Commentary

Cotto: 'It will be my best, biggest victory'

Originally Published: February 28, 2012
By Brian Campbell | ESPN.com

It wasn't that long ago, following two punishing -- and facially disfiguring -- losses in the span of 16 months, that Miguel Cotto appeared close to the end of his increasingly legendary career. But Cotto, 31, has undergone a career rebirth at 154 pounds thanks to three consecutive victories, all by knockout.

Most recently, Cotto (37-2, 30 KOs) avenged his first career defeat with an emotional victory over nemesis Antonio Margarito to set up the most important and lucrative bout of his 11-year career. On May 5, Cotto will defend his junior middleweight title against pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather Jr. (42-0, 26 KOs) on pay-per-view in Las Vegas. Ending, for the moment, a relationship with Top Rank that has spanned all of his 39 professional bouts, Cotto has enjoyed the freedom that comes with being a promotional free agent.

An exciting and often-vulnerable four-time champion in three weight classes, Cotto is at the peak of his marketability entering a fight that should draw colossal figures financially. Adding to the drama is the 35-year-old Mayweather's pending jail sentence, set to begin June 1, for domestic violence charges, along with his -- and the public's -- desire for a superfight with Manny Pacquiao following his release.

Just days before kicking off a three-city promotional tour in his native Puerto Rico, Cotto sat down with ESPN.com in our Bristol, Conn., headquarters to talk about his mindset two months away from fight night.

[+] EnlargeMiguel Cotto
Gabriel Gonzalez/Hoganphotos/ Golden Boy PromotionsMiguel Cotto admits having doubts after his 2008 loss to Antonio Margarito, but he won the rematch decisively. "Beating him helped me close that for good," Cotto said.

Most people believe this fight against Mayweather should have taken place five years ago. From your point of view, why hasn't it happened until now?
First of all, I'm always available to face everyone. My feeling is that if the fight didn't happen before, then it wasn't right for my case [at the time]. It is available now and will happen this year on Saturday, May 5, so I am going to be prepared.

Was the Mayweather fight one that you pushed for through the years at any point behind the scenes with Bob Arum?
I never pushed for it at any time before. I would just see what is the best fight that I can get fight by fight. This one is the best one for me now. This is the best chapter in my career so far.

You do look somewhat reborn at junior middleweight, especially under new trainer Pedro Diaz in your most recent fight. How different are you as a fighter now, compared to your early prime before the 2008 loss to Margarito?
I have always tried to be just a power puncher and work [the body]. That's exactly how I always want to fight. But like I told Pedro before, Margarito stole from myself a lot of things with the first loss of my career. When we started in preparation for [the rematch] against him, I felt more energetic and better. Margarito stole things from me, and now I am back.

Are you referring to Margarito "stealing" your unbeaten invincibility when he defeated you using allegedly loaded hand wraps? How much doubt did you experience after that fight? How important was it for you to defeat him so convincingly in the rematch?
In the beginning, right after the loss, there were moments that I felt this way. But now I trust myself. Beating him helped me close that for good. The huge thing about the victory was to prove to the world what he did in 2008.

What is it about working with Diaz that has made you so comfortable?
He brings like another kind of training. He brings new things to me that I have never done before. Those kinds of things make my training more challenging. They have made me more comfortable in trusting myself.

What does landing this fight with Mayweather and the possibility of winning it mean to you at this point in your career?
I am pretty excited. But I am more excited for getting into the gym, getting into my camp and being prepared enough for anything he can bring. This is going to be my best and biggest victory for everyone to see on May 5.

It seems no one has put Mayweather in any kind of danger over a series of consecutive rounds since Jose Luis Castillo in 2002. Given the success of Floyd's defensive and counterpunching abilities, how much will you have to alter your style in order to be effective against him?
No matter which way Mayweather comes, I will prepare myself for anything he brings to the fight. If he decides to run or if he decides to stand and fight, I will be prepared. My life circumstances are better right now, and I will be ready.

With regard to those life circumstances, it seems you've achieved a level of peace unlike that at any other point in your career. Would you agree with that perception, and how has that translated to inside the ring?
The way I live now [outside the ring] is a better way. I have better circumstances and I have my whole family beside me. That has made me work and think better inside the ring.

The Mayweather fight will be the first of your career without Top Rank. Does that mean anything come fight night, or is it just business and something completely separate from the ring?
I have to give thanks to Top Rank and to Bob [Arum], Todd [duBoef] and others. They made me the boxer that I am today. But it's a new chapter in my career. Like they said before, it's a free-agent chapter and I'm going to enjoy it. Now I can understand the business better and I can go into places I have never been before because [Top Rank] has been there with me before. They have been my promoters. But now I am like my own promoter.

There were rumors before you signed for this fight that you were going to face Manny Pacquiao in a rematch. How close was the fight to coming off, and is getting a chance to avenge the loss something you're still interested in?
I'm always available for the big names and the biggest opportunities in my career. After this fight, if something like Pacquiao would be available, I could be interested. A few things happened in our fight -- I didn't keep the rhythm of the first two or three rounds. But now, with Pedro, he is the kind of trainer who is going to help me get into the perfect rhythm to get the victory.

How much do you think the pending prison sentence could affect Mayweather leading up to the fight? Do you think that he has slowed down at all or shown signs of slipping at age 35?
I don't know if he feels or felt his best before, but the only thing I have in my mind is that I have to get myself into my best shape and be in the best condition. I can't tell you these kinds of things stay in his mind. But it [can't] be easy for a person to have the knowledge that in a few days after the fight, they have to go to jail, and [to] keep this situation in your mind and train and go through your life. But I think he is pretty tough.

Finally, you turned 31 recently, and it's no secret you are in the second half of your career. Do you ever think about your legacy and how you want to be remembered?
I just want to be remembered like one of the good boxers in [the sport]. But the most important thing for me is what my family and what my kids think about me. That is all I have to care about.

Brian Campbell is an ESPN Mobile editor and contributor to ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BCampbellESPN.