Cotto's fights at MSG add to a country's weekend festivities

Updated: June 5, 2009, 11:04 AM ET

Chris Cozzone/

New York-based Puerto Ricans will have something to cheer about when Miguel Cotto fights at MSG for the sixth time in his career.

Top Rank, Cotto carve out a tradition

If you're a baseball fan, you know there is a World Series to look forward to each October. In college basketball, there's March Madness. The first Saturday in May is the Kentucky Derby in horse racing. Most sports have a traditional time of year for their biggest events.

In boxing, there is no offseason and no centralized authority to schedule events. Big fights can happen just about any time of year. It all depends on what event promoters decide to try to put together for their fighters.

Although it is common for there to be some sort of big Hispanic-themed card in Las Vegas around the time of Mexican Independence Day in mid-September, and to a lesser extent a notable Las Vegas card in early May on Cinco De Mayo weekend, what about the rest of the country? Or a different nationality?

Bob Arum's Top Rank, which has been promoting fights for 43 years and certainly has done its share of those May and September cards, has been developing a tradition the past few years of having a major card at New York's Madison Square Garden in mid-June on the eve of the annual National Puerto Rican Day Parade.

What began as just a way of linking one of its top stars, Puerto Rico's Miguel Cotto, to a weekend when many of his countrymen would be looking for entertainment options has become one of the centerpieces of the weekend and a weekend for boxing fans to circle on the calendar.

"It just made sense," Arum said. "Miguel wasn't as big then [when the tradition started in 2005] as he is now and Puerto Ricans were coming up from San Juan to New York and it made all the sense in the world."

Top Rank and Cotto will invade the Garden yet again on June 13 (HBO, 10:35 p.m. ET, free preview weekend) when Cotto (33-1, 27 KOs) defends his welterweight belt against former titleholder Joshua Clottey (35-2, 20 KOs), who gave up an alphabet title to make the fight possible.

Cotto enjoys being part of the parade weekend.

"It means a lot to me. I am a big fan of Puerto Rican weekend there in New York, and to be a part of that would mean a lot for any person," Cotto said from his training camp in Tampa. "Now, in my career, it is like a tradition. Every year fighting in front of thousands of Puerto Rican people at Madison Square Garden means a lot to me."

The idea to tie Cotto to the Puerto Rican parade weekend was the brainchild of Todd duBoef, president of Top Rank and Arum's stepson.

Oscar De La Hoya


Oscar De La Hoya, above, proved to be a ticket seller on Mexican Independence Day weekend.

"The revelation came largely from kind of applying the Las Vegas model of Mexican Independence Day weekend in September," duBoef said. "The Las Vegas casinos look at that weekend as a big weekend for the hotels and fights. We had been promoting shows on Mexican Independence Day weekend with Oscar [De La Hoya]. Julio Cesar Chavez had gone a couple of times on that weekend, and they were big successes. After Chavez, we jumped on those dates for Oscar."

In 2000, Top Rank signed several members of the Puerto Rican Olympic team, including Cotto and Ivan "Iron Boy" Calderon, who also will be on the card.

DuBoef said that after he made the commitment to get involved with several Puerto Rican prospects, it was a "natural symbiosis with the Puerto Ricans in New York in June, when they have their big weekend, and the Mexicans in Las Vegas in September. So I said why don't we try putting an event on the Puerto Rican parade weekend? That was the genesis of it."

It has worked like a charm.

Next weekend's fight will be Cotto's sixth appearance at Madison Square Garden -- four of which will have come on the eve of the parade, which is a huge cultural event for New York's large Puerto Rican population as well as thousands who head north from the Caribbean island to celebrate.

The first time Cotto fought on parade weekend, as well as his first time fighting at the Garden, came in 2005, when he made his third junior welterweight defense against Mohamad Abdulaev, the 2000 Olympic gold medalist who had eliminated Cotto in his opening match in Sydney. He drew 10,231.

In 2006, Cotto again defended his 140-pound title, this time against New Yorker Paulie Malignaggi in an exciting fight, and drew 14,365.

When Cotto defended his welterweight belt in 2007 against another New Yorker, Zab Judah, in one of the fights of the year, it drew a record crowd of 20,658.

Cotto went west last summer to fight Antonio Margarito in July in Las Vegas but is returning to his now-traditional weekend and venue to face Clottey, a Ghana native living in the Bronx.

Clearly, Top Rank is on to something with its development of a big show on the second weekend of June because Arum said the fight already has sold about 14,000 tickets.

The weekend has become one when Puerto Rican fighters aspire to box.

Calderon (32-0, 6 KOs), a former long-reigning strawweight champion and now the junior flyweight champion, had wanted to fight on the Puerto Rican parade card for several years, but it never worked out until this year. He'll defend the 108-pound championship against Rodel Mayol (25-3, 19 KOs) of the Philippines in the chief supporting bout, although it won't be part of the HBO telecast.

You can tell how pumped Calderon is just listening to him talk about his spot on the card.

"It has been my dream to fight at Madison Square Garden with Miguel Cotto," Calderon said. "I had never been able to fight at Madison Square Garden or on the weekend of the Puerto Rican parade. People are always asking to see me fight there on that weekend. This year, I get to."

Top Rank plans to continue the tradition long after Cotto and Calderon retire.

"What this means is, you make it a full weekend for the Puerto Ricans who live in New York and the thousands that come into New York for the parade," Arum said. "This just adds having a big fight at Madison Square Garden with a prominent fighter to the festivities. It's something that we like doing and the Garden likes doing and we hope to be doing it for years to come, not only with Miguel but with the other Puerto Rican fighters that are being developed."

Fight falls in Malignaggi's lap

This past weekend, former junior welterweight titlist Paulie Malignaggi was down after Mike Alvarado withdrew from their June 27 fight on Top Rank's pay-per-view card. But things change fast in boxing, and a few days later, Malignaggi felt good again because another fight, one that is higher-profile and more lucrative, fell in his lap.

Golden Boy Promotions' Eric Gomez, hunting for an opponent to face former lightweight titleholder Juan Diaz on HBO in the main event of a "Boxing After Dark" tripleheader Aug. 22, called Malignaggi promoter Lou DiBella to inquire about their interest in the fight, which HBO already has approved. The parties have been negotiating the deal for the past few days.

Malignaggi (26-2, 5 KOs), on the comeback trail from a one-sided 11th-round TKO loss to Ricky Hatton in November, and DiBella want the fight.

Paulie Malignaggi, Ricky Hatton

AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

Paulie Malignaggi, left, wants to be remembered for something other than a humiliating loss to Ricky Hatton.

"I was excited about the opportunity to fight on the Top Rank pay-per-view," Malignaggi told "The Hatton fight left a bad taste in my mouth. I'm in a rush to show people what I'm about, that I'm not finished. I'm only 28, and I still have a lot to give."

Now, he hopes to show it against Diaz (34-2, 17 KOs), who was knocked out in his hometown of Houston in the ninth round by Juan Manuel Marquez on Feb. 28.

"A fight with Diaz gives me another opportunity against a top opponent," the New Yorker said. "We're both coming off big losses in big fights, so it's like an elimination. He needs to win or it's three losses in four fights. And I can't afford to lose a fight like this, either."

Diaz would have to come up from 135 pounds and get close to the 140-pound junior welterweight limit. Malignaggi said he can do the fight at 139.

"I would like maybe 139. If I could make 135 pounds, I'd be fighting at 135," he said.

Malignaggi also said he is willing to go to Houston, where Golden Boy plans to put on the fight.

"I would just like a situation with the fairest shake possible," Malignaggi said, noting that because neither of them is a big puncher, the fight likely will go to the scorecards. "I feel like I can beat Diaz. No disrespect to him. He's a quality fighter, a champion and a warrior. I'm glad it fell in my lap. It will bring out the best in both of us. I'm really grateful to HBO. I didn't have a great performance against Hatton, but I will put on a great show on my end, and Juan Diaz is never in a bad fight."

Said DiBella, "It's a good matchup. We prefer the fight outside of Houston, but as long as the money is fair, Paulie will go there. It's a great opportunity. It's a bigger opportunity than the Alvarado fight."

Malignaggi returned from the loss to Hatton on April 25 to win a lopsided decision against Chris Fernandez on the Carl Froch-Jermain Taylor undercard.

Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for



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"When Chris John and I fought on Feb. 28 it ended in a draw. It was a good, tough fight and Chris John is tough fighter. If Chris John thinks the fight on Feb. 28 was tough, he better be ready, because this fight is going to be harder." -- featherweight contender Rocky Juarez, on his title rematch with John on June 27 (HBO).



"I am very disappointed that the fight got cancelled. I've been in training camp for weeks. I am in top condition and I was really looking forward to fight night. I don't want to disappoint the fans and I am willing to fight a different opponent." -- unified heavyweight titleholder Wladimir Klitschko, reacting to Wednesday's news that injured David Haye had pulled out of their June 20 fight.