When Miguel Cotto entered the ring against Antonio Margarito on July 26, 2008, he did so as more than a well thought-of champion. With a record of 32-0 and 26 knockouts, Cotto was on the short list of best pound for pound fighters in the world. He had recent wins over near peak-level fighters like Shane Mosley and Zab Judah. When the bell sounded for round one, he was the favorite.
Early on, Cotto made the odds-makers look wise. His superior skill, hand speed, and activity kept him in control of the early rounds. However, his fortunes started to change midway through the fight. While he was still winning on points, he appeared to be the worse for wear despite what the punch counts might have told you. In some ways, it was similar to the great Meldrick Taylor/Julio Caesar Chavez fight, where for most of the fight, your brain told you one thing, but as time passed and you looked upon the faces of the combatants in their respective corner, your eyes told you another.
Everyone knew Margarito had a beard made of stone, so it was no surprise that while he may have taken more punches, his chin was holding steady. However, Cotto began to look more and more like a man who had been held at a CIA “black ops” site, undergoing enhanced interrogation.
Cotto had been stung in rounds before. His offensive heavy style meant there was always an element of risk involved in any of his fights. This was different though. He looked hurt. Broken down. By the time the fight hit the championship rounds, this suspicion became manifest as Margarito narrowed the scorecards and forced Cotto to a knee in the 11th. That night I saw something I had never seen before from Cotto. In the past when he had been tagged with something heavy, his response was to come back with some fire of his own. Against Margarito, Cotto looked afraid. He began to dance around the ring and was continually backing away in an effort to avoid the Mexican fighter’s heavy handed onslaught.
While Cotto would not quit, his corner wisely realized they needed to save him from himself and threw in the towel shortly after the 11th round knockdown. Even after taking a savage beating, Cotto was still only down on one card 94-96, with the other two scoring the fight a draw through the tenth.
Miguel Cotto has never been quite the same after that. The beating he took on that July evening slowed his speed and impacted his skill set. He is still a good fighter, but you can tell he has been changed. After a solid TKO victory over the ‘B’ level Michael Jennings and an uninspiring split decision victory over Joshua Clottey, Cotto suffered another beating in the ring, this time at the hands of Manny Pacquiao, who scored two knockdowns against the Puerto Rican before the fight was mercifully stopped in the 12th.
Cotto followed that loss with TKO wins over Yuri Foreman (who due to injury was fighting on one leg), and the faded Ricardo Mayorga. Cotto had always wanted a rematch against Margarito. On December 3, 2011, he got his wish. As fight fans know, some interesting evidence came to light about Antonio Margarito in the interim. Prior to his fight with Shane Mosley in January of 2009, Margarito had been unmasked as a cheat when a pre-fight inspection revealed he had been mixing plaster in with his hand wraps. Interestingly enough, Margarito took a beating of his own that night at the hands of “Sugar” Shane.
However, Cotto wanted justice of his own. And in their rematch, he found a measure of that when the fight was stopped in the 9th due to Cotto battering Margarito’s right eye into an unsightly swollen mess.
Still, it felt a bit like a pyrrhic victory though. Cotto’s once wildfire, audience-pleasing style had been diminished by caution, weakened reflexes, and an inability to fully recover from 10 plus rounds of punches from the likely loaded gloves of Margarito in their first fight.
Wide decision losses to Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Austin Trout followed. The latter defeat was particularly concerning. Trout is a fine fighter, but no world beater. Cotto was listless and all but outclassed against a boxer who he would have likely bounced around the ring prior to his first fight with Margarito. On that evening, Miguel Cotto looked very close to the end.
After that bordering on embarrassing loss, Cotto changed gears and reached out to Freddie Roach to take over the duties of trainer. The results were immediate and maybe even remarkable. Cotto looked spectacular in stopping solid pro Delvin Rodriguez in the 3rd and thoroughly dominated—if not ended—the once great Sergio Martinez with a 10th round retirement.
In both fights, Cotto showed a craft and skill level he had not shown in a very long time. While it’s fair to say that neither Rodriguez nor Martinez are “great” opponents at this point in their careers, the advancement of Cotto’s career—which seemed all but over after the Trout fight—is extraordinary. No one would have blamed you if you thought his days of being a top tier fighter in big money bouts was over. Were it not for the Mayweather/Pacquiao soap opera finally finding a penultimate date, Cotto might have fought either of them. This was a possibility that would have seemed not only unlikely, but depressing just two years before.
This second wind of Cotto’s is rather unexpected. Maybe it’s fool’s gold. Maybe he’ll be exposed if he gets in the ring with Golovkin or the winner of Manny/Money. That might not only be possible, but perhaps likely.
Still, when we consider all that Cotto has been through and what Margarito’s malfeasance may have robbed from him over three years ago, it’s essential to reach a favorable if honestly mixed conclusion about the career of Miguel Cotto. He will never be as great as he could have been, but he’s also more than he should have been. Those two thoughts may appear to be mutually exclusive. They are not.
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