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Saturday, December 1, 2012
Updated: December 2, 7:32 PM ET
Cotto learns lesson the hard way

By Wallace Matthews
ESPNNewYork.com

We all know the old saying about the lawyer who defends himself having a fool for a client.

Well, the same can be said about the boxer who promotes himself.

Saturday night, Miguel Cotto staged a Cotto-palooza at Madison Square Garden. He fought the main event and acted as its co-promoter. He chose the venue, negotiated his own paycheck, even, as promoters do, had a hand in the selection of officials.

Most importantly, he chose the opponent.

In boxing parlance, Cotto brought his own music -- the opponent, Austin Trout, an unbeaten but comparatively light-hitting southpaw without a single big-name scalp on his record -- but by the end of the night, he was singing a sad song.

Coming into the bout, Cotto had lost to just three fighters -- Antonio Margarito, Floyd Mayweather, and Manny Pacquiao -- and there was no reason to believe the name of Austin Trout would join them.

Miguel Cotto
Miguel Cotto couldn't handle Austin Trout.

Cotto, of Caguas, Puerto Rico, entered a room full of his countrymen. He looked up at an upper deck draped in Puerto Rican flags. Before the bout, the crowd hushed for a ceremonial 10-count in honor of the late Hector Camacho, a great Puerto Rican champion, and at the start of the bout the Garden rocked with chants of "Cotto! Cotto!'"

But 48 minutes later, Cotto had been outboxed, outworked, bloodied and clearly outfought, losing an embarrassingly one-sided decision -- he won just one round on one of the scorecards -- and leaving his raucous fans in stunned disbelief.

"He was a really slippery boxer,'" Cotto said. "He knew how to move, how to use his elbows, how to keep me from landing my punches.'"

And to put the cherry on his bloody sundae, instead of getting beat in the Garden ring, Cotto could have been in the final week of training for a rematch with Pacquiao.

But Cotto spurned a reported $6 million guaranteed paycheck, with the possibility of making as much as $10 million on pay-per-view receipts, in favor of starring in his own show for an estimated $2 million.

Now, Juan Manuel Marquez gets the shot at Pacquiao on December 8 -- their fourth meeting -- while Cotto gets a one-way ticket to Palookaville.

His performance against Trout was desultory, his punches flat, and although he has given some of his best performances against southpaws, often looked as if he had never faced one before.

Meanwhile, Trout, not a big puncher but a precise one, boxed rings around Cotto, leaving him looking like a tattooed gargoyle, with his lips dripping blood, his eyes swollen and his cheekbones welted at the end of 12 convincing rounds. It wasn't a great fight, but a tactical one, and all the effective tactics belonged to Trout.

There is a lesson to be learned here and it is simply this: The fighter is always a poor judge of his own abilities, and the fighter acting as promoter is worse.

Cotto the promoter was unable to see that at 32 years old, Cotto the fighter was grossly unprepared to face a sharp, fast lefty, and at $2 million, Cotto the fighter was being grossly underpaid.

And even a novice fighter has to understand this brutal truth: If you're going to get beat, at least get paid for it.

The Cotto who lost to Trout would never have beaten Pacquiao, either, but he could buy a lot more ice, aspirin and TLC with the additional $4 million.

After the fight, Cotto said, "He's a southpaw so it was a difficult fight.'"

And yet, just three days earlier, at the final post-fight news conference, Cotto had said, "I've never had a problem with southpaws, so I don't expect to have any problem with him.''

Wrong.

And when he was asked why he had chosen Trout, Cotto had said, "He was the best choice for me, in every way.''

But Trout turned out to be the wrong choice, on every level.

From the first round on, it seemed clear that Trout would not be as easy an opponent as Cotto expected him to be.

Working behind a probing right jab, Trout was able to find Cotto's face easily, and set up his straight left to the body, and with obvious effect in the opening round, to the head.

Still, the rounds were close for the first half of the fight until Trout began to pull away over the second half. He enjoyed his best round in the 11th, buckling Cotto's knees with a 1-2 and then scoring sharply with his back in the corner, a place where Cotto normally does heavy damage, in the final 10 seconds of the round.

But the most striking round was the 12th, when, with three minutes standing between him and an ignominious defeat, Cotto couldn't even muster the energy or enthusiasm to mount a desperation attack.

The final margins of victory were out of line -- Trout won 117-111 on two cards and 119-109 on the third -- but they got the winner right. Not even the heavily pro-Cotto crowd of 13,096 could do much more than mutter in disappointment as the cards were read. The ESPNNewYork.com card had Trout a 115-113 winner.

"I'm numb right now. I don't feel anything," said Trout (26-0) of Las Cruces, N.M., who technically was defending his junior middleweight title but was treated as a supporting player throughout the promotion. "It's probably going to hit me three days from now."

A gasp went up from the crowd when the cards were read, and some confusion in the building when the ring announcer shouted, "And STILL champion . . . ,'' because it was widely assumed that since it was Cotto's house, Cotto's promotion, and ostensibly, Cotto's night, it must also have been Cotto's title on the line.

"When I heard unanimous I was kinda like, 'ohhhh,''' Trout said. "I was a little nervous. Because it was in Madison Square Garden, there were a lot of close rounds, but I didn't think I was going to get them. If there's any doubt to whether I won or not, I'm all for doing it again.''

That is neither likely nor necessary.

Now, the big-money showdown with Canelo Alvarez, who came to the Garden to scout Cotto, is probably going to Trout. The rematches with Pacquiao and/or Mayweather are probably dead issues.

And there even seemed to be some doubt as to whether Cotto, now 38-4, would even fight again.

"I'm not thinking about boxing right now," he said. "I'm just thinking of spending Christmas with my family, and take this time just to think. I just want to rest for awhile. I never in my career have made excuses. I accept my defeats and I learn from them."

The lesson Cotto is likely to learn from this one is one he should have known before he decided to take this fight -- that there's a reason why fighters fight, and promoters promote.

And it's hard enough to do one without trying to do both.