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Azad Championship Report: Cotto’s Choice

(Photo © German Villasenor, MaxBoxing)
(Photo © German Villasenor, MaxBoxing)

By Gabriel Montoya


For years, boxers have doubled as promoters. More often than not, it’s a ceremonial distinction given to successfully branded boxers who want a shelter for their financial storms. It’s a perfectly legit practice, making it easier for fighter to handle taxes and pay employees as any smart business would. But even though it is not uncommon to see an MP, Lion or Marquez Promotions, for three examples, it is generally accepted that the larger “co-promoter” is handling the nuts and bolts of promotion. Naturally, this means promoting the fight to the point where the public absolutely cannot wait to see a show. When Puerto Rican multi-division champion and former WBA “super” world junior middleweight titleholder Miguel Cotto co-promotes his challenge of WBA “regular” 154-pound titlist Austin Trout at New York’s Madison Square Garden on Saturday, it will mark his first foray into New York fight promoting.


Azad Championship Report
Azad Championship Report

The fight is listed on Boxrec.com as a three-way co-promotion with Golden Boy Promotions, Cotto Promotions and Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson’s SMS Promotions. It marks Cotto’s eighth appearance at the Garden over a seven-year period and his 10th overall in New York for a total of 13 East Coast fights. Perhaps most significantly, this is Cotto’s first fight in New York without Top Rank, the company that built him from an overlooked 2000 Olympian to a three-division titleholder and genuine box office and pay-per-view draw.
 
From that first time over seven years ago when he abused Olympic conqueror Muhammed Abdullaev to the absolute bludgeoning of New York native (and excellent talker) Paulie Malignaggi to his resurrection and redemption against Antonio Margarito, there are few things better at the Garden than Miguel Cotto.
 
But here’s the thing: when you look at the Cotto Garden run, it is against a very specific group of fighters.
 
Cotto began his Garden run coinciding with the Puerto Rican Day Parade in June of 2005. Muhammad Abdullaev’s history with Cotto, beating him in the 2000 Summer Olympics, made for a great storyline. His aggressive style but very leaky defense made him a perfect foe to be stopped in nine rounds.
 
Though he is now a welterweight titleholder, in June 2006’s version of the Cotto/Puerto Rican Day promotion, Paulie Malignaggi did not appear to be a very strong 140 and Cotto steamrolled him, breaking a game Malignaggi’s jaw and putting him down in the second. A hometown fighter with a gift for gab, Malignaggi was a perfect foe. Cotto’s brutality and Malignaggi’s ability to absorb punishment gave us all a night we’ll never forget.
 
Brooklyn native Zab Judah got the June treatment in 2007. A born trash-talker with a chin like fine china and an aggressive style but a body that could be broken down, Judah and Cotto were magic together. Cotto took his lumps here in another all-out war but stopped Judah in 11 all-action rounds.
 
November 2007 marked the first time Top Rank took Cotto to the Garden, outside of June, vs. Shane Mosley in arguably Cotto’s greatest victory. It was a much debated, instant classic that could have gone either way but solidified Cotto as the man at 147 if only for a brief time.
 
Following his loss to Antonio Margarito in July of 2008, Cotto rebuilt with also-ran Michael Jennings in February of 2009 for the vacant WBO welterweight belt. It was a perfect way to get Cotto back on his feet, a five-round beatdown in front of the Puerto Rican faithful.
 
Puerto Rican/Cotto Day returned to New York in June of 2009 with a fight against Joshua Clottey. OK, he and Cotto are not exactly quote machines but the fight was entertaining with some arguing it was Clottey’s in the end. It was a rough-and-tumble affair with Clottey down in the first round and Cotto badly cut in the third. Cotto came away with the split decision win that isn’t talked about as much as others but was as tough and honest a night’s work as it gets.
 
Antonio Margarito and Miguel Cotto seemed to be in the final stages of their careers heading into their December 3, 2011 rematch. This one came down to the wire with Margarito’s damaged eye being the difference. Going into the fight, with the eye getting more coverage than the fighters, you just knew it would end with the doctor’s decision. And that’s exactly how it ended in the 10th. Despite correctly answering the question of how many fingers referee Steve Smoger held up, it was deemed Margarito could not continue and Cotto got his redemption.
 
All of those opponents had either storylines or styles that would bring out the best of Miguel Cotto, no matter what stage of his career. If we learned anything from Ricky Hatton’s return and exit this past Saturdays (in a fight promoted by Hatton’s own promotional outfit), it’s that companies like Top Rank, Main Events or the U.K.’s Frank Warren Promotions have had longevity for a reason. Frank Warren would have never let Hatton, never a top-shelf 147-pounder, come back against a fighter like Vyacheslav Senchenko, a rangy, right-handed natural welterweight with a 65% knockout percentage. You extend that career with a soft touch.
 
In the case of Cotto, hardly a trash-talker himself, you’d better match him with someone who can help sell the fight with either his danger factor, personality or both. Cotto always brings the action so you know you are covered there. But the opponent’s storyline better be something better than he “has always wanted to fight Miguel Cotto.”
 
Enter mild-mannered, genuine good guy and solid technical fighter Austin Trout. Trout brings a lot of problems to the table but he is exactly that overlooked fighter who needs this kind of win to make his name. But beyond that, he isn’t scary or brash. He’s instantly likeable but largely unknown to anyone outside of boxing. Promotionally speaking, while Trout is well-groomed and a pure gentleman who works with amateurs in his spare time and appears to be an active community member in Las Cruces, NM, this is not Margarito unapologetically smiling with that damaged eye staring into Cotto’s soul while boxing fans drooled over the bloodbath to come.
 
None of this is to say Trout needs to be anyone other than himself. I’m a big proponent of boxer’s being exactly who they are. It’s how you win big fights at the Garden when the entire crowd will be against you. This is how great champions are born and by all indications, Trout is ready for his close-up.
 
Trout’s style, fought out of the southpaw stance, is one of a pure boxer who is just fine with staying on the outside behind a hard jab and waiting to counter one or two shots at a time as you come inside. While he will mix it up, a controlled, mid-tempo fight appears to be what he favors. Style-wise, he is all wrong for Cotto who hopes to make up for in experience (26 title fights to seven for Trout), what he gives up in size (5’7” to 5’9 ½” for Trout), reach (67” to 72”) and age (32 to 27). Cotto also has more miles on him with a record of 37-3 with 30 knockouts and two stoppage losses. Trout is 25-0 with 14 knockouts. In terms of rounds they have boxed professionally, Cotto has 281 to Trout’s respectable 138. Trout, at a physical peak age, is comfortable going rounds.
 
The question will be in how Cotto comes out. If he is the bull that he was against Floyd Mayweather in May’s unanimous decision loss, Trout will be set up to land the long one-two and step to the side. Let’s not forget that at Yankee Stadium against Yuri Foreman, Cotto was drilled with hard right hands by Yuri Foreman, a mover who liked to box from the outside. Had his knee not given out, who knows how that fight would have progressed? And even Margarito, thought to be held together by wire heading into that fight, gave Cotto all he could handle. Mayweather, the purest boxer there is, countered Cotto cleanly throughout in fight whose geography and style favored what Cotto was trying to accomplish.
 
While we know the close rounds will go to Cotto in that Puerto Rican-charged environment, a big question remains: How charged will it be?
 
 
Colorado and Washington aren’t that green.
 
Though it is early in the week, it is fair to say this is a sign that when it comes to promoting a familiar brand such as Miguel Cotto at the Garden, it’s harder than it looks. From matchmaking to actually putting butts in seats, it’s always harder than it looks and oft-times the fighters are the last to know that. Here’s hoping the fight sells out and the styles mesh for yet another memorable night of boxing involving Miguel Cotto and the Garden. As Hatton’s ill-fated but spiritually successful comeback reminded us, boxing needs all the draws it can get. It takes years of hard work to build brands like a Ricky Hatton or a Miguel Cotto and one or two bad decisions to damage or end them.
 
A clarification…
 
It was reported by various sites that famed strength and conditioning coach Alex Ariza was hired to take over conditioning duties for Mikey Garcia. According to Garcia’s manager, Cameron Dunkin, the Top rank-promoted featherweight contender’s trainer, Robert Garcia, informed him that Ariza was in fact never hired.


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