By John J.Raspanti
Miguel Cotto’s boxing life has been filled with more peaks than valleys.
Cotto compiled a record of 123-15 as an amateur. He captured gold medals at the Pan American Championships in Medellin, Colombia, in 1997, and three years later, at the Central American and Caribbean Championships.
He turned professional in 2001 by scoring a first-round knockout over Jason Doucet. Cotto’s rise to the top was swift and powerful. He picked up his first world title barely two years later by knocking out Rocky Martinez with his signature punch, a left hook to the body. He cleaned out the super lightweight title, defending his belt 11 times before moving up to the welterweight division.
In 2006, he beat up Carlos Quintana for the WBA welterweight crown. Zab Judah and Shane Mosley were next. He pummeled Judah and won a hard-fought decision over Mosely at the legendary Madison Square Garden in New York.
Cotto was 28 years old and in the prime of his career. He was undefeated in 32 fights, scoring 25 knockouts. There was talk he would fight Oscar De La Hoya and earn 25 million dollars. Though not as popular as fellow Puerto Rican champion Felix Trinidad, Cotto’s quiet professionalism was widely respected.
Next up was top-ranked contender Antonio Margarito. The venue was the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, NV. Cotto was favored to win, but 35 minutes of hell rendered him a bloody ex-champion.
Cotto took a year off in searched of answers. How had Margarito, tough as nails, but limited in skill compared to Cotto, been able to defeat him?
An answer was forthcoming when Margarito first defended against Mosley. Margarito was favored to win, but a horrific discovery was made before the fight.
Mosley’s trainer, Naazim Richardson, was in Margarito’s dressing room to watch the fighter get his hands wrapped. This is customary. What Richardson noticed was not—a white powdery substance on Margarito’s wraps. Richardson immediately surmised that the powder was Plaster of Paris—which hardens with sweat. Richardson accused Margarito of turning his hands into illegal weapons. After his hands were re-wrapped, the fight with Mosley went on—with the now de-weaponized Margarito being hammered into submission by Mosley.
Cotto had his answer. He won two fights in a row before being stopped by Manny Pacquiao. In 2010, he was back in the champions’ circle, stopping Yuri Foreman for the welterweight strap. He was desperate to fight Margarito again. The cheating ex-champion was lucky he hadn’t been banned for life. Cotto wanted his revenge.
On December 12, 2011, he got it. Cotto was convinced that Margarito had used illegal wraps in their first fight. Margarito pleaded ignorance. Nobody with an ounce of sense believed him. With the capacity crowd securely in his corner, Cotto beat the stuffing out of Margarito until the ringside doctor stopped the bout in round nine.
After back-to-back losses to Floyd Mayweather ,and Austin Trout, Cotto rebounded with a third-round stoppage of Delvin Rodriguez. Before the Rodriguez fight, Cotto hired a new trainer, the renowned trainer, Freddie Roach. Roach figured that Cotto had forgotten what got him to the party in the first place.
Cotto knocked out Sergio Martinez to win the WBC middleweight title and former champion Daniel Geale. Martinez was past his prime and Geale looked like he had just been released from solitary confinement. But Roach has done a “Back to the Future” with the Puerto Rican star--by returning him to what he once was--a hard-charging, hard-hitting, knockout machine.
Cotto faced Mexican superstar Canelo Alvarez in 2015. The fight was fought at a high-level, with Alvarez being judged the winner by close decision. Cotto and Roach were upset by the loss, but the decision was the correct one. Cotto contemplated retirement. Would he fight again? He had fought everybody, but still one more title would be the crowning jewel.
He returned last August by whipping limited Yosihiro Kamegai of Japan. The WBO junior middleweight title was his. One more you say?
This Saturday, Cotto, 37, will be facing the much younger Sadam Ali, winner of 25 of 26 fights. Shouldn’t matter. Cotto is expected to win, and he will, before round eight.
It’s fitting his farewell fight will be at Madison Square Garden, site of some of his greatest victories. His loyal fans will get one more chance to cheer their hero, and Cotto will do something fighters rarely do—go out on their own terms.