By Jake Donovan
Austin Trout knows the deal. The belt he carries and the undefeated record he possesses mattered just enough to make him an intriguing entry in the Miguel Cotto sweepstakes, but not enough to serve beyond the B-side against the Puerto Rican superstar at Madison Square Garden this weekend.
Up until he was chosen by Cotto, his title and unbeaten status hardly mattered when it came to securing a big fight. Trout wasn’t even the first choice for this particular gig. Cotto was targeting a rematch with Manny Pacquiao, only for plans to fall through when the two sides couldn’t agree on several intangibles.
Trout will get to walk into the ring last and also have his name announced as defending champion for the capacity crowd and Showtime-televised audience to see and hear. But make no mistake; this is a Miguel Cotto promotion until Trout can definitively prove otherwise.
“If it wasn’t for Miguel Cotto’s name, we wouldn’t be on this platform,” Trout (25-0, 14KO) acknowledges of Saturday’s headliner in New York City. “We’re grateful for that, but I’m also ready for the world to get to know me.”
A lack of profile beyond the sport’s hardcore base has held back Trout to a degree. The unbeaten southpaw had no problem hitting the road in the past, but still came up empty in terms of allowing his name to ring out.
Not even a ‘brother’s keeper’ angle was enough to entice Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez and his handlers to choose Trout as an opponent for either of his two fights this year.
Trout’s title reign began with a decisive points win over Rigoberto Alvarez, Saul’s older brother, last January in Mexico. This fact was mentioned by Trout and his supporters when a May 5 opponent was being sought by Canelo, who eventually settled on ancient Shane Mosley.
Yet another opening came about when Alvarez’ next lined up opponent, Victor Ortiz suffered an upset 9th round stoppage loss at the hands of Josesito Lopez. Three weeks prior, Trout appeared on a Golden Boy card, winning a 12-round decision over Delvin Rodriguez in a largely forgettable fight.
It was the worst possible time to not leave a lasting impression. Lopez - already moving up in weight to face Ortiz - moved up one more division to receive the opportunity of a lifetime against Alvarez. The fight proved to be every bit the mismatch as suggested on paper, leaving Trout to kick himself that he couldn’t make a more convincing case for himself.
As luck would have it, another door would finally open when Cotto tapped his shoulder in search of another title run in the 154 lb. division.
Trout and his handlers didn’t even blink in accepting the fight. It doesn’t at all matter that casual fans view this fight as Cotto against an anonymous titlist. Trout needn’t feel bad; Yuri Foreman played a similar role in their June ’10 fight, and that was as an undefeated New Yorker (raised in Brooklyn) fighting in Yankee Stadium.
Foreman failed to make a name for himself that night, other than becoming known as the guy forced to fight on one leg. Trout and his handlers are smarter than that. They know what’s at stake on Saturday, that the fight is an outlet to long-sought after fame rather than merely the final destination.
“We know that Austin Trout isn’t very well known,” admits Greg Cohen, Trout’s promoter. “We want to let everyone know that come Saturday night, Austin Trout will be a household name.”
The fight is Trout’s third straight to air on Showtime. Seven months prior to the aforementioned win over Rodriguez, Trout received a rare hometown showcase, dominating overmatched Frank LoPorto in his birth city of El Paso, Texas.
The homecoming disrupted a string of fighting on the road in four of his previous six bouts. Trout fought in three separate countries (Mexico, U.S. and Panama) in a span of less than three months, before going idle for more than a year prior to the title fight with Alvarez.
Coming out on the winning side of every fight has been the lone constant in Trout’s career to date, a statement Cotto hasn’t been able to make for more than four years. The former three-division champ is 5-3 in his last eight contests and enters this weekend on the heels of a competitive loss to Floyd Mayweather, Jr.
However, Cotto has repeatedly proven that losses don’t always matter when you boast a fan-friendly style like his.
There has been minimal drop off in his popularity level, despite glaring hints of his best years long behind him. The love affair he enjoys with his fans – particularly in his native Puerto Rico and his home away from home in New York City – has kept him as the sport’s third most popular fighter among American fight fans, only behind previous conquerors Mayweather and Pacquiao.
Any loss tends to magnify the existing flaws in a fighter, but Trout leaves nothing to chance. There’s no shame in losing to the top two fighters in the sport; it’s the rest of Cotto’s career which greater piques Trout’s interest.
“We’ve definitely been watching tapes of those two losses. We’ve also been watching tapes on when Miguel Cotto was at 140 and 147 and still at his best,” Trout states in offering hints at his strategy for this weekend. “I’m willing to sit down and fight. I know I have to put a lot of leather on him in order to get a decisive decision in Madison Square Garden. A totally defensive fight is not going to be the key to victory for me.”
Some will argue that an overly aggressive version of his normal fighting style could play into Cotto’s hands and prove detrimental. Trout sees the exact opposite as the truth.
“We picked up the intensity (in camp) for the fact that Miguel Cotto is an intense fighter,” Trout astutely acknowledges. “We picked it up for the fact that we don’t want to have to keep up with Miguel Cotto; we want to force the intensity.”
The strategy defies the old logic of boxing a puncher, and fighting a boxer, but Trout knows that’s what it will take to make a lasting impression.
Whether or not it’s enough to leave Madison Square Garden with a victory is another matter, but the visiting titlist can’t worry about that. His primary concern is leaving it all in the ring, enough to where he’ll be judged on his performance regardless of the final outcome.
“I can’t expend too much energy worrying about the judges or the officiating,” Trout says. “I can only worry about executing in the ring and then leaving it into God’s hands. If they’re gonna “steal” it from me, then that’s between them and God. All I can do is focus on what I can do, and that’s to perform in the ring to the best of my ability.”
Anything less, and Trout knows it’s back to the bottom of the queue. The opportunity granted this weekend is the first chance anyone has given the 27-year old to prove himself in the spotlight.
He has no intention of squandering it, no matter how many people are rooting against him – in the crowd or behind closed doors.
“I feel that it’s part of my destiny to be on this stage. I don’t want to lose my undefeated record or my belt. I feel like the powers that be don’t really want me on this stage.
“If I lose my belt, even if I perform to the best of my abilities, they don’t have to let me in. They didn’t let me in, anyway. I had to climb through the window.”
Even with high-powered adviser Al Haymon in his corner, there’s no guarantee that Trout remains in network rotation. The record and belt he brings into the ring was enough for Cotto to look his way; what follows beyond December 1 is largely dependent not just on what he does, but how he does it.
“I’m coming in with the mentality to win. On Saturday I will show the world how,” Trout insists. “I’m trying to be established. I don’t want to be anonymous no more.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter: @JakeNDaBox