One Last Bow from Puerto Rico’s Miguel Cotto

It was two months before the World Trade Towers would no longer exist following a horrendous terrorist attack in New York City.

A Los Angeles boxing card featured Roy Jones Jr. at the height of his power against Julio Gonzalez, a unification title fight in the light heavyweight division. On the same card making his California debut was Miguel Cotto.

The Puerto Rican was being touted as the next Felix Trinidad who at the time was near the top of most pound for pound lists behind Jones.

Comparing this young fighter to “Tito” was laughable at the time. But Top Rank’s Todd DuBoef was adamant in his belief that here was another gem.

Cotto had participated in the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney the year before and though he did not medal DuBoef wanted Top Rank to sign the then 20-year-old to a contract.

When he appeared inside the Staples Center it was only the second time a boxing event had taken place there. A year earlier Oscar De La Hoya and Shane Mosley had baptized the arena to boxing in one of the most exciting fights ever seen. Now here was Cotto.

That evening a Cotto with hair entered the arena to face Tijuana tough Arturo Rodriguez who had knocked off a prospect in a previous fight. The Mexican fighter was no match for the Puerto Rican who was simply too strong and overpowered Rodriguez.  It would not be the last time Cotto would mow down an opponent.

The next time I saw Cotto was in Las Vegas at the Orleans Casino on May 2002. That night he broke down sturdy veteran Juan Angel Macias. This was a step up in opposition. Macias had fought many contenders including Carlos Gerena, Diego Corrales and Acelino Freitas. Macias lasted until the seventh round and no more.

One month later, on June 2002, Cotto was matched against contender Justin Juuko at the MGM Grand. It was on the undercard of the Marco Antonio Barrera vs. Erik Morales rematch. It was also notable because a fighter named Pedro Alcazar died the next morning from injuries suffered in his title fight with Mexico’s Fernando Montiel.

That night Cotto broke down Juuko as he had the nine others before him. By the fifth round the fight was over.

Admirers

The day before the Juuko fight, myself and three others had met with Cotto’s cornerman and discussed meeting for dinner after the fight. One of the reporters in our party was a female and she just had to meet the Puerto Rican. The Cotto team member consented and after the fight we met at a restaurant located inside the MGM.

It was a small table, barely big enough to fit four people, and had a lit candle in the middle. Most of the talking was done by Cotto’s young cornerman who couldn’t have been more than 21 years old. The female reporter with us was entranced by Cotto and tried several times to engage in a conversation with the fighter. He was courteous but not interested. Throughout the dinner Cotto barely spoke but stayed with the group and was a gentleman throughout. We talked about boxing and the island of Puerto Rico and a few other topics. Cotto listened to the conversation but did not speak.

After that dinner I forgot about the female reporter’s overt attraction to Cotto. It would not be the last time.

Years passed when another female reporter asked if I would be interviewing Cotto soon. It was December 2004 and Cotto was now the WBO super lightweight world champion. He was facing former WBA interim champion Randall Bailey, a devastating puncher, at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas

The main event was Vitali Klitschko fighting Danny Williams. Despite the heavyweight title fight, the female reporter was only interested in Cotto’s fight. At the time I didn’t notice this continuing trend: female reporters really liked Cotto.

That night in December 2004, the Puerto Rican slugger battered Bailey around, scoring two knockdowns before the fight was stopped due to cuts. Cotto had annihilated yet another opponent.

After that fight it became apparent to me that Cotto was a big attraction to female fight fans. His legion of followers would grow throughout the coming years, especially after a super showdown with one of the stars of the fight game, Sugar Shane Mosley, in 2007.

During the Cotto-Mosley promotions the initial send-off took place at the now defunct House of Blues on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood. The place was crowded with reporters and especially female reporters. Outside the venue the parking lot was filled with women trying to get into the press conference.

Another super star showdown took place in November 2009 when Cotto accepted a fight against Manny Pacquiao. The press conference took place at the Beverly Hills Hotel and the Crystal Ballroom was packed. Female reporters from publications I represented argued over who would attend the press conference. All were bent on interviewing Cotto who they did not deny was a personal favorite of theirs.

The Pacquiao fight was a firestorm of blows that saw Cotto down twice early in the fight. Despite the knockdowns Cotto did not quit and kept trying different tactics to change the momentum of the fight. It was a valiant effort by the Puerto Rican.

Women were screaming during the fight “don’t hit him in the face.”

I remember thinking: this is a fight. Of course they are going to hit each other on the face. But those female fans were yelling and cheering for Cotto throughout the fight.

After that loss to Pacman many thought that would be the end of Cotto. It wasn’t even close.

Cotto’s very next fight took place seven month later when he defeated Yuri Foreman for the WBA super welterweight world title at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. Nine months after that he would return to Las Vegas to beat the Nicaraguan slugger Ricardo Mayorga.

Fourth Division World Title

After losing back-to-back to Floyd Mayweather, then Austin Trout, it was felt by many, including myself, that the Puerto Rican prizefighter was truly done. When Cotto signed to fight WBC middleweight champion Sergio Martinez in June 2014 the press conference to announce the pairing took place in the Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles.

For those males that don’t know, Sergio Martinez is another female favorite. That afternoon the press conference was packed with women looking to meet and interview both Martinez and Cotto.

When I sat down with Cotto I asked him, “are you aware how many female fight fans completely adore you?”

Cotto smiled meekly and put his head down. A female reporter next to me said “that’s a good question.”

The two fought in Madison Square Garden with Cotto destroying Martinez in 10 rounds. Maybe it was the damaged knee that made Martinez vulnerable but Cotto did not let up in winning by stoppage. Cotto became the first Puerto Rican ever to win four world titles in four weight divisions.

When you think of the many great Puerto Rican fighters in pugilistic history such as Carlos Ortiz, Wilfredo Gomez, Wilfredo Benitez, and Felix Trinidad you realize what an incredible feat Cotto accomplished. Sure he doesn’t possess the precociousness of Benitez, the brash confidence of Gomez or the likeability of Tito. But over the years the serious-minded but sensitive Cotto has always had a cool but classy demeanor that you had to respect.

Before his last fight against Yoshihiro Kamegai I ran into him and the Golden Boy crew in front of the Conga Room in L.A. Live. It had been a few years since I last saw Cotto and I didn’t wear a hat back in 2014. The Golden Boy crew noticed me and yelled out my name. Cotto stopped quickly and turned around to come back and greet me. He hadn’t recognized me with a hat. That’s Cotto. Always classy and thoughtful.

And of course the women love him too.

If you ask a female boxing fan or a female prizefighter to name their favorite male boxer today, I would bet Cotto makes their top three.

When it comes to name Puerto Rico’s most accomplished boxer it has to be the fighter from Caguas who arrived 16 years ago, Mr. Cotto.

Photo credit: Tom Hogan / Hogan Photos / GBP

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