I can remember the Miguel Angel Cotto of 10 years ago. He had the undeniable world-class skill set, and the prime athleticism to properly unleash it. But he also possessed the inherent viciousness that often comes from starting out from the roughest of beginnings. As a result, Cotto didn’t just beat people, he sought to destroy them… and he usually did.
And yet again, the cliché still rings true: Father Time is undefeated.
Despite currently holding a junior middleweight title, Cotto has announced that he will retire following his defense of that title when he fights contender and former 2008 U.S. Olympian Sadam Ali on Dec. 2nd in New York. And as a huge fan of Cotto’s over the years, I’m happy to see an all-time boxing warrior get out at the right time. This is the right decision for Cotto and his family, and I hope he follows through and stays retired even when the fight offers come in (as they always do).
Sadly, every age of boxing has its share of great fighters that fight far too long. By far too long I mean not just fighting past one’s prime, but fighting for so long that we can visibly see the damage that all the fights have doled on their bodies, and wince with pain as we see them take brutal punishment they never would have in their finest days. We’ve painfully watched two of the greatest of all-time suffer this fate (Muhammad Ali and Roy Jones Jr.), and there are plenty more examples.
Many think Cotto is dangerously close to entering this territory; I think he’s already there, albeit slightly. Many sports bettors are weighing this heavily when making their picks for the upcoming bout. To state my case, I’ll tell you a story.
It all started in 2008.
Cotto vs. Antonio Margarito
It was dubbed “The Battle,” and it delivered big time. In my opinion, it was the fight of the year. If you haven’t seen it, go YouTube it. You won’t be disappointed; it was that great of a fight. Cotto and Margarito were both world champions in a unification bout, both fighters were in their primes, and both had aggressive styles that looked for the knockout as early as possible. Think GGG vs. Canelo, but if they were both GGG.
Cotto was brilliant; he was also brutally knocked out in the 11th round, and was never the same after that fight.
Most boxing experts and betting sharps (myself included) considered Cotto the superior boxer of the two, and we were proven correct despite Cotto’s loss. But Margarito kept up relentless pressure and finally broke the Puerto Rican warrior in the late rounds.
It is now widely believed that Margarito shamefully cheated the Cotto bout by packing his gloves with a plaster-like substance. This was because Margarito and his trainer attempted to do the same during Margarito’s next fight, his first defense against Shane Mosley. They were caught, Margarito fought with proper gloves and was knocked out in the 9th round by Mosley, and then he and his trainer’s boxing licenses were revoked in California (and later Nevada)
The most enraging thing about that fight is just how much punishment Cotto took in that fight, mentally and physically. He was undefeated coming into the fight, and looked great early on. If you look at the shots Margarito was taking, it makes perfect sense to speculate that the only way he would keep going forward into those hard shots was if he knew he had loaded gloves and would eventually break through. At the end of the fight, Cotto wasn’t just down – he was utterly defeated. Some of the warrior died that night, and there’s a good chance it’s because he was cheated by a now-disgraced fighter. We were all cheated.
Cotto’s Career, Post-Margarito
Don’t get me wrong, Cotto has had a great career even after the Margarito fight. He won a vacant welterweight belt in his next fight after the Margarito loss, defending it once before losing to Manny Pacquiao during the prime of the Pac-Man’s run. He’s won three more world titles since, including a spectacular performance against Sergio Martinez to win Maravilla’s middleweight belt. But despite the first-ballot Hall of Fame success, I don’t think we ever saw the best of Cotto after the Margarito loss.
There was zero shame in losing to Pacquiao, who was the best fighter in the world at the time. He was more than game but was eventually knocked out late. I remember that fight too. Cotto was the naturally bigger man, and although he landed shots, they looked like they never had any power. It begs the question: what if Cotto wasn’t damaged from the Margarito fight? Would he have given Manny a better fight? I absolutely think so. Alas.
Cotto’s remaining fights were hand-picked to perfection to maximize success and protect Cotto’s body. Yuri Foreman was a part-time Rabbi with no power. Ricardo Mayorga was badly washed up by the time he faced Cotto. The rematch with the disgraced Margarito was the farcical beating it was meant to be, as Margarito was essentially off the couch (and Cotto still didn’t look all that good in the fight despite the win). The Martinez win was a legit win against a respected champion, but Martinez was nearly 40yrs old at that bout and had a famously bum knee.
Meanwhile, Cotto’s losses against Floyd Mayweather and Austin Trout were clear blowouts where his accumulated damage left fans wondering after each loss if he should hang it up for good and enjoy his money. And that was in 2012. I admit, Cotto gave a great effort in the Alvarez loss in 2015, but it was clear he was no longer a world-class boxing athlete compared to the younger champions in the game. If he were to go on, he was going to pay for it.
No More ‘Money’
Many people suspect that Cotto knows all of this. Again, his team brilliantly picked his fights. To his credit, he went out there and put it on the line for boxing fans and has an all-time great career to show for it.
People also suspect that Cotto would have retired earlier but for the prospect of one more payday fight with Mayweather, who has generated astronomical, record-destroying revenues for boxing fights. Now that Floyd got his (seemingly) last windfall fight with Conor McGregor, there is no reason for Cotto to stick around and take punishment from younger studs looking to take out a big name.
Enjoy the Hall, Junito!
Cotto obviously has a great team around him, and all accounts describe him as a wonderful family man who was happy to turn his combat skill into an opportunity to make his children want for nothing. The boxing world is better to have seen a warrior like Miguel Cotto rise up and entertain us with his mastery, and fantastically provide for this family doing so. He is leaving at the right time, and deserves all the best in his post-boxing life. Cheer’s Junito. See you in Canastota.