The XX Factor

Should Boxers Bring Their Kids to Their Fights?

Miguel Cotto beat Antonio Margarito Saturday night in a rematch from their 2008 fight. Is it a good idea for boxers to expose their kids to the violence of their sport?

Photograph by Al Bello/Getty Images

Boxers Miguel Cotto and Antonio Margarito hate each other with passion so intense that it brings to mind Muhamed Ali and Joe Frazier’s relationship or especially heated years of the Red Sox/Yankees rivalry. The loathing stems from Cotto’s belief that Margarito fought dirty, with his hands wrapped in plaster, during their first fight in 2008. Cotto claims when Margarito “endangered my life,” he became an embarrassment to boxing.”

For all the intensity of the rivalry, the Cotto/Margarito rematch on Saturday night offered few notable shockers. The two boxers chose not to partake in the pre-bout tradition of touching gloves, for example, and Cotto’s victory, in a technical knockout in the 10th round, was the one many (including Las Vegas odds-makers) predicted.

The only real surprise was that Cotto’s son attended the fight. Whether or not kids should be subjected to violence, and how much, is debatable.  But the fact that Cotto’s wife and son looked utterly traumatized in 2008 during Cotto/Margarito I is not.

Look, I’m not a pansy when it comes to violence on TV. I was enthralled watching Margarito’s eye puff up round by round Saturday night. And few days ago, a mom in my daughter’s playgroup pointed out that I’ve watched more football this season than she has in her entire life. Maybe I’ve seen (and enjoyed) too many broken bones in sports for gratuitous violence to have as much of an effect on me as it should.

But I am not desensitized to seeing kids terrorized by violence. Watching Cotto’s son cling to his mom’s chest in horror after seeing his dad collapse onto the mat during the first Margarito match was painful to watch. Here is a brief snippet from the ringside footage. When I first saw Mrs. Cotto clutch her crying son, my only thought was, “What a colossal parenting mistake. Why doesn’t that woman get her little boy the hell out of there?”

After that 2008 fight, Cotto’s face looked like someone had taken razor blades to it. Blood was everywhere. Anyone who watched Cotto’s son’s reaction could easily envision that he was likely changed by the experience. That’s why I don’t understand how the Cotto family could decide to potentially subject their doll-faced (and adorably dressed) son to another dose of anguish.

Maybe boxing families cling to the delusion that Dad is so dominant that he will never get ripped apart. Or perhaps Cotto’s son is made of a tougher skin than I, or my daughter, ever will be.

Joe Frazier’s son, Marvis, recounted in HBO’s recent documentary Thrilla in Manila that he was 12 when he “realized my father was human.” He had this epiphany while watching his dad get the tar beat out of him by George Foreman in 1973. Foreman’s hefty punches knocked the undefeated Frazier to the mat six times (think Howard Cosell’s famous “Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier!”) before the match was halted in the second round. Marvis watched the bout from just outside the ring, and you can tell in his facial expressions, as he recalls that event in the documentary, that the moment was a critical turning point in his life.

Everyone has a moment when they realize their dad is a mere mortal.  Mine came when I watched my dad—a proud, vain man who bred quarter horses on our West Texas farm and swore he’d never wear a suit—put on a crappy tie and sell payphones to make ends meet. From the outside it appears, for the kids of boxing, that this inevitable and necessary eye-opening experience comes earlier and a lot more dramatically than it does for the rest of us. One minute they see their dad as an invincible God and the next, as a bloody pile of tenderized human flesh.