I haven’t always been an enthusiastic supporter of the proud Puerto Rican champion they call “Junito,” but if tonight proves to be his final fight — a distinct possibility if recent statements from Miguel Cotto are anything to go by — then I will be the first to offer my highest regards and a fond farewell. Truth be told, I was more than a bit hard on him a little while back when he ducked Gennady Golovkin and couldn’t stop talking about catch-weights before every fight. But by then all of the accomplishments for which he will be fondly remembered and which will no doubt earn him a place in Canastota were behind him. Previous to his adopting some serious prima donna tendencies, he was a stand-out talent, a fighting champion, and a classy sportsman to boot.
No doubt most would point to his wins over Zab Judah and Shane Mosley as the highlights of his career, and his heated rivalry with Antonio Margarito will also be a central topic of discussion when fans look back, but for me I will most fondly recall his gallant stands against Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao. Despite suffering defeat in both cases, Cotto showed me the heart and courage of a true warrior when he refused to surrender despite taking a shellacking from a prime PacMan, and when he gave Floyd one of his toughest fights.
Unlike the Pacquiao fight, no one really gave Miguel a chance to defeat Mayweather in 2012. Some were lamenting the fact that Floyd had waited until “Junito” was past his prime and were dreaming about what might have been in a Cotto vs Mayweather fight back in say 2007 or 2008. Some of those same dreamers were forecasting a one-sided beatdown by Floyd, declaring that Miguel was used up, that he would never fully recover from the battering he got from Pacquiao two-and-a-half years before, that we were in for a replay of Mayweather vs Gatti.
But that’s not what happened. As our own Rafael Garcia reported at the time: “To see Cotto at his best, look no further than the eighth round of [his battle with Floyd], when he cornered Mayweather and successfully landed flush right hands and strong hooks and jabs to the face and body. It’s hard to remember Mayweather ever losing a round so definitively. And after round eight, a strange, almost bewildering image appeared before us: Floyd’s face splattered with his own blood. He managed only a sheepish grin to try to hide the fact that he was getting more than he ever bargained for from the tough Puerto Rican.”
I recall getting more than a little enthusiastic watching the middle rounds of that fight. It looked to me like Cotto was more than holding his own and only growing stronger, that a huge upset win for the underdog challenger was suddenly a serious possibility. Of course Mayweather showed some serious courage of his own that night as he closed the show, winning the late rounds and sealing a points win. But it had been so long since anyone had given Floyd a serious run for his money that finally seeing him in a truly competitive and entertaining battle was something of a revelation. And the fact that it was a supposedly washed-up Cotto who gave him that tough fight elevated the Puerto Rican in the eyes of many, myself included.
A subsequent loss to Austin Trout had us all thinking he was finally done, but instead he regrouped and 18 months after that defeat he was suddenly the lineal middleweight champion of the world, after he dominated Sergio Martinez, knocking him down three times in the first round. Say what you want about Martinez not being fit to compete that night, I know I did at the time, but the fact remains it was an impressive win and, as Lee Wylie highlighted, a technically accomplished performance.
Everything after that — the ducking of GGG and the catch weights — I’d like to put aside for now. The main point here is that if in fact Miguel Cotto loses tonight to Yoshihiro Kamegai and then walks away from boxing for good, he deserves better than to have his final fight overshadowed by a ridiculous sideshow that, in a just world, wouldn’t even be an officially sanctioned boxing match. Sunday morning the websites and newspapers will have plenty of column inches devoted to Mayweather’s one-sided win over a boxing novice; Cotto will be lucky to get more than a fraction of as much attention. And that just isn’t right.
So let me right now tip my hat to Miguel Cotto. Win or lose tonight, he’s had a splendid career, one that puts him up in the same rarefied air as Wilfredo Gomez, Carlos Ortiz, Felix Trinidad and Wilfred Benitez, all top candidates for the best Puerto Rican pugilists of all-time. Serious boxing fans will be watching the Cotto fight tonight, not Floyd vs Conor, and that includes me. And I know I’ve made the right choice. — Robert Portis