the first quarter of the fight had passed, Ali not only showed that he belonged in there with Cotto, in his debut at 154 pounds, but also proved his ability to hurt the Puerto Rican star, as he did in the second round with a straight right hand.
“Don’t wait for him! You’re waiting for him!,” Rozier calmly, yet boldly stated after the fifth. “Let’s get that jab poppin’ and control the action. Let’s go!”
Ali, 29, clearly had the advantage of youth and speed against the 37-year-old but his lack of experience showed a few times throughout the fight – especially in the instances in which Cotto’s legs wobbled and seemingly the only one in the Madison Square Garden was the man who caused them to. The fight was competitive from the jump but Cotto started to make Ali look like the 8-1 underdog he was drawn up to be in the sixth round. Cotto’s jab and left hooks to the body made him even more careful during the entire seventh round and just when the unraveling process started to take shape, Ali scored a left hand that stunned his counterpart once again in the eighth.
“Nice and relaxed,” Rozier said before the ninth. “Sadam, take a deep breath. Reset yourself. Do you want to win this fight? Keep your hands up and use your jab! It’s not that diffic … He’s getting tired, Sadam! You hurt him and you always fall back. Follow up your attack!”
Cotto, 41-6 (33), who could also be seen with his trainer Freddie Roach between rounds, was his usual self in the heat of a close fight. Emotionless is an apt word but “not panicked” would be a better description. The disposition of his family sitting ringside, however, was unnerving, to say the least and, in the opposite corner, after a bounce back round in the ninth – one Cotto seemingly let him have – was a lively Rozier.
“We can win this, baby,” he said with excitement. “We can win this, if you turn it up, but don’t be lazy and don’t be careless!”
Ali, 26-1 (14), answered back with a very good 10th and, going into the championship rounds of an extremely close fight, Rozier jockeyed his horse into position.
“Sit down and relax. Listen to me, Goddammit – Listen to me!” Rozier yelled. “You’re two rounds way from being the WBO junior middleweight champion of the world; do you understand me? Hone up. Stop letting him get away when you hurt him – Do you hear me? – Don’t let him get away when you hurt him. Go to the body, then go to the head from here. Stop opening up the punch!”
Of course, Ali certainly did enough to earn a unanimous decision win, with trustworthy scores of 115-113 twice and 116-112, not only winning the WBO junior middleweight title but earning respect from those who didn’t give him all that much of a chance in the first place. Ali even got to do it at home but, playing the role of spoiler for this occasion, he was still booed during the HBO post-fight interview. Ali took it in stride and understood the situation but, as he exited the arena, he was carried out on the shoulders of his team to the chants of “ALI!” and, in a moment he will surely never forget, there was the man who helped will him through it all.
What goes on in the corner between rounds has become somewhat of a lost art, in the televising of boxing nowadays, and Rozier’s jockeying of Ali, on this night, was a prime example as to how this available insight isn’t utilized enough. Rozier’s great instruction wasn’t anomalous either, as, last March, you could hear him spur on Daniel Jacobs when the latter fought unified middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin to a razor-thin decision loss. On an evening when Rozier’s words could be heard loud and clear, during and after the fight, the credit he couldn’t bestow was on himself and maybe that should be done for him by being awarded 2017’s “Trainer of the Year.”
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