Fightful Boxing Retrospective: Jose Torres vs. Eddie Cotton (1966 Fight Of The Year)

The following excerpt was first published on this week's edition of the Fightful Boxing Newsletter, which drops every Thursday at 6 AM EST.


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Fightful Boxing Retrospective: Jose Torres vs. Eddie Cotton

Author’s Note: Back in 2017 shortly after the newsletter launched, I made the Fightful Boxing Retrospective, a look into some of history’s most famous boxing matches. Well, I decided to relaunch it for 2018 under one condition: Counting down every boxing fight of the year as voted by The Ring magazine every week until we reach the 2006 fight of the year. So this week, we’ll take a look at the 1966 fight of the year between Jose Torres and Eddie Cotton and next week we’ll take a look at the 1967 fight between Emile Griffith and Nino Benvenuti. I will also provide some footnotes at the bottom of the page for some light-hearted personal comments as to not take away from the main article.

The boxing landscape in the 1960s were starting to undergo a bit of a radical change, especially in Puerto Rico. Since the ending of Sixto Escobar’s career, Puerto Rico has not found much success in finding a larger-than-life superstar in the sport of boxing. Two boxers managed to fill that void in Carlos Ortiz and Jose Torres, both born in the town of Ponce, a place located on the southern part of Puerto Rico’s main island.

Ortiz was best known as having one of the best reigns as the undisputed light welterweight champion and is generally regarded as one of the greatest pound-for-pound boxers of his era. Torres was a light heavyweight whose world title win in 1965 truly marked the beginning of a golden era in Puerto Rican boxing. Not long after Torres won the undisputed WBA and WBC light heavyweight titles in 1965 after stopping Willie Pastrano inside nine rounds. After defending his title once (he actually fought twice since winning the belts but his Tom McNeeley was a non-title fight), Torres was set to defend his title against 40-year-old Eddie Cotton. 

The championship fight took place at the Las Vegas Convention Center on August 15, 1966. The broadcast team was Tommy Roberts, then-lightweight world champion Carlos Ortiz and former world champion Joe Louis 1. Cotton, a defensive stalwart in his time, was the sentimental favorite, but came in as 7-to-2 underdog and there were 8-to-5 odds that the fight wouldn’t go past round 5. Roberts noted on commentary that Torres wanted to end the fight in one round to get a chance to fight Cassius Clay. 

For the bout, Torres chose to wear black trunks instead of the traditional white trunks the champion would wear. No reason was ever explained and broadcasters summed it up to simple personal preference. Cotton weighed in at 173.5 pounds while Torres weighed in at 173 pounds. This actually was a bit of a surprise to some that Cotton was the slightly heavier man at the weigh-ins which took place the morning of the fight. I can’t see why some people would have been surprised at this. After all, Torres never had the body of a natural light heavyweight and looked more like a glorified big middleweight in his time. Attendance for the fight was announced at 4,300 although several news articles at the time said it looked more like there 3,300 people in attendance.

Torres would start the fight fighting in his traditional peek-a-boo style (as the broadcasters called it) that Floyd Patterson was famous for. Torres landed much heavier punches than Cotton and the challenger used the jab to score some points in the judges’ scorecards. Torres’ left body hook was in full swing early in the fight, landing a hard shot to Cotton’s ribs. Torres offensive style reminded me a lot of Miguel Cotto 2. Whether or not this is coincidental due to both men being Puerto Rican world champions remains to be seen, but the similarities between both men’s vicious left body hooks.

Torres would continue to work the body in the third round 3, but we saw several moments where Cotton managed to tag Torres with his jab. Cotton would pressure and push Torres around the ring and went ahead with some uppercuts, but Cotton’s defense looked strong in the early going. You could have given the third round to anybody, but Torres was still in control of the fight. Torres would continue to take the fight up close and work the body more. Cotton would then land an accidental low blow to Torres in the fourth round.

Torres got the crowd in Las Vegas 4 going with more stiff body shots, but Cotton wasn’t giving up. Cotton got Torres to the ropes and the two of them exchanged blows, but Cotton got the better of the exchanges and for a moment, Torres looked like he may have gotten hurt until the bell rang.

The fifth round saw less action, but Cotton kept pushing through with his jabs and landing them on a somewhat lethargic Torres. A cut near Cotton’s left eye is starting to get open, but Cotton still fights back and lands a body shot with his right hand and the two men slug it out at the end of the fight. It’s interesting to note that the broadcast team said that many thought Torres would have won the fight by this point. Cotton would then be the big hitter as he landed a huge right hand that messed up Torres’ nose and the champion started to bleed and he was in trouble 5.

Torres got some good jabs in the seventh round and this was the first truly even round of the affair. Louis and Ortiz thought Cotton was ahead by maybe a couple of rounds and I can’t really disagree with him at this point. Both men throw a couple of body shots in the eighth round and Cotton almost hits Torres with another low blow. Torres lands a good left hand to Cotton’s jaw, but Cotton was still able to keep the pressure going and land the jab. The eighth round was probably Torres’ best round since the third round as Torres kept landing the left hand to Cotton, but this fight is still pretty even.

The ninth round saw Torres stagger Cotton with a flurry of offense and landing a number of strong punches. The tenth round was the other way around, but Cotton landed another low blow and Torres scored a big left hand to Cotton. Cotton’s counter-punching carries him in the 11th round, landing an extremely strong right hand to Torres’ nose, further hurting the champion. Cotton keeps the action up for the rest of the round, further targeting Torres’ busted nose by throwing a lot of jabs.

The 12th round continues to bring the excitement with Torres landing three straight right hands followed by Cotton landing a counterpunch to stun Torres for a quick second. Cotton goes for another flurry of offense in the 13th round and the crowd once again goes wild in favor of Cotton. Cotton continues to attack the champion and the crowd is now fully in favor of the 40-year-old champion.

The last two rounds were pretty hard to see. Both men endured a lot of punishment and even though they both threw a lot of hard punches, they were both shot and could barely stand up straight. The two boxers exchange a high number of hard punches and when the bell to indicate the end of the 14th round sounded, the crowd was on their feet. Torres went on a punching spree, attacking Cotton’s body and landing as much as he can. Torres landed another right hand and is in full control of the fight. Torres lands another left body hook and Torres did his best to get the knockout, but it wasn’t enough as the fight went to the scorecards 6. Torres retained the title although the crowd was not happy and said in the post-fight interview that he wasn’t hurt, but he looked really tired and out of breath when talking about his condition after the fight 7.

Here’s a breakdown of how I scored the fight:

  • Round 1: Torres 5-4
  • Round 2: Torres 5-4
  • Round 3: Torres 5-4
  • Round 4: Cotton 5-4
  • Round 5: Cotton 5-4
  • Round 6: Cotton 5-4
  • Round 7: Cotton 5-4
  • Round 8: Torres 5-4
  • Round 9: Torres 5-4
  • Round 10: Torres 5-4
  • Round 11: Cotton 5-4
  • Round 12: Cotton 5-4
  • Round 13: Cotton 5-4
  • Round 14: Cotton 5-4
  • Round 15: Torres 5-4
  • Total: Eddie Cotton beating Jose Torres 68-67

The fight ended with referee Nat Morgan 8 scoring the fight in favor of Torres 70-67 and judges Ron Amos and Mike Petrovich had it 69-67 and 68-67, respectively. Alternatively, the Associated Press actually had it a 69-69 draw. For some that are curious as to why the scores are low, this fight was scored using the 5-point must system instead of the 10-point must system fans are accustomed to seeing in today’s boxing scene.

The fight has been critically acclaimed for its quality but it wasn’t without its fair share of controversy. Perhaps the biggest sticking point from the decision is the fact that the 14th round had actually ended 20 seconds earlier. As a result, Cotton filed a protest after the bout. He asked that the fight be declared a no contest, but his request was denied by both the Nevada State Athletic Commission and the World Boxing Association. Petitions bearing the names of 3,972 people were sent to Senator Warren W. Magnuson, Cotton's home-state senator, asking him to use his influence as the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee to change the verdict. However, that too was unsuccessful. Cotton would finish his career 12 months later, fighting six times since the lost to Torres, going 4-2 in that final career stretch.

In his fourth title defense, Torres lost the championship to former world middleweight champion Dick Tiger by a 15-round unanimous decision at Madison Square Garden on December 16, 1966. They had a rematch at the Garden on May 16, 1968, and Tiger retained the title with a 15-round split decision victory. After the decision was announced, angry fans who disagreed with the verdict started throwing bottles and debris into the ring. City police and fireman were summoned to help the special police in the Garden. Eleven people suffered injuries and were treated at nearby hospitals.

Torres' next bout was a sixth-round TKO of Australian Bob Dunlop on April 1, 1968, in Sydney, Australia. Torres didn't fight again until July 14, 1969, when he faced last-minute substitute Charley Green at Madison Square Garden. Torres, who was floored and almost knocked out at the end of the first round, put Green down for the count at 1:31 of the second. It was Torres' last fight, ending Torres' Hall of Fame career.

1 For better or worse, Louis sounded almost exactly like that one boxer from Family Guy.

2 If I had to decide on which left body hook will immediately break my ribs and send straight to the hospital, I would go with Torres’, but let’s be honest, my odds aren’t great regardless of the fighter.

3 Here’s a fun drinking game (don’t really do this): Take a sip of your drink whenever Roberts says “another right hand by Torres.”

4 The list of celebrities that were present at the fight were Steve Lawrence, Eydie Gorme, Mel Torme and Andy Williams. Can you tell how old I am by not recognizing these celebrities?

5 The fact that Roberts had to point out that good physical condition came from not having to drink or smoke is pretty indicative that boxers from that era were not in the absolute best shape they could have been.

6 Louis had Torres winning by one round.

7 To paraphrase Torres’s post-fight interview: “I could have knocked him out, but I didn’t. Why? Because shut up.”

8 Nate Morgan was a former Golden Gloves champion in Chicago although his pro record was a pathetic 0-4 and then became a referee, whom Ortiz said did “a hell of a job” officiating this fight.

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