New York City with its skyscrapers and boroughs teems with a collage of ethnicities and nationalities. But if you’re Miguel Cotto, a Puerto Rican fighter defending the world title, expect to feel at home.
Even against a fighter from Brooklyn.
Cotto (29-0, 24 KOs) defends the WBA welterweight title against former welterweight and junior welterweight champion Zab Judah at Madison Square Garden on Saturday June 9. The fight takes place the night before Puerto Rican Day and will be televised on HBO pay-per-view.
“My first time in New York, my first appearance, that was wonderful,” said Cotto, 26, who first visited New York at age 21. “For the last three years my fights in New York were great.”
Home is just across the Brooklyn Bridge for Judah, but he knows through experience that the historic fight arena will be filled with “Boricuas” and their red, white and blue flags waving in the air.
“If a riot breaks out they (Puerto Ricans) have us out-numbered,” stated Judah (34-4, 25 KOs) during a dinner with reporters. “But other than that I’m not worried about anything.”
Puerto Rican fans will definitely arrive in Madison Square Garden in full force.
Ever since Sixto Escobar recaptured the NBA bantamweight world title against Lou Salica in 1935 at the Garden, Puerto Rican boxers have enjoyed tremendous support from their countrymen.
Who can forget the 11 times lightweight and junior welterweight world champion Carlos Ortiz fought inside the hallowed grounds of the Garden?
In only his third professional bout Ortiz was a crowd-pleaser and attraction for boxing-hungry Boricuas. Some of those he traded blows with for world titles at the Garden included Kenny Lane in 1959, Flash Elorde in 1966 and Ken Buchanan in 1972.
Another Puerto Rican great who brought fans to Madison Square Garden was Jose Torres. He captured the light heavyweight title against Willie Pastrano in 1965 and sent fans joyfully into the streets when he knocked out the favored champion.
Lightweight star Esteban De Jesus handed Roberto Duran his first defeat in 1972 interrupting his reign of terror against other lightweights at the Garden.
Felix “Tito” Trinidad packed the house five times during his welterweight and middleweight prizefights. He only lost once in the Garden and that came against Bernard Hopkins who was on his way to establishing a record for consecutive middleweight world championship defenses.
Trinidad beat William Joppy, Pernell Whitaker, Troy Waters and Ricardo Mayorga as more than 15,000 rabid fans cheered him each time he fought at the Garden during his pugilistic career.
Now here comes Cotto, the no-nonsense Puerto Rican from Caguas with a sledgehammer left hand that stripped fellow Boricua Carlos Quintana from his boxing senses and forced him to quit.
Even a potential foe like Floyd Mayweather, who defeated Judah, has respect for Cotto.
“He can box, he has some skills,” said Mayweather when in Beverly Hills during a luncheon last year.
Cotto’s road to success seemed to be mired with worries from his management about whether or not he was ready for the hard-hitting junior welterweights of his time. During fights against Kelson Pinto, DeMarcus Corley and Ricardo Torres it seemed that his chin could not stand up to the knockout punchers. It seemed to be a matter of time until somebody cracked his defense.
But a funny thing happened when he moved up to the welterweight division. Cotto seemed stronger and less vulnerable.
After fighting another New Yorker Paul Malignaggi in a 12-round decision win at junior welterweight, Cotto moved up to the 147-pound division and stopped both Quintana and Germany’s Oktay Urkal in the 11th round.
This past week Cotto has been traveling throughout Manhattan and other parts of the city meeting fans and throwing out the first pitch at a New York Mets baseball game.
Many expect Cotto to be a part of the Puerto Rican Day parade the next day.
“Everybody chants his name,” said Top Rank’s Ricardo Jimenez who promotes Cotto. “It’s really something to see when he’s parading down the road.”
Judah expects to rain on Cotto’s parade.
“The fans go to the winner,” said Judah, 29, citing his win over Cory Spinks in 2005. “In St. Louis it was a bigger place than the Garden and 23,000 people were against me. But by the end of the night, those same 23,000 people were with me.”
Don’t count on Puerto Rican fans deserting Cotto.
Soto and Pacquiao
One fight flying under the radar of most boxing fans is the showdown between Mexico’s Humberto Soto and Filipino Bobby Pacquiao the younger brother of Manny on Saturday on the Cotto-Judah under card.
Soto has been fighting elimination after elimination but never getting the world title fight promised by the sanctioning organization. Instead he gets an opportunity to fight the extremely rugged Pacquiao.
“They’re all afraid to fight me,” said Soto about the other featherweight and junior lightweight world titleholders. “I should be fighting for a world title now.”
Most boxing experts predict a foul-infested fight with both boxers employing tactics that are not conducive to good sportsmanship.
“You may need a hand counter to keep up with all of the elbows, head butts and low blows they’re going to throw at each other,” said boxing writer Ralph Jimenez. “It’s going to be down and dirty.”
Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. seeks revenge against Grover Wiley the last man to beat his father on the same New York City fight card.
After that, he wants the big fish.
“I want to fight Oscar De La Hoya,” said Chavez while at the fight between De La Hoya and Mayweather last May 5 in Las Vegas.
I’ve been watching Chavez train since he was about 14 years old when he lived in Riverside and it’s amazing to see the improvement each year. But fight De La Hoya?
A match against any of the junior middleweight titleholders would be too much for the oldest son of “El gran campeon Mexicano” at the moment.
Bob Arum said if Chavez wins he will be stepping up in class with stronger fighters.
One more thing, the other son of Chavez has been doing well too. Omar Chavez recently knocked out an opponent in Guadalajara. It was his fourth consecutive knockout in four tries.
Fights on television
Fri. ESPN2, 5 p.m., Herman Ngoudjo (15-1) vs. Randall Bailey (35-5).
Fri. Telefutura, 8 p.m., Giovanni Segura (17-0-1) vs. Daniel Reyes (38-4-1).
Sat. HBO pay-per-view, 6 p.m., Miguel Cotto (29-0) vs. Zab Judah (34-4); Julio Cesar Chavez (31-0-1) vs. Grover Wiley (30-9-1); Bobby Pacquiao (27-12-3) vs. Humberto Soto (41-5-2).
Sat. Showtime, 10 p.m., Chad Dawson (23-0) vs. Jesus Ruiz (19-4).
PHOTO BY CHRIS FARINA/TOP RANK