- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
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LAS VEGAS -- Like the sun breaking through a dark cloud after a rain storm, that is Miguel Cotto's mood in the aftermath of his emotional 10th-round knockout of Antonio Margarito in their grudge rematch in December.
The cloud cover that hung over Cotto's career lasted more than three years between his two fights with Margarito. But now, as Cotto heads into his third junior middleweight title defense, against welterweight champion Floyd Mayweather Jr. on Saturday night (9 ET, HBO PPV, $59.95) at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, he said he feels like a new man.
"If this fight happened before Dec. 3, it wouldn't have been the right moment for this fight," a relaxed Cotto said following Wednesday's final news conference. "Now is the right moment for the fight."
That's because, Cotto said, the cathartic victory against Margarito has given him a renewed vigor and enthusiasm for boxing that he predicts will help lead him to victory against Mayweather, the heavy favorite who is moving up in weight to a division where he fought once before and captured a title.
Cotto said he has finally put the demons from the first Margarito fight behind him.
"The Margarito chapter was opened in 2008, and now I have closed it for the rest of my life, forever," Cotto said. "Now I move forward."
In 2008, Cotto was 32-0, a welterweight champion and one of the hottest fighters in boxing, seemingly destined for greatness. Then that July, he and Margarito squared off in a major Puerto Rico-versus-Mexico showdown. It was one of the biggest fights of the year.
And it delivered the kind of action fans had anticipated. Cotto dominated the first half of the fight, but as the rounds wore on, Margarito's thudding punches began to take their toll. Cotto's face became disfigured and nothing he did could slow down Margarito. It was self-preservation that made Cotto, his face covered in blood, finally twice take a knee in the 11th-round of the TKO loss.
He took the defeat hard, but six months later there were questions about its legitimacy because before Margarito entered the ring to face Shane Mosley in his next fight, he was caught trying to wear hand wraps coated in a plaster-like substance, leading to a license revocation.
Like many, Cotto said he believes that Margarito must have gotten away with cheating against him even though it can never be proved. How else to explain the profound facial damage, other than similarly loaded hand wraps?
Cotto, of course, continued his career, snagging wins against lesser fighters in Michael Jennings (for a vacant welterweight title) and Joshua Clottey before running into the great Manny Pacquiao and being stopped in the 12th round.
Cotto said he could live with that defeat more than the loss to Margarito.
"Pacquiao was better than me that night," he said. "He didn't use anything extra to beat me."
But Cotto said his mind wasn't right against Pacquiao because he still hadn't recovered from the Margarito defeat.
"When you pass through a horrible fight like was the one with Margarito in 2008 " Cotto said, not finishing his thought. "In my case, he took away a lot of good things I had before, like confidence in myself, like being anxious to get in the gym to work, and all the trust I had in myself. He took that away from me."
After the loss to Pacquiao, Cotto beat two more lesser fighters, taking a junior middleweight title from Yuri Foreman by TKO and also stopping faded former titlist Ricardo Mayorga, which set up December's rematch with Margarito.
After heavy scrutiny of Margarito's hand wraps, Cotto battered his opponent's surgically repaired right eye with abandon until the bout was stopped. Cotto stood a few feet from Margarito after the end of the fight and simply stared at him, relishing the sweet moment of vengeance.
He was whole again.
"After the victory on Dec. 3, all those things came back to me," he said. "And I feel better from Day 1 of the training camp."
Cotto's rediscovered confidence hasn't gone unnoticed by Golden Boy promoter Oscar De La Hoya.
"It had to be demoralizing, a loss in that fashion against Margarito and then to live with it thinking he was done physically and spiritually, and then thinking he was cheating," De La Hoya said. "Mentally, it had to be in his head. So the fact that he goes back and beats Margarito -- normally fighters who get beat in that fashion don't want to see that fighter again -- was big. The fact that he did beat Margarito took a huge weight off his back."
Mayweather (42-0, 26 KOs) said he didn't think Cotto (37-2, 30 KOs) should have fought Margarito for a second time, believing that "if a guy cheated once, a guy will cheat again. I wouldn't have even got back in there with Antonio Margarito. As a promoter, Bob Arum shouldn't have even put him back in there with Cotto. The guy should have been banned from the sport. But if that helped Miguel Cotto to be reborn to face me, and that's going to bring the best Miguel Cotto out, then that's the guy that I need."
De La Hoya thinks that's what Mayweather will get.
"He's erased that bad memory he's had lingering over his head," De La Hoya said of Cotto. "He's erased it. It's a big confidence boost. The times I've talked to Miguel and watched him train, he looks like a new fighter, like a fresh fighter."
Cotto is also a man at peace with himself.
"I have everything I took from Margarito's victory -- things he stole from me, things he grabbed from me," Cotto said. "I have it back, and I feel much better right now.
"When you find peace in life, when your family brings you peace, when the people around you bring you peace, you live in a peaceful atmosphere. That's where I am right now. I have peace in my heart and in my life. Everything I'm going to do in my life, I do it with peace, and that's made me work better, [get] comfortable, and much, much [more able to] concentrate in my work."
It's that peace that Cotto believes will help him deliver a victory against the No. 1 fighter in the world.
"Nobody is invincible in life," Cotto said. "I'm ready for anything Floyd brings me. The question is, is Floyd ready for anything Miguel can bring to him? I know he's a hard worker. He said to everybody he's a hard worker, but he's going to have in front of him a hard worker like him. I'm trusting in myself. I know what I have to do to get the victory."
With the pall over Miguel Cotto's career lifted after he took revenge against Antonio Margarito, the junior middleweight champ says he's now in the right frame of mind to take down Floyd Mayweather Jr.