Closet Classic - Juan Coggi vs. Eder Gonzalez I
By Lee Groves from Max Boxing
Home field advantage. Teams in every sport spend the entire regular season fighting to secure it, and the very best of them have it throughout the entire playoffs as a reward for their success. It’s a result of human nature; for some reason we are much more comfortable performing in front of people who want us to succeed and who are willing to do their part to make it happen. The feeling of belonging and support give us the extra push we need to achieve the main objective – winning the game while pleasing the audiences both at the stadium and watching on television. The "away" team, on the other hand, must adopt an unnatural mindset; they must find pleasure in playing spoiler and draw strength from the booing that accompanies their success. When they do a good job, they must generate the immediate positive feedback among themselves and be content to wait until they return home to receive it from their fans.
Boxing may be a one-on-one sport in the ring, but the concept of home field advantage is just as strong. The size of the ring and the canvas surface is often tailored to the house fighter’s strengths and the term "hometown decision" is firmly in the sport’s lexicon. But even boxing has its limits and those limits were crossed in a most outrageous way on December 17, 1993 when Argentine Juan Coggi defended his WBA junior welterweight title against Colombian Eder Gonzalez at the Club Defensores de Villa Lujan in San Miguel, Tucuman, Argentina. The events that occurred were so blatantly one-sided that one in-ring participant ended up being banned for life.
But first, a bit of background: Coggi (64-2-2, 30 KOs) had been a fixture on the 140-pound landscape since July 4, 1987 when he shockingly knocked out the 48-0 Patrizio Oliva in three rounds to win the WBA title. In the four defenses that followed, Coggi proved himself a quality performer as he defeated the 47-1 Sang Ho Lee (KO 2), Harold Brazier (W 12), Akinobu Hiranaka (W 12) and Jose Luis Ramirez (W 12). The first three fights took place in Italy while the fourth was in France, so Coggi proved he could win away from home. But Coggi made one road trip too many as he lost a majority decision to Loreto Garza on neutral ground in Nice, France, August 17, 1990.
Coggi won his next 13 fights to earn a shot at his old belt against Morris East January 12, 1993 – this time in Buenos Aires. "Latigo" was dominant in scoring an eight-round stoppage over the inexperienced East, winning virtually every round on all scorecards. In his second reign, Coggi proved to be an active champion as he won a non-title third-round KO of Domingo Martinez just 41 days later and successfully defended against Joe Rivera (KO 7), Hiroyuki Yoshino (KO 5), Jose Rafael Barboza (W 12) and Guillermo Cruz (KO 10). The defense against Gonzalez would be his fifth of 1993 and his ninth over two reigns.
Though Gonzalez (21-2-2, 15 KOs) was rated number four in the WBA, he was a mystery to many observers. The only recognizable name on his ledger was Amancio Castro, who knocked Gonzalez out in 12 rounds for the WBC Fecarbox welterweight title on December 15, 1989. Since then, Gonzalez won eight of his nine fights, with the one loss coming by sixth round KO to Edwin Murillo. Gonzalez avenged the defeat in his next fight one year and 12 days later by scoring a third-round KO and he tuned up for the Coggi fight by icing the 0-8 Juan Lebron in two rounds four months earlier.
Gonzalez immediately assumed the role of aggressor as he used foot and shoulder feints to maneuver Coggi to the ropes. Coggi retreated with his hands high, elbows tucked in and upper body leaning back slightly as he looked for chances to counter. The first was a very quiet and studious round as both men gathered reconnaissance for future attacks. Late in the round, Gonzalez countered a lunging Coggi left to the body with a hair-trigger lead right that caught the champ on the cheek. It was a dangerous-looking blow that fell just short of perfection, but it also planted a seed in Gonzalez’s mind.
Both men continued to probe with jabs and feints early in the second with Coggi concentrating on landing his powerful left to Gonzalez’s body. The lull was typical of Coggi’s fights; he would wait for his opening before startling his opponent with the speed and power of his potent left cross. The crowd knew this, so they didn’t get on their champion for the slow action.
Coggi rewarded their patience by leaping in with a long, hard left cross to the jaw that snapped Gonzalez’s head back and forced him to retreat to the corner pad while hopping on his right foot. Gonzalez was clearly hurt and Coggi jumped on him, getting close and mixing his blows nicely between head and body. Gonzalez forced Coggi back by bulling with the shoulder and throwing a long right but Coggi drove him back to the ropes with two more stinging lefts. A right hook to the jaw dropped Gonzalez heavily to his knees 1:15 into the round and Gonzalez wore a pained and perplexed expression as he arose at the count of four.
Coggi appeared to be seconds away from a convincing victory, and on most days that perception would have been correct. But December 17, 1993 was not one of those days, and the events of the next several minutes would rank as among the most exciting yet bizarre sequences ever witnessed in championship competition.
After referee Isidro Rodriguez, who was working his 63rd championship contest, completed the count Gonzalez backed toward the corner pad and Coggi inched his way forward to set up the finisher. But Gonzalez had a surprise for him as he launched a monstrous lead right that exploded off Coggi’s jaw. The effects of the blow rippled through the champion’s body in a most dramatic way. His upper body pitched forward and his arms dropped to the side before falling backward as if descending through water. Finally, his stiffened frame crashed to the floor with a resounding thud. As he lay on the canvas, Coggi’s eyes were wide but unseeing as he struggled to get his legs under him. The champion’s reign was in mortal danger of ending then and there – after all, most fighters hit with such a bomb rarely muster enough energy to lift their heads much less regain their feet.
Somehow, Coggi pulled himself erect. Though 14 seconds had elapsed in real time, all Coggi had to do was get up by Rodriguez’s count of 10, which he did. Still, he was in terrible shape as he hopped on his right leg and struggled to regain his equilibrium. After Rodriguez wiped his gloves, Coggi wobbled to the corner pad and Gonzalez jumped in with a series of smothering punches. Gonzalez landed a chopping right to the side of the head and two left hooks to the jaw that caused Coggi’s upper body to fall into Rodriguez.
As Coggi fell into the ropes on stiffened legs, Rodriguez wrapped his arms around the Argentine favorite. Normally this gesture would signal the end of the fight, but for reasons only Rodriguez can explain he wasn’t stopping the fight, he was helping Coggi to stay upright! Rodriguez steadied the champion by pinioning him to the corner with his upper body while holding the upper strand of ropes with each hand.
Meanwhile, a rapturously happy Gonzalez was in the neutral corner hugging his corner man in celebration of his apparent upset victory. But Team Gonzalez had to immediately switch gears after Rodriguez let go of Coggi, walked to their corner and informed them the fight was continuing. Forty-six seconds remained in the round, plenty of time to apply the finishing touches to a champion who was struggling just to remain conscious.
By now the scene was a mass of confusion as another player joined the fray. With 42 seconds on the clock, Coggi’s adviser Luis Spada jumped onto the ring apron outside the ropes to get Coggi’s attention. Fighting through his mental fog, Coggi turned and staggered into the corner. When Coggi turned toward ring center, Spada hooked two fingers around Coggi’s trunks from behind to stabilize his champion and yelled several instructions into his ear. Spada’s act normally would have led to his fighter’s immediate disqualification, but Rodriguez didn’t know what to do to reverse a situation that was quickly spiraling out of control.
More time ticked off and nothing was happening. Gonzalez was in his corner bouncing on his toes waiting for Rodriguez’s next command while the groggy Coggi sought to adjust a mouthpiece that was about to fall to the canvas. Finally, with 27 seconds left in the round, Rodriguez signaled the fight to continue – with Spada still on the ring apron holding up his fighter. With Coggi unable to move he was a sitting duck for Gonzalez, who wound up and blasted his wide-open target with an overhand right to the jaw. Had Spada not been there, Coggi surely would have fallen to the canvas. But Spada was there to wrap his right arm around Coggi’s chest to keep him from collapsing.
After landing that titanic right, Gonzalez then backed off a step and Rodriguez stepped in the breech. Gonzalez walked to his corner believing the fight was over because he had just smashed a defenseless opponent, but the referee indicated the round had ended. There were two problems with Rodriguez’s indication – no bell could be heard above the din and had there been a bell, it would have rung 20 seconds early.
It is safe to say that had these circumstances taken place on another day and in virtually any other spot around the world, Eder Gonzalez would have been declared the champion, either by clean TKO or by disqualification. But on this day and in this place, the strong odor of home cooking permeated the hearts, minds and actions of those who had a direct bearing on this contest.
Spada and his assistants took full advantage of the situation as they worked feverishly over Coggi. As the champ took several deep breaths, Coggi stood up for a few seconds to test his legs only to sit back down. Coggi pulled away as Spada waved what appeared to be smelling salts under Coggi’s nose.
The arena was in an uproar as the third round began with Gonzalez rushing in to finish the job. The Colombian’s huge right caused Coggi to stagger back several feet to his corner and a second right sent him skittering to his right before falling into another corner pad. Coggi was absolutely helpless as Gonzalez blasted away with both hands. Coggi managed to grab Gonzalez after the challenger launched 25 unanswered blows. After Rodriguez broke them, Coggi wobbled to yet another corner and looked to ride out the storm by adopting a rope-a-dope defense. A right uppercut and left uppercut split Coggi’s guard and a right sank into the ribs before Coggi locked in a clinch.
Fifty seconds into the round, Gonzalez began to get arm weary and soon he was leaning on Coggi along the ropes. But after the break, another big right wobbled Coggi to the ropes and a somewhat re-energized Gonzalez continued his assault. Though Coggi clearly was still in survival mode, he started to fight back as he countered Gonzalez’s wide swings with a series of short uppercuts. After another break that saw Rodriguez push Gonzalez back more than halfway across the ring (instead of the regulation one step), Coggi thought about following him out but decided to stay put in the corner. Gonzalez nailed him with yet another right to the jaw that prompted Coggi to clinch, and his legs had not regained their strength as he tottered toward his fourth set of ropes in the round. But Coggi’s ring sense was in full working order; after both men tumbled to the canvas following a sloppy clinch, Coggi glanced over his shoulder and spotted the ropes before backing into them. Just as Gonzalez whacked Coggi with a long right to the jaw, the bell sounded. While the third round must have seemed interminably long for Coggi, the bell had rung a full 28 seconds early.
It was yet another break for the home team, and the boxing match began to take on the air of a scene straight out of the WWE’s past where one wrestler repeatedly is denied the victory due to slow counts, double-teaming from "managers" and a blatant disregard for the rules. In the scripted world of "sports entertainment," these actions are not only accepted but they also add to the drama. But boxing, for the most part, had surmounted its era of fixed fights to the point where events like this would be considered a monstrous and inexcusable violation.
The tilted events were starting to have a positive effect on Coggi, who seemed steadier as he answered the bell for round four. His legs were planted firmly underneath him as he lashed out with two quick jabs and landed a right hook. Gonzalez landed a right to the jaw, but Coggi took it much better. Convinced Coggi was no longer vulnerable, Gonzalez retreated to long range.
For Coggi, the crisis had finally ended and he could shift his focus to climbing back in the fight. Though the events of round two and three provided an extraordinary assist, Coggi’s recuperative powers were still something to behold. As Gonzalez stayed back and boxed, Coggi shot a big left to the jaw that sent the challenger staggering to the ropes. As Gonzalez languished, Coggi hooked his right arm around Gonzalez’s left arm and blatantly held and hit with nine consecutive lefts to the head and body. Rodriguez, continuing to show his pro-Coggi stripes on this night, said nothing. The timekeeper, seeing Coggi doing a little better, ended the fourth round only 15 seconds early.
Gonzalez had every reason to be furious, but he and his people took everything with remarkable calm. Gonzalez stood near ring center, more than ready to resume the action for round five. The reason for his eagerness was immediately apparent 10 seconds into the round when he floored Coggi with a quick overhand right to the jaw. Though it appeared to be a clean knockdown, Rodriguez ordered Coggi to his feet, wiped off his gloves and wiped out the extra point Gonzalez should have earned. Still, Coggi got to his feet quickly and neither Gonzalez nor his corner lodged any protest.
Gonzalez stepped in behind another long right – which he was still landing at will – but secure with his apparent early lead he didn’t press for the knockout. Coggi drove Gonzalez to the ropes with a left cross and countered a right uppercut with another strong left. Coggi darted inside and drove 17 hold-and-hit uppercuts with nary a word from Rodriguez, whose performance had already descended into farce. The same could be said for the timekeeper, who let the round go an extra three seconds to allow Coggi to get in a few bonus fouls.
Incredibly, Spada issued a complaint to Rodriguez about Gonzalez’s work with his head but Rodriguez dismissed Spada with a wave of the hand. It should have been apparent to Spada that Rodriguez had already done quite enough to benefit his man, but human nature dictates that once someone gets an inch they will want a mile.
Gonzalez drove Coggi back with a stiff jab to start the sixth, but Coggi recovered and engaged the challenger in a jabbing contest. One of Coggi’s jabs set up a whipping left to the jaw, and another left late in the round propelled Gonzalez to the ropes, where Coggi proceeded to throw 11 more hold-and-hit uppercuts before Rodriguez finally separated them.
Gonzalez again tagged Coggi with a hard jab to kick off the seventh, and the crowd sought to rally their man by amping up the volume and clapping in rhythm. Coggi’s left eye was swollen and both cheeks were reddened. Gonzalez, for his part, was completely unmarked.
Coggi had a tendency to lull his opponents to sleep, then shock them with the power of his hair-trigger left cross. For this reason one of Coggi’s nicknames was "The Whip," and the champion was successful in slowing the fight’s pace to a crawl as the round proceeded. Gonzalez helped by biding his time, but he did manage to back Coggi into a corner behind a pair of rights.
Then, with 1:06 gone in the seventh, the moment for which Coggi had been waiting happened.
A straight left to the jaw landed on Gonzalez with stunning impact and he was forced to back into the corner Coggi had just vacated. A flurry of punches highlighted by four lefts sent Gonzalez stumbling forward to his knees, and a few members of the overjoyed crowd tossed papers into the air near the ring.
Gonzalez stumbled forward after rising to his feet at Rodriguez’s count of four and looked in terrible shape as he tried to steady himself. Meanwhile, as Coggi stood in the neutral corner, a man in a gray suit spoke into Coggi’s right ear while standing on the apron, another clear violation that should have resulted in a disqualification loss for Coggi. But any concept of order or fairness had long been thrown out on its ear, and with Fate’s man so close to victory, there was no way that the rule of law would ever be applied now.
Like Coggi before him, Gonzalez tried to adjust his awry mouthpiece as Rodriguez asked if he wanted to continue. The mouthpiece dropped to the floor, which should have earned Gonzalez a brief time out to have it replaced and rinsed, but, predictably, Rodriguez did no such thing.
After receiving advice from the man in the gray suit, Coggi raced out of the corner without waiting for Rodriguez to formally wave him in. The champion blasted two lefts, a right hook and a final left before Gonzalez’s corner man raced through the ropes, broke up the two fighters, and wrapped his arms around his fighter. At 2:26 of the seventh round, the only result that would have been permitted officially went into the books.
Coggi turned his back and leaped skyward in triumph while a multitude of corner men and supporters poured into the ring to celebrate what was an extraordinary – but wholly illegal – comeback.
The final insult came when the scorecards were revealed. All three judges had Coggi ahead – Luis Pabon saw the bout 58-56, Jesus Celis scored it 57-55 and Jose Campos somehow viewed the bout 59-58, meaning he saw more even rounds than for either boxer. So one can safely assume that if Coggi was not going to win by knockout, he would have likely won it on the scorecards.
But in retrospect, that shouldn’t be much of a surprise. After all, that’s what home field advantage is all about.
Epilogue: Coggi said after the fight that he remembered nothing from the second round forward and Spada said, in classic understated fashion, that his fighter was "lucky" to escape with his title. Referee Rodriguez was banned for life by the WBA, who ordered Coggi and Gonzalez to meet in an immediate rematch. The bout took place March 18, 1994 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas and once again circumstances conspired against Gonzalez. This time, visa problems complicated Gonzalez’s trip from Madrid, Spain, where he was based at the time. Gonzalez spent 20 hours in the air and didn’t land in Las Vegas until 9 p.m. the night before the fight. Gonzalez reportedly weighed in at 10 p.m. and stayed after midnight to undergo the required medical exams.
Showtime analyst Dr. Ferdie Pacheco reported that Gonzalez was seen sleeping in his dressing room shortly before the fight, yet with 1:10 remaining in the first round Gonzalez decked Coggi with a right to the jaw. Gonzalez continued to rake Coggi with rights in round two and opened a cut around Coggi’s left eye with his first right of the third round. But like the first fight, Coggi roared back from behind – this time with no help from anyone – and floored Gonzalez with a pulverizing left with 1:45 left in the round. Gonzalez arose at three, and Coggi worked him over with heavy rights and lefts. A head-snapping right hook drove Gonzalez to his knees. Gonzalez’s corner threw in the towel, but in Nevada that didn’t signal an automatic stoppage. Coggi’s corner men ascended the apron to get Steele’s attention, but the referee disregarded the towel and continued the count. With blood pouring from Gonzalez’s lower lip, Steele stopped the fight at the 2:01 mark and Coggi was declared the winner and still champion.
Gonzalez would fight only three more times, losing each one. On May 16, 1997 in Barranquilla, Colombia, the 29-1-1 Hugo Pineda stopped the 32-year-old Gonzalez in two rounds. Gonzalez subsequently retired and his final record stands at 22-8-1 (15 KOs).
Coggi had plenty more chapters to write in his career. After polishing off Mario Morales (KO 3) in a non-title affair, Coggi lost the title by decision to Frankie Randall. Three fights later, Coggi and Randall met again on January 13, 1996 and once again controversy would find Coggi. Coggi scored a questionable knockdown in round three and a clash of heads sent Coggi down and out in the fifth. The butt did not open a cut on Coggi, but it left him in a heap in the corner. Coggi was unable to continue after being given five minutes to recover and the WBA’s accidental foul rule dictated that the scorecards would determine the winner since the incident occurred after the third round. Several minutes after Coggi was wheeled from the ring on a stretcher, he regained the title by five-round technical decision since he held a one-point lead on each scorecard.
The two would fight again seven months later – in Argentina – and Randall regained the belt via unanimous decision. Coggi would never again fight for a major belt, and his final bout took place May 29, 1999 in Bari, Italy where he lost a unanimous decision to Michele Piccirillo. The 37-year-old Coggi retired with a record of 75-5-2 with 44 KOs.