Boxing: Miguel Cotto
"Really, I've never worked with such a disciplined boxer," said Roach, during Cotto's training session for Saturday's junior middleweight fight against Delvin Rodriguez at the Amway Center (HBO, 9:45 p.m. ET). "By looking at his commitment, you can be sure that Miguel will win on Saturday, and after that, he might fight against Canelo [Alvarez] or [Sergio] Martinez, and later, he could consider fighting against Floyd Mayweather Jr. again."
So far, Cotto and his team have been relatively quiet about their future, in part due to his contentious relationship with promoter Top Rank Boxing, but the fact that Roach is openly happy and extremely optimist might be hints that Cotto could stay inside the ring beyond 2014.
Currently, Cotto and Top Rank have a "one fight at a time" deal, and nothing is carved in stone beyond Saturday's fight in Orlando. Top Rank's president, Todd duBoef, said in a recent interview with ESPN.com's Dan Rafael, "I believe in our long-term relationship, that's what it's all about."
For this fight, Cotto returned to work with Top Rank after his previous two fights, both losses, were promoted by Golden Boy Promotions. An outstanding performance in Orlando, in front of a strong Puerto Rican fan base, could lead Cotto to a blockbuster fight. But according to Roach, Cotto, 32 and currently in his 13th year as a pro fighter, must silence his critics first.
Among the rumors, none of them with solid foundation, are possible fights against Alvarez and Martinez. Roach thinks neither boxer could be a potential risk for Cotto right now.
"It's real simple: Miguel has been working really hard, taking care of all the details I pointed out as potential weaknesses," said Roach, who set up Cotto's camp in his Hollywood, Calif., gym for this fight. "I'm really pleased with Miguel's dedication. Honestly, there will be absolutely no problem for him on Saturday."
Roach also said the trainer-boxer relationship grows stronger as time goes by.
"The two of us have deep boxing knowledge, and I feel that we have a solid mutual trust level," said Roach. "He is a disciplined fighter; that's all I'm asking for."
The veteran trainer said the very first thing he did with Cotto was reshape his defense, because he was too passive inside the ring.
"You've got to create opportunities while being defensive, and since he was really passive, we had to work on that subject," said Roach.
So far, Roach is happy with what he has seen. Still, he thinks there's room for improvement.
"There's always room for improvement, and Miguel is still a young puncher," said Roach. "Yes, we can improve -- a lot."
Miguel Cotto enters Saturday's test against Delvin Rodriguez in a spot he's never previously been throughout his 13-year professional career -- on a two-fight losing skid.
That storyline alone only adds to the narrative of what is already expected to be an exciting 12-round junior middleweight bout at Amway Center in Orlando (HBO, 9:45 p.m. ET). For as much as the fight has been categorized rightfully as a showcase bout for Cotto, he will quickly find himself in an all-action affair against the battle-tested Rodriguez, should age and attrition catch up to him overnight.
But should Cotto, who turns 33 on Oct. 29, come out with his hand raised, the talk will quickly turn to what's next. And outside of pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather Jr., there isn't another boxer in a better spot to call his own shots than Cotto, who can circumvent today’s promotional and network cold war by signing one-fight deals with the suitor of his choice.
Cotto's name still commands respect as the best available B-side on the pay-per-view level, with his fights against Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao having sold 1.5 and 1.25 million buys, respectively. And with the attractive combination of his exciting style and the realities of his vulnerability in the ring, one could make a marketable case for matching Cotto against just about any big name between 147 and 160 pounds.
True to his form, you simply won't get Cotto to comment on any future opponents before he handles the task at hand in Rodriguez. But the fighter did confirm to ESPN.com on Monday that his days at welterweight -- where he hasn't competed since his 2009 loss to Pacquiao -- are completely behind him. New trainer Freddie Roach, who also trains Pacquiao, also has been outspoken in squashing any hope of a rematch between the two fighters.
Outside of that, the world is essentially Cotto's oyster, if he can snap his current losing streak.
""I'm in the last stage of my career and I just want to finish it the best way possible," Cotto said. "I don't know how much time I have left. We are going to return to the winning path in my career on Saturday."
I'm in the last stage of my career and I just want to finish it the best way possible. I don't know how much time I have left. We are going to return to the winning path in my career on Saturday." -- Miguel Cotto
While Cotto wouldn't bite on the notion there might be some unfinished business in terms of his legacy, he outlined the clear reason for his desire to fight on.
"It's about being one of the best, you know?" Cotto said. "It's the reason I am still here. I just want to be one of the best."
Cotto carries a clear sense of pride when talking about his May 2012 loss to Mayweather, in which he inflicted more damage on the unbeaten fighter than anyone in recent memory. Although he's quick to mention he was unable to get what he prepared for -- which was a victory -- "I made a great fight, which proved I am still hungry. For that I am proud," he said.
But the veteran fighter's tone quickly changes when the subject turns to his unexpected December 2012 loss to Austin Trout, which spoiled a prospective PPV date with Canelo Alvarez. While Cotto reflected positively on his three-fight relationship with former trainer Pedro Diaz, calling him a true professional who pushed him to work hard, it’s clear the fallout from the Trout defeat fueled the switch to Roach.
"We didn't prepare ourselves with the right strategy to beat [Trout]," Cotto said. "That was our fault for that fight."
In the end, nothing helps rebuild confidence quite like winning, which Cotto is at least expected to do against Rodriguez. But it's refreshing to see a fighter who has given so many thrills in such an unforgiving sport find himself in this strong of a position regarding his future.
Quite honestly, it's a rarefied position to find himself in, and one that, unlike at times with Mayweather, is profitable for all parties in question, from the fighter to the networks, promoters and fans due to Cotto's insistence on being matched against the very best.
The twilight of the Puerto Rican icon's career promises to be as exciting and dramatic as the first 41 fights, and the next chapter will be written Saturday, where a victory would launch Cotto right back into the mix against the sport's elite.
Time flies, and last week’s festivities at the MGM Grand brought home a sudden realization that Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s master class on Saturday night came 10 years and one day after my first credentialed fight.
There were a fair few differences between that first fight and my latest: In 2003, my credential was red (signifying I rated only a bleacher seat) instead of ringside green, my affiliation was merely "freelance," and in the identifying photo my mouth was smiling and my hair wasn’t gray. But there were similarities, too: Both bouts were at the MGM, both involved the most popular boxer in the world at the time and both were the culmination of weeks of hype and publicity.
My memories of that first fight are as fresh as though it had been fought 10 months, rather than 10 years, ago, and the passage of time has spawned reflections on the numerous notable memories from a decade of being paid to watch fights.
So here’s a list of my top 10 (12, actually, because I kind of cheated) ringside recollections -- not necessarily the best fights (although some of them were terrific) but what, for me personally, have been my most memorable ringside experiences so far.
Shane Mosley W12 Oscar De La Hoya -- MGM Grand, Las Vegas, Sept. 13, 2003
From my seat in the bleachers, I thought the Golden Boy had eked out a decision in a good fight; most of those ringside, where the power of Mosley’s blows were more telling, seemed to agree with the official verdict. Personally, I most remember the thrill of experiencing my inaugural big-fight atmosphere, and the strange feeling of anticlimax on Sunday morning when it was all over.
Antonio Tarver TKO2 Roy Jones Jr. -- Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas, May 15, 2004
The defining moment of postfight shock and awe. Jones had looked mortal in the first encounter between the two men, but that had widely been attributed to his struggles returning to 175 pounds after his brief and successful excursion to heavyweight. But Tarver had his number, and when he landed the big punch that marked the end of Jones’ era of dominance, the crowd responded with an initial roar, followed by a stunned silence, culminating in 12,000 people reaching simultaneously for their cellphones to tell friends, “Holy ****, Roy Jones just got knocked out!”
Diego Corrales TK10 Jose Luis Castillo -- Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas, May 7, 2005
Manny Pacquiao TK10 Erik Morales -- Thomas & Mack Center, Las Vegas, Jan. 21, 2006
Manny Pacquiao KO3 Erik Morales -- Thomas & Mack Center, Las Vegas, Nov. 18, 2006
For reasons I can’t quite remember, but presumably related to a lack of money, I watched the first tilt between these two on TV in my cabin in Alaska. The indelible memory of their second contest, apart from Pacquiao turning around a fight he was losing and storming to a stoppage win, was the unrelenting volume inside the arena, as rival Mexican and Filipino fight fans shouted themselves hoarse. I imagined it was like sticking your head next to a jet engine. The third was much the same, and at the end of that contest the feeling was of one man reaching the end of his career and another about to launch his into the stratosphere.
Floyd Mayweather TKO10 Ricky Hatton -- MGM Grand, Las Vegas, Dec. 8, 2007
Ah, the Brits. My people. So very many of them, so very drunk, and singing so very loudly. For a week, Las Vegas became Manchester with better weather and colder beer, as Hatton’s fans sang constantly to remind themselves how many Ricky Hattons there are; and even when that one Ricky Hatton was stopped in the 10th round, they sang and drank some more.
Antonio Margarito TKO11 Miguel Cotto -- MGM Grand, Las Vegas, July 26, 2008
Miguel Cotto TKO10 Antonio Margarito -- Madison Square Garden, New York, Dec. 3, 2011
Manny Pacquiao W12 Joshua Clottey -- Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, Texas, March 13, 2010
The fight itself was kinda meh. Clottey spent most of his time impersonating a turtle as Pacquiao bang-bang-banged away. But there was a real sense of occasion about it all: Jerry Jones, Cowboys Stadium, that scoreboard … One can only wonder how immense it all would have been had the man across the ring been, as originally intended, not Joshua Clottey but Floyd Mayweather.
Lamont Peterson W12 Amir Khan -- Walter E. Washington Convention Center, Washington, D.C., Dec. 10, 2011.
For all but seven of the nearly 20 years I’ve been in the United States, I’ve lived in the District of Columbia or its northern Virginia suburbs, so to have an HBO fight in what is effectively my hometown, and with a hometown fighter -- a hometown fighter who had grown up sleeping on the streets near the arena where he was now fighting, even –- scoring an upset win over a big star, with a fevered crowd screaming “D.C., D.C., D.C.” … it was all very cool, even if a pair of point deductions by an over-officious referee (to say nothing of the later revelations of Peterson’s synthetic testosterone intake) fouled the punch bowl.
Juan Manuel Marquez KO6 Manny Pacquiao -- MGM Grand, Las Vegas, Dec. 8, 2012
Floyd Mayweather W12 Canelo Alvarez -- MGM Grand, Las Vegas, Sept. 14, 2013
From the massive throng that spilled out of the MGM Grand lobby to watch the fighters’ arrivals on Tuesday, to the crowd that stood three-deep to catch a glimpse of even the undercard fighters working out the next day, to the incomparable weigh-in experience in front of 12,200 fans -- and, of course, the enthusiastic but ultimately futile cries of “si se puede” and “Ca-ne-lo” during the main event -- this was, from beginning to end, almost certainly the most intense big fight week I’ve yet experienced.
Note to the “this was boxing’s last big fight” crowd: At the time of my first fight, nobody would have predicted that in 10 years’ time, Mayweather Jr. would be the man carrying the sport on his back, as De La Hoya did before him, as Mike Tyson did before him. Someone out there is boxing’s next big superstar. He may already be on HBO, he may be fighting undercard six-rounders, he may not yet have turned pro. But when he hits the highest heights, his biggest fights will be true events, just as much as Mayweather’s are now. And if I’m fortunate, I’ll be there covering them.
But while the proximate cause of Floyd Sr. taking the place of his brother Roger as the younger Mayweather's trainer is Roger's declining health, the switch has also apparently resulted in a slight change of philosophy in the Mayweather Boxing Gym.
Call it "Hard Work, Relaxation."
"There's certain things only my dad may see in the camp," Floyd Jr. said in a laidback session with reporters at the MGM Grand on Tuesday. "For this fight, I made sure I got more rest. My dad said, 'You need the rest. And when you've rested, you can come back and box in the gym and you're going to look a lot better.' And he was right."
It's a situation he contrasts with the build-up to his most recent contest, a grueling 12-round win over Miguel Cotto in the same ring one year ago.
"I think I was overworked for the Cotto fight. I think I probably overtrained for the Cotto fight," Mayweather Jr. revealed.
And while he is legendary for his workouts and his fitness, he says there is one particular aspect of that camp that worked against him.
"I did more boxing for the Cotto camp. I'd come into the gym and one day I'd box 12 rounds and the next day I boxed another 12 rounds, and the next day I'd come back and do 10," he said. "And we're talking all of this within five days, so that's a lot of wear and tear on a body. But I shouldn't even have been making the mistakes I was making in the Cotto fight. I wasn't the best Floyd Mayweather. But I'm not crying or complaining. I got the job done."
With that in mind, and with the most logical opponents (Cotto, Sergio Martinez and -- dare we say it? -- Manny Pacquiao) already headed in different directions, Mayweather's choices are now limited. But there is one natural fit. All things considered, given his energy, youth and huge appeal to fans of both sexes, his enormous (and growing) Mexican fan base and an unbeaten record to boot, Saul "Canelo" Alvarez is the obvious choice.
Here are five reasons why Alvarez should be the leading candidate to pull the winning number in the latest Mayweather sweepstakes:
1. A crossroads fight for the ages: A young and feisty undefeated lion versus a crafty, experienced unbeaten fox? The meshing of styles is so apparent that it needs little elaboration. Alvarez, 22, is a freight train of a fighter who has power in both hands and the heart of a warrior, always charging forward with little regard for his safety. Mayweather is the lightning-fast consummate technician with seemingly unlimited resources and the boxing equivalent of Wikipedia downloaded to his brain. It's the old matador-versus-raging bull paradigm, and people have always paid to watch it. You can bet they'll pony up to witness this one.
2. Canelo has muchos amigos: Floyd always echoes the sentiments expressed in Muhammad Ali's famous analysis on the composition of his audience: "I think 100 percent of the people will come to see me," Ali used to say, "but 99 percent of those people will come to see me get beat because they think I talk too much." Whatever the percentages, there's a similar split with regard to Canelo. Most women come to see him win. A lot of guys watch to see him get his butt kicked. But the vast majority of Mexico will be watching, rooting for either cause. In any case, the likelihood of a new PPV record for a Mayweather-Canelo matchup is very high, and when the guy who has the final say on his opponent goes by the nickname "Money," that's a factor in Alvarez's favor.
3. A true fiesta for Cinco de Mayo: May 5 is a national holiday in Mexico and traditionally a blowout weekend for boxing. If you're a fight fan, you can circle that Saturday on your calendar and know you'll get to take in at least one of the year's biggest bouts that night. But at the risk of sounding jingoistic, last year's Mayweather-Cotto matchup -- an American against a Puerto Rican -- was like serving tacos, burritos and tequila at a St. Patrick's Day party. Give the fans what they want, when they want it. Mayweather versus Alvarez on Cinco de Mayo weekend will surely draw one of the biggest TV audiences in boxing history, in no small part due to its timing.
4. The grass is not greener on the other side: A lack of options shouldn't serve as an endorsement for Alvarez, but it's impossible to get around: Mayweather's alternatives really strengthen Canelo's case. The question is, if you don't pick the kid from Jalisco, who do you pick? Martinez is banking on milking whatever is left of the Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. business while Junior is still marketable. Pacquiao still has who-knows-how-many-more fights with Marquez, plus a rematch with Timothy Bradley Jr., left to cash in. And Cotto will keep pricing (and maybe weighing) his way out of a Mayweather rematch until no one cares anymore. And with Amir Khan and Victor Ortiz on the rocks (and Roberto Guerrero still green at 147), Canelo is just what the doctor ordered.
5. Great possible card names: "The Young and the Restless" is already taken, but there are plenty of directions this one could be taken. "Sugar and Spice" clicked better for Canelo's bout with Shane Mosley, but it's apt here, too. And the pairing could lead to scores of clever headlines from the always-imaginative press row. "Money Talks, Cinnamon Swirls" could trumpet a Mayweather victory. Not enough reason on its own to put together a multi-million dollar boxing card, but it always helps to have some built-in entertainment value, eh?
So while Top Rank promoter Bob Arum spends this week in the Philippines with Manny Pacquiao picking over a list of three potential November opponents for the fighter to choose from, the best option -- for boxing, at least -- might not seem so apparent.
Yet after weighing the merits of each against the others, there's just one (surprising) choice that makes the most sense.
Mostly lost in Pacquiao's 12th-round TKO of Cotto in November 2009 -- the apex of the Filipino star's implausible run through four weight classes in less than three years -- was an opening four rounds that had the makings of an all-time great action bout.
Let's take a look back at the highlights from this high-level slugfest:
ROUND 1: While the opening round provided the least amount of toe-to-toe action among the fight's first four, it was equally intriguing. Cotto controlled the round with a thudding, accurate jab that snapped Pacquiao's head back in the opening seconds and consistently moved him backward. Cotto also established the legitimacy of his hand speed by stinging Pacquiao with counter hooks. It took Pacquiao, who rallied in the final 30 seconds, nearly two full minutes to land his first clean shot in a round dominated by Cotto.
ROUND 2: Pacquiao landed a string of lead left hands early, which slowed the use of Cotto's jab considerably. The round -- and ultimately the tenor of the fight -- hit a turning point with 1:45 to go when Pacquiao landed consecutive flush combinations. It was vintage PacMan: at his most dangerous when attacking from deceiving angles. Cotto responded immediately by stepping up his intensity, and the result was breathtaking two-way action highlighted by Cotto's hard left hooks to the side of the head (Pacquiao's right ear required draining after the fight due to a blood clot.) Cotto's premature entry into fight-or-flight mode, however, came with a cost by playing perfectly to the strength of his quicker, countering opponent. Pacquiao's granite chin was supremely tested, and it passed with flying colors.
ROUND 3: Cotto found early success by returning to his jab. Pacquiao responded in the ensuing minute with an immaculate display of boxing, darting in and out to land a series of stiff shots. The punches set up a stunning three-punch combination to the head and body (so quick that the punches appeared to land simultaneously), which Cotto never saw coming. The final punch -- a short right hook -- floored Cotto with ease, although it stunned him more with confusion than power. A resilient Cotto regained his feet and continued to brawl, snapping Pacquiao's head back with a vicious uppercut to dramatically close the round.
ROUND 4: The action was amplified as both fighters gave as good as they received for nearly three full minutes in the center of the ring. If this wasn't the most exciting round of the fight -- and arguably the year -- it was just as good as the previous two. Twice Pacquiao was forced to fight his way off the ropes in a violent, two-way drama that also proved to be Cotto's last stand as a threat to hurt his opponent. Pacquiao's half-hook, half-uppercut with 25 seconds to go nearly decapitated Cotto en route to the canvas. It was the single most devastating punch of the fight, capping a wildly entertaining four rounds.
Pacquiao went on to pitch a virtual shutout over the final eight rounds as a wounded Cotto never recovered from the early onslaught. Talk of a rematch by Arum at different points over subsequent years were rightfully dismissed by fans as a potential money-grab for Top Rank.
But time is a tricky thing, and just enough of it has gone by to help redefine what we now consider to be the reality of the fighters' current levels.
With their first fight contested at a catchweight of 145 pounds, there's no telling the impact it had on the naturally bigger Cotto. (Arum said he believes Pacquiao would be willing to do a potential rematch at 150 pounds.)
Pacquiao is also clearly not the same dynamic force who once steamrolled Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton and Cotto in consecutive bouts, as evidenced by his past three fights. At 33, Pacquiao not only has been unable to duplicate the same relentless pace for full rounds, which was once his staple, he also noticeably faded in the second half against Shane Mosley and Bradley.
Cotto, meanwhile, appears completely removed from the version of the fighter who had been labeled damaged goods in the aftermath of a brutal loss to Antonio Margarito, and has rebuilt his confidence at 154 pounds.
At 31, Cotto has seen his stock as a fighter soar under new trainer Pedro Diaz, with the duo fresh off an inspired performance in which Cotto roughed up Floyd Mayweather Jr. in a May defeat -- the same fight that a large portion of the general public believed Cotto would be embarrassed in.
A rematch with Bradley would do nothing to advance Pacquiao's legend or the sport. And as much as many would enjoy seeing Marquez get a chance to validate his three impressive showings to date against Pacquiao, a fourth meeting adds little to the legacy of their rivalry.
For fans of both Pacquiao and boxing, the danger in holding on too tightly to the dream of a Mayweather bout is that there's no reason to anticipate a change in the poor matchmaking that has slowly wasted a good bit of Pacquiao's prime.
In Cotto's recent bout with Mayweather, we were reminded just how exciting and galvanizing a marquee fight with two crossover stars who never fail to deliver can be for the sport. Pacquiao and Cotto have an opportunity to do the same thing.
Three years ago, they gave us a sample of an explosive meeting between all-time greats. The plotlines surrounding them may have changed, but a high-profile rematch that promises excitement just might represent the best fight that realistically can be made.
"Friday Night Fights" analyst Bernardo Osuna has the latest on Miguel Cotto's possible next opponent (hint: Could be another classic Puerto Rico-versus-Mexico throwdown), where Amir Khan goes from here and Marcos Maidana's next move.
LAS VEGAS -- Five things we learned from Saturday's Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Miguel Cotto card at the MGM Grand:
1. There's good, there's very good, and there's great
With every fight, Mayweather is moving up the all-time list. For years, one knock on his record was that, as good as he frequently looked, we didn't know how he would react when he was rocked or when he was in a real dogfight. We know now. When Shane Mosley hurt him badly in the second round of their fight two years ago, Mayweather turned it around and dominated every minute of every subsequent round. When Cotto dragged him into the trenches Saturday night, Mayweather engaged him, firing off the ropes; and when it looked like the effectiveness of that technique was waning after Cotto's blistering eighth round, Floyd changed strategies completely and sailed away with the final third of the bout.
There are plenty of reasons that those fans who don't like Mayweather will find to support their position. But his skills and ability shouldn't be among them. We are watching a genuinely great boxer in his pomp. Whatever our feelings of him as a person, we should allow ourselves to enjoy and marvel at his talent.
2. Seriously, enough's enough. It's time
For all the talk of "that" fight, for all the yapping from both sides, the prospect of Floyd Mayweather fighting Manny Pacquiao has, in the buildup to Saturday's contest, rarely if ever seemed more remote. But now, more than ever, it has to happen. Cotto was the best of the rest and he has been summarily dispatched. Outside of, say, Sergio Martinez or perhaps, in the case of Pacquiao, a fourth meeting with Juan Manuel Marquez, there's nobody left. Assuming Pacquiao makes it past Timothy Bradley Jr. on June 9, Mayweather-Pacquiao has to be next. Even as he poured cold water on the prospect of the fight ever happening, Mayweather admitted that "there's really nobody else out there for me."
3. Miguel Cotto was sold short
Even among those who gave Cotto credit for his skill and experience, who offered the caveat that against almost any other likely opponent, he would be favored, the Puerto Rican star was given next to no chance. One person who didn't sell him short, at least publicly, was Mayweather, and as he stood at the postfight news conference with his face uncharacteristically marked up, it was clear why. Cotto fought with enough intelligence and persistence that, through eight rounds, the outcome of a Mayweather fight was genuinely in doubt. He fought an almost perfect game plan; it's just that on this night, against this man, it wasn't enough.
4. Canelo Alvarez is a work in progress
There was much to be impressed with in Alvarez's victory over Mosley: He was unruffled, he was steady, he didn't panic when an accidental head-butt opened up a cut over his left eye. He planted his feet and threw compact punches with plenty of torque that thudded off Mosley's head with real impact. At the same time, there are still some areas for improvement, as is to be expected from such a young fighter. Alvarez could stand to be more active, to throw more punches, to start earlier. When he threw combinations, they were beautifully effective; he just didn't throw them enough. A case could be made that, after almost folding Mosley in half with body shots in the ninth, Alvarez should have taken it up a notch and tried to finish him. But for all the doubts and incomplete grades, this fight also highlighted the talent that is there, and the reception from the crowd underlined the stardom that assuredly awaits Alvarez as long as the wins keep coming.
5. The ride is over for Shane Mosley
Whatever doubts had been raised about Mosley's commitment to battle after the disappointing performances against Pacquiao and Mayweather, the 40-year-old erased them with his determined effort to stand and trade with the younger, stronger Alvarez. But while he was not afraid to pull the trigger, Mosley's punches lacked the speed and snap that were his trademark when he was at his peak. He looked at times almost as if he were punching through treacle. It is often said that the last thing a fighter loses is his punch, but Mosley had nothing in his arsenal with which to deter his younger foe. As Mosley admitted, when the young kids start beating you, maybe it's time to turn to promoting. Mosley has had a terrific career. It's time for that career to end on the relative high note of making a defiant last stand.
LAS VEGAS -- A single night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on June 26, 2008, nearly ruined the boxing career of Miguel Cotto.
Nearly four years later, he proved to everyone it didn't take the best of him.
Cotto has rarely looked the same since suffering the worst loss of his career at the (perhaps loaded) hands of Antonio Margarito in that welterweight title bout, the first meeting between the fighters.
Cotto, 31, holds a strong belief that Margarito used illegal hand wraps during that fight, and he finally exacted his revenge late last year in the form of a stoppage win in the 10th round of their rematch. He then swore he would perform better after having closed the emotional chapter on Margarito.
Few believed him. Heading into Saturday's light middleweight fight against Floyd Mayweather Jr., Cotto was listed as more than a 4-to-1 underdog and was generally given no shot against his faster, more technical opponent.
Eventually, Cotto did succumb to Mayweather's speed and defensive skills. The result was familiar, with Mayweather claiming a decision win via fairly lopsided scores.
Those who witnessed the fight, however, saw the details not recorded in the scores. Cotto pushed Mayweather, more so than perhaps any of the 42 who came before him. He cut off the ring and bloodied Mayweather's nose with punches in the sixth.
He appeared the strongest, mentally, that he has since the Margarito loss. Although he still faded a bit late, as he has been known to do, that was more attributed to Mayweather's resiliency than any break in Cotto.
"I'm happy with my fight and with my performance," Cotto said. "So is my family. I can't ask for anything else."
The Las Vegas crowd went wild after the eighth round, when Cotto forced a few exchanges out of Mayweather in the corner of the ring.
The greatest surprise, though, occurred in the moments when Cotto had success in the middle of the ring. He was still at a disadvantage in that type of fight against the quicker, more mobile Mayweather, but he wasn't thoroughly dominated, as many would have expected him to be.
Defensively, Cotto seems to be improving under head trainer Pedro Diaz. He refused to be dictated by Mayweather's jab and effectively controlled the range at which the fight took place throughout.
"Cotto shocked me," Mayweather said. "He was slow, but he was awkward. Anybody who goes in with Cotto, you better be ready. His record reflects where he's at, and he deserved to fight me."
In a way, Cotto's record does reflect where he's at -- and then it doesn't.
A 5-3 showing over the course of his past eight bouts isn't typically the result associated with a boxing superstar. Cotto was beaten badly by Manny Pacquiao over the course of 12 rounds in 2009, and his latest wins have come against inferior competition.
Saturday, however, might be the best reflection of where Cotto truly is: a fighter still improving, finally over the heartache of the worst loss of his career and still capable of competing at the highest level.
5. Sept. 17, 2011: Victor Ortiz
Ortiz was at a high point, coming off his dramatic win over Andre Berto, but he was no match for either Mayweather or his own lack of judgment. Frustrated by his inability to pierce Mayweather's defense, Ortiz launched his head into his opponent's in Round 4, prompting referee Joe Cortez to call time out and deduct a point. When Cortez called time in, Ortiz was focused more on hugging Mayweather to apologize than on defending himself; Mayweather clocked an unprepared Ortiz with a left and a right, putting him down for the count.
4. April 20, 2002: Jose Luis Castillo
Notable for being a fight that, in the eyes of many observers, Mayweather lost. Mexico's Castillo was able to pressure Mayweather for periods and take him out of his comfort zone, but the American won a unanimous decision on the judges' scorecards, and he did so again in the rematch across the street at Mandalay Bay.
3. Dec. 8, 2007: Ricky Hatton
Unforgettable. An estimated 30,000 Brits descended on the Strip, all but emptying the MGM of beer and constantly reminding everyone that there was "only onnnne Ricky Hatton." That one Ricky Hatton was likely seeing two Floyd Mayweathers after walking into a check hook that sent him face-first into the ring post in the 10th. And still the Brits kept singing ...
2. May 5, 2007: Oscar De La Hoya
Was this really five years ago already? Overdramatically dubbed "The Fight to Save Boxing," this was the event that turned Mayweather into a superstar. Overcoming early resistance from a stiff Golden Boy jab, Mayweather scored a split decision win in a contest that secured a record 2.4 million pay-per-view buys.
1. Jan. 20, 2001: Diego Corrales
Like Mayweather, Corrales was an undefeated 130-pound titlist, and there were plenty of prognosticators who expected him to prove too strong. But you can't hurt what you can't hit, and in what remains Mayweather's most sublime performance, Corrales could hardly lay a glove on his rival. Mayweather, by contrast, couldn't miss his, dropping Corrales five times before Chico's corner stopped the contest in the 10th.
When Miguel Cotto and Floyd Mayweather Jr. face off in the ring at the MGM Grand on Saturday night, it will be several years after a meeting between the two men was first mooted. According to Cotto, however, one person who wasn't entertaining the possibility when it was initially suggested, when both men were campaigning in and around the junior welterweight division, was Cotto himself.
"When I was at 140 pounds, I was an immature boxer, you know," he told reporters after the final prefight press conference on Wednesday. "I didn't think about him, because he was a great champion, he was a guy who was above me on all levels. But now we are in the same boat."
Asked what he will do to counter Mayweather's perceived advantages of speed and skill, Cotto offered no specifics, but merely the calm understated confidence that has long been his trademark.
"If nobody [has] found the way to beat Floyd Mayweather [so far], you're going to see how a person can beat Floyd Mayweather on Saturday," he said.
Mayweather, for his part, smiled at suggestions from journalists that perhaps Cotto might deploy his vaunted body attack or look to make their contest a brawl, and hinted at vulnerabilities in the Puerto Rican's defense.
"Even though Antonio Margarito got in trouble for loaded gloves, you've got to say to yourself: He's not that fast, so why was he even getting hit with those shots?" he asked rhetorically of Cotto's first professional defeat, which came in July 2008 in subsequently controversial circumstances. "I think I get to the target quicker because I throw straighter than some other fighters."
By and large, though, Mayweather remained, as he has been throughout the promotion, respectful toward his opponent.
"Miguel is a true warrior, a tough champion, and to go down in the Hall of Fame as one of the best, you have to face the true champions out there," Mayweather said.
Said Cotto: "He's been a gentleman the whole way with me. I've been a gentleman with him. That's the way it should be. You get paid to fight in the ring, not outside the ring."
LAS VEGAS -- It wasn't the first time a crowd had gathered in the MGM Grand to welcome Floyd Mayweather Jr. during fight week, and it likely won't be the last.
Tuesday's throng wasn't nearly as large a gathering as the one that greeted him and Ricky Hatton almost five years ago, but the uniquely Mancunian tsunami that swept over Las Vegas that week defies comparison. Still, there was a sizable British contingent awaiting Mayweather this time, too, and when he looked out from the stage, he sensed their presence instantly, shouting out to them and leading them in a brief rendition of their version of "Winter Wonderland" -- with some slight adjustments, of course. ("There's only one May-weather," he began, and the fans seemed more than happy to play along.)
Saturday's card is dubbed "Ring Kings," and so, one by one, the main protagonists -- Shane Mosley and Saul Canelo Alvarez, who tangle in the co-main event, and Mayweather's opponent, Miguel Cotto -- took their turns upon arriving to sit atop a throne on a dais in the MGM Grand lobby. There, they answered questions from cruiserweight B.J. Flores, who was hosting a live stream of proceedings and who showed the poise and timing of a media veteran, before addressing some TV cameras and disappearing to sit with a phalanx of writers.
Mayweather was last to arrive, 45 minutes after the advertised time, and he took almost that long to make his way through the crowd, signing every autograph he could and soaking up the adoration. Instead of sitting on the stage, he commandeered it, a master showman in his element. And when it was his turn to talk to the TV crews, he wasn't hurried or anxious to move along. He knew full well that this was his show, that it was all about him and that it would move at whatever speed he wanted it to. I took up position behind ESPN's Bernardo Osuna, relaxed and confident that I would get my time to ask all the questions I wanted.
I hadn't counted on the fact that Mayweather might generously be described as having a low boredom threshold. Once Bernardo had finished, I moved into position, but Mayweather had gone, taking off across the stage to immerse himself once more in the adoring throng.
We watched his route through the crowd -- a task made considerably easier by the enormous specimens of humanity who were the bodyguards walking immediately behind him -- hopped down from the stage into his path, smiled and caught his attention. One never knows which Floyd will emerge in an interview: Will he be angry and petulant, happy and charming, thoughtful and expansive? Today, he was feeling too much love to be the former. Instead, he could be found a short distance from Column B and far off from Column C, not necessarily answering the questions he was asked, but holding forth in the way he wanted, the way that would best sell the pay-per-view.
He smiled his big smile into the camera and disappeared again into the crowd, his location easily determined by the wave of sound that greeted him from each new knot of fans, until the lobby fell quiet, and he was gone.
The best way to celebrate a highly satisfying weekend of boxing action? How about a week's worth of killer coverage ahead of Saturday's Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Miguel Cotto junior middleweight title bout in Las Vegas?
To kick things off, "Friday Night Fights" previews Mayweather-Cotto in the clip above.
We know that Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr. won't be fighting each other in the first half of 2012. And we know who Mayweather will be fighting instead on May 5: Miguel Cotto.
So that leaves one part of the spring-season super-duper-star equation left to be revealed, and that's PacMan's June 9 opponent.
Initially, the list of options included four names: Cotto, Juan Manuel Marquez, Timothy Bradley Jr. and Lamont Peterson. Then Mayweather's name was added. Then it was scratched out. Then Cotto crossed himself off.
That leaves three. All indications coming out of every corner of the boxing world suggest that it will be officially announced next week that Bradley will get the assignment.
Nothing against Bradley, an excellent fighter by any measure, but it's time to say what not enough people seem to be saying: This fight should have gone to Marquez. In every conceivable way, he's a better opponent for Pacquiao than Bradley. In fact, as he's proven repeatedly, he's a better opponent for Pacquiao than anyone not named Floyd Mayweather.
In terms of entertainment value, every Pacquiao-Marquez bout is a fight of the year candidate. Every Bradley bout is a technical draw candidate.
From a business perspective, Marquez is the fourth-most bankable name in boxing (behind Pacquiao, Mayweather and Cotto) and his third fight with Pacquiao last November generated an estimated 1.4 million pay-per-view buys. Bradley doesn't have a fan base, meaning a Pac-Bradley pay-per-view will draw however many buys the Filipino legend can draw with just his name and face on the poster.
With regard to who deserves the fight more, the majority of fans believe Marquez deserved the victory over Pacquiao last time out -- in a fight nearly everyone expected PacMan to win by knockout, by the way. Bradley is the top-rated junior welterweight in the world, but his lone fight in the past 12 months, against a used-up Joel Casamayor, hardly qualifies him for a shot at the people's champ.
Looking at what's best for the fans, for fairness and for the folks counting the receipts, it's Marquez over Bradley all day long. So why was Marquez never given serious consideration for a fourth fight with Pacquiao in June? Why was Cotto the frontrunner initially, and why is it Bradley now?
The only explanation that makes sense is that Marquez fought a little too well for his good in November. Say what you will about Bob Arum and his team at Top Rank, but there are no dummies working in that Las Vegas office. Goal No. 1 is to not let Pacquiao lose (except maybe against Mayweather, when Manny is a fight or two away from retirement). And with Marquez, the third fight illustrated that at any weight and on any date, JMM gives Pacquiao fits.
Again, there's nothing wrong with a Pacquiao-Bradley fight. The man known as "Desert Storm" is a top-10 pound-for-pounder and a credible foe.
But he's no Marquez. Not in terms of name value, not in terms of in-ring excitement and not in terms of what's best for the sport.
I guess the Mexican master was never getting a fourth fight against Pacquiao, no matter what transpired last November.
If Marquez had gotten bowled over, as many predicted, it would have provided a conclusive end to their trilogy.
Instead, we got an ending inconclusive enough to ensure that another chapter won't be written.
But while Cotto may be "The Man" at the Garden today, the arena has played host to many a fighter who has punched his way into the history books, and a few hours before Cotto took on Antonio Margarito in front of more than 21,000 screaming fans, a select few were treated to an audience with some of those shining lights from MSG's past: former middleweight champ Vito Antuofermo, still a regular on the New York fight scene; Hall of Fame former lightweight champ Carlos Ortiz; Marvis Frazier, who fought his first four fights at the Garden and whose father won arguably the greatest, and surely the most famous, bout in the arena's history; famed heavyweight contender Gerry Cooney, whose 54-second knockout of Ken Norton is the shortest main event the Garden has staged; Cooney's former in-ring nemesis, and now his out-of-the-ring friend, legendary heavyweight champion Larry Holmes; and the one member of the group who technically is still an active fighter, former heavyweight champ Evander Holyfield.
Although the Garden may have been supplanted by the MGM Grand in Las Vegas as the epicenter of the sport's big events, it still occupies a revered niche in boxing history and in its pomp was the ultimate destination of any aspirant boxer.
"When I first was told I was going to come to MSG and fight here -- oh boy. It's something," Ortiz said. "You have to learn how to conduct yourself, but actually just by thinking of it, you get weak. Weak feet, weak legs. Fighting at MSG, it's out of this world."
It's a feeling, he added, that has yet to truly leave him. "I get chills every time I see the arena from the outside," he said. "Oh boy. 'I fought there,' I say."
"They told me I was going to fight at the Garden against a guy called Bobby Bozic," Holmes recalled of his Garden debut, his fifth professional fight, in 1973. "And I thought I'd better get myself in shape because they said, 'If you win at the Garden, you've got a home.' And so I wanted a home, I wanted to fight here. And I did win that fight, but I almost killed myself winning it because I overtrained, and that six-round fight, it was like Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier in Manila -- except it was a six-round fight and it was Larry Holmes and Bobby Bozic."
Antuofermo recalled fighting in the finals of the Golden Gloves in front of a full house of 20,000 in 1970.
"I was never scared. One of my problems was I was never scared to fight anybody," he said. "But I was scared that night. We walked from the dressing room, and they shut the lights off. And I hear a noise, everybody shouting 'Vi-to'. And that was the scariest moment of my life; my first night at the Garden."
Both Frazier and Holyfield took their professional bows at the Garden -- Frazier assuredly aided by his status as son of one of the greats, Holyfield by his membership in the renowned 1984 Olympic class, several members of whom made their pro debuts that same night.
"I'm fighting against a guy who's Philadelphia state champion," Holyfield said. "This guy looks just like Joe Louis and he was already a champ. He had 12 fights already and I ain't had no fights. So I realized that I'm supposed to win, so I guess I'll go in there … and win."
But if there was one fight at the Garden he could have over, Holyfield admitted, it would be his controversial draw with Lennox Lewis in 1999.
"He's the only guy I ever let get to me," he said. "I told him, 'I'm going to knock you out in the third round.' So the only round he's gonna make sure he don't get knocked out is the third round. I went back to the corner when that round was over, and I started to step out of the ring and walk out. If it wasn't for my son being in the corner, standing right there, I would have walked out. I just didn't want anybody to tell my son, 'Just like your daddy, when he had pressure, he walked out.' That's the only thing that kept me in that ring, because I was so embarrassed by opening my mouth and telling somebody I was going to knock them out in the third round."
For most of those on stage, it had been a long time since they experienced the bright lights and the loud crowds. But for them all, the memories of headlining at the Mecca of Boxing are as vivid as if they had occurred yesterday.
"When I walk in that door, I remember every single fight I had in there," Cooney said. "That's what the Garden means to me."