In A Rarity, Miguel Cotto Will Exit Boxing With His Health and Wealth

The prevailing thought is WBO junior middleweight title holder Miguel Cotto 41-5 (33) will retire after he meets Sadam Ali 25-1 (14) this weekend at Madison Square Garden. And if he does, that’ll no doubt be the culmination of a surefire Hall of Fame Career. Cotto, who turned pro in February of 2001 after representing Puerto Rico in the 2000 Olympics, is a pro’s pro and knows the fighting and business end of boxing as good as anyone, and that’s why I’m reluctant to think we’ll never see him fight again, especially if he looks good versus Ali.

If Cotto looks good, defeating Ali in a semi-spectacular fashion, I believe he’ll say he’s retired from boxing. However, with another impressive win in his pocket, his name will still have a lot of value and Miguel knows it.

The first Puerto Rican to win a world title in four different divisions, Cotto turned 37 years old in September. He fought during a very rich era of junior welterweight and welterweight fighters, having met the best of the best, sometimes as the A side and sometimes as the B side. Along the way he learned the business side of boxing watching greats the likes of Bernard Hopkins and Floyd Mayweather. What Cotto gleaned from Hopkins was how to alter his style as he moved up in weight, understanding that as a fighter moves up in weight he can no longer use strength on strength to win. As he was moving up, he figured out just what styles he matched up with best and picked his opponents accordingly. From Mayweather he picked up on when he should fight certain fighters, and at what weight, and he learned well.

Along the way, Cotto was the beneficiary in some catch-weight bouts, and others not so much, and realized both the best and worst of boxing. The worst came on the night of July 26th, 2008 when Cotto, then undefeated, defended his WBA welterweight title against Antonio Margarito. The bout, which was exciting for the most part, ended in the 11th round with Cotto having absorbed a terrible beating. As the fight progressed, Cotto’s face became a bloody and swollen mess.

Subsequently, it was believed by many observers — but never proven — that Margarito used plaster-fortified hand wraps. It is assumed Miguel was fighting at a severe disadvantage and could have been permanently injured. A little over three years later, Cotto would get a measure of revenge, stopping Margarito in 10 rounds to retain his WBA (super) light middleweight title.

On the plus side of Cotto’s pro career, he compiled a 19-5 (16) record in title bouts and 16-5 (12) record against former, current, and future world titlists. He has beaten the likes of Randall Bailey, Paulie Malignaggi, Carlos Quintana, Zab Judah, Shane Mosley, Antonio Margarito and Sergio Martinez, just to name a few, and has only lost to Margarito, Manny Pacquiao, Floyd Mayweather, Canelo Alvarez and Austin Trout, with Pacquiao, Mayweather and Canelo destined to be first ballot Hall of Famers.

In addition, Cotto did something few fighters — especially ones who are limited by their height and reach like him – have successfully pulled off, and that is change their style. In his early years fighting at 140, Miguel was an attacker. He constantly pushed the fight, trying to work his way inside to work the body, hoping to slow his opponents in the later rounds where he could force them to trade with him. As he moved up in weight with his physical strength less pronounced, his game evolved and he became more of an out-boxer, using his jab and legs to create distance as he waited for the most opportune time to go on the offensive. Not many great fighters who started out as a swarmer managed to transform their style as smoothly and successfully as Miguel Cotto. Among the others, Roberto Duran and Marco Antonio Barrera come to mind.

Throughout most of Cotto’s career he was overshadowed by Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, but I think in the eyes of most hardcore boxing fans he’s as respected as both and maybe even more. As much as Miguel learned to work the system once he became an established star, picking fighters to meet at the most ideal time, he wasn’t the equal of Floyd and Manny in that regard.

The upcoming fight with Sadam Ali is another example of Cotto picking the perfect opponent; there’s not much chance that he’ll lose. Everyone knows Ali doesn’t really deserve a title shot against Cotto, but that happens all the time in boxing. In his only previous title shot, in March of 2016, Ali was stopped in the ninth round by Jessie Vargas. During the fight Ali was hurt by a single body shot in the second round, then won some rounds along the way before being dropped in the eighth by an overhand right. Going into the ninth round Harold Lederman, HBO’s unofficial judge, had the fight 76-75 Vargas or 4-4 in rounds with the extra point for the knockdown being the difference. Vargas dropped Ali again with a right in the ninth, and after Ali absorbed a few more punches the referee stopped the bout with Ali still on his feet.

Cotto knows Ali isn’t much of a puncher and hasn’t fought above welterweight since 2010. At one time Ali was thought to be a fighter to watch, but he hasn’t lived up to the hype. It’s doubtful he hits hard enough to make Cotto do a thing he doesn’t want to. Miguel should notch his ninth win in 10 fights at the Garden and go out with his health, wealth, respect, and his title intact. That’s a great ending for a fighter who has fought as long as Cotto while meeting so many elite fighters.

It’s been a lot of fun watching Miguel Cotto. He never cheated the fans even once during his career, something else that sets him apart from other fighters of his caliber. Sure, he may lack a signature career-defining win and picked his spots along the way, but Mayweather has been given a pass in that regard.

Hopefully Cotto will get the win over Sadam Ali and then hang up the gloves for good, never to return. Not many greats go out defending their title with a win in their final bout. I hope Cotto doesn’t sell out for money down the road and make a comeback, but I can’t say I’d be surprised if he did.

Photo credit: Marcelino Castillo

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