"It's the biggest stage you can fight on": Michael Jennings looks back at facing Miguel Cotto in New York 10 years on

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A fighter’s mentality kicks in when you sit down and talk to Michael Jennings about his night on the biggest stage in his sport.

February 21 marks 10 years to the day since the Chorley fight favourite came up short in his WBO World welterweight title fight against Puerto Rican great Miguel Cotto at the iconic Madison Square Garden in New York.

Michael Jennings goes on the offensive against Miguel Cotto on his big night in New York 10 years ago. Picture: Getty Images

Michael Jennings goes on the offensive against Miguel Cotto on his big night in New York 10 years ago. Picture: Getty Images

For the 41-year-old there are no starry-eyed reflections with the result, a fifth-round knockout defeat, the first thing that springs to mind.

It needs a follow-up question at his gym in Coppull Mill to bring some acknowledgement of what an achievement it was just to be in that fight in the first place.

“To be honest, as much as it was my biggest fight on paper it’s not one that stands out in my mind because I got beat,” Jennings – now a trainer – admits candidly.

“Straight after it I remember wanting to get straight back in there and fight him again.

The Chorley favourite looks for a way out of the corner at Madison Square Garden. Picture: Getty Images

The Chorley favourite looks for a way out of the corner at Madison Square Garden. Picture: Getty Images

“I’m that sort of person, I’d just been beaten and I wanted to get my own back.

“But now it’s something good you can tell the kids about. ‘Where did you box’? ‘Oh, top of the bill at Madison Square Garden against Cotto’.

“The time has flown by to be honest. It certainly doesn’t seem like 10 years ago.”

Former British champion Jennings had worked his way into contention the hard way.

Jennings receives a count from the referee on the way to defeat in the fifth round. Picture: Getty Images

Jennings receives a count from the referee on the way to defeat in the fifth round. Picture: Getty Images

Promoted by Frank Warren, plenty of names cropped up as the popular Lancastrian lined up his shot at the big one. Before Cotto there was talk of a clash with Antonio Margarito only for the Mexican to be caught up in controversy over the use of illegal hand wraps.

“The first guy actually put forward for the fight was a guy called Paul Williams who was a 6’4” southpaw,” Jennings said.

“When they offered him I thought, ‘God, I’m not sure I fancy this guy’.

“But then he couldn’t make the weight and there was talk of Margarito before everything went on with the plaster of Paris stuff.

Miguel Cotto, one of the greats of his generation, celebrates victory

Miguel Cotto, one of the greats of his generation, celebrates victory

“Then me and Cotto got made.

“Out of the three I probably would have preferred to have boxed Cotto if I’m honest with you.

“It was nerve-wracking getting the call but it was a fight I wanted to win, even though I knew everything was against me.”

A huge underdog against one of the best fighters of his generation, Jennings headed across the pond looking to upset the odds.

If he was not aware of the task at hand before getting on the plane, he was made fully aware by American reporters in the fight week extravaganza that comes with fighting in the US.

“Everything in America is just bigger,” says Jennings, whose 39-fight professional career ended due to shoulder problems after defeat to Kell Brook back in 2010.

“I was getting chauffeured about in the big black Chevrolets and going to all the press conferences.

“They were hundreds and hundreds of reporters all coming up and sticking their tape recorders in your face with cameras everywhere.

“It was all very negative towards me with them saying, ‘Do you think you’re going to last this long?’ and things like that.

“No one was giving me a chance, apart from the people back at home who thought I could do it.

“The people of Chorley at that time were brilliant.

“All the, ‘We’re backing Jennings’ posters were up all over town. It made me proud and it was a really good feeling.”

The cost involved meant not many were able to make the trip over, Jennings very much in the away corner on the night.

“There were 14,000 Puerto Ricans and about 50 of us,” he added with a smile.

“People ask me if all that affected me but I have no excuses.

“I had the same thought process as I had for any other fight.

“It was the most important fight that night. It didn’t build it up so much in my own mind.

“When my music came on and it was time for my ringwalk and I was walking down to the ring I got the exact same buzz as I’d had for any other fight.

“My hairs stood up on the back of my neck and I was ready to fight.”

No matter how prepared Jennings was, though, Cotto was simply too good.

“I knew he was class but what I did maybe underestimate was his timing and his accuracy,” said Jennings, who was down twice in the fourth round before being stopped on his feet in the fifth.

“When I threw a jab he’d make me miss by an inch and then a little slip and, boom – he’d come back with his own jab.

“He just didn’t miss, he was so accurate.

“If he hit you with one shot you were ready to not get caught with it again and stayed tight but he found ways around you and knew how to open you up.

“He’s got a bit of everything and is a class fighter. He had an unbelievable career and he’s a lot of people’s favourite fighter. He’s a legend isn’t he, I suppose?”

So to share a ring with him at all is no mean feat.

“It was the biggest stage you can fight on,” Jennings said.

“I was in the big arena at Madison Square Garden against one of the pound-for-pound greats in Miguel Cotto.”