By Jake Donovan
For years, Miguel Cotto caught flak for not being expressive enough in calling out fighters. “I fight who my promoter puts in front of me” was almost always the response whenever the question was posed.
Deep into the twilight of his career, it’s clear that the statement wasn’t just a token response, but a way of life in the ring. Others can talk about fighting the best; Cotto will simply go in the ring and actually do it.
The Puerto Rican superstar once again stays true to form with his latest assignment, a December 1 challenge against unbeaten 154 lb. titlist Austin Trout. The bout takes place at Madison Square Garden, exactly 52 weeks following his revenge-fueled 10th round stoppage win over Antonio Margarito last December.
Cotto’s victory over Margarito was the closure he sought in his career, waiting more than three years for that moment to arrive. The night itself was a reminder of his drawing power in the Big Apple, playing to a packed house and raking in 600,000 pay-per-view buys.
The showdown with Trout will take place on Showtime, marking his first non-PPV appearance in roughly 2½ years. Still, a big event is still expected with Cotto in a New York City headliner.
“Miguel Cotto fighting in New York City is a celebration,” states Stephen Espinoza, who gets to work with Cotto for the first time since taking over the reins at Showtime late last year. “We are proud to be in business with Miguel Cotto Promotions - this fighter is a true icon in the sport of boxing. He is a warrior who has fought the biggest names in the sport and will fight anyone, anytime.”
History suggests that a lesser opponent would be sought given his last fight, a 12-round points loss to unbeaten Floyd Mayweather Jr. Losses to Margarito (July ’08) and Manny Pacquiao (Nov. ’09) were followed up by relatively soft touches.
That said, the losses to the aforementioned fighters came in brutal fashion, both resulting in stoppages. The loss to Mayweather was a close affair, though the claim of an argument to be made that he deserved to win is a bit of a stretch.
Nevertheless, it wasn’t the type of defeat immediately met with screams of retirement from onlookers. Quite the opposite as there was genuine interest into where the 12-year veteran would next turn.
Luckily for those in the New York area, a different pattern held true. Rather than seek a soft touch, Cotto instead pursued a tough challenge in a familiar setting.
"The fans here make me proud of the Puerto Rican heritage in New York,” Cotto (37-3, 30KO) said of what will serve as his eighth headliner at Madison Square Garden and 10th overall appearance in New York. "People here [in New York] make me feel at home; people here make me feel comfortable. They root for me and they give me the support I need to beat anyone.”
Approaching 32 years of age and entering his 41st prizefight, Cotto needs all of the support he can get these days. Adding a capable fighter such as Trout (25-0, 14KO) into the mix makes his December Garden party that much more of a daunting task.
Make no mistake, though. Cotto is up for the challenge, just as he has done throughout his career.
"Austin Trout is a world champion. I always go for the best fights possible and Austin was the best option for us. I've learned a lot in camp from Pedro (Diaz, Cotto’s head trainer) and I know he's going to get me ready to win another world title.”
Cotto has held the distinction of owning at least one major alphabet belt in every year since his first title win over Kelson Pinto in Sept. ’04. More important to Cotto than the title win itself was avenging an amateur loss to Pinto while both were making their mark for the 2000 Summer Olympics.
Similar motivation was part of the matchmaking behind Cotto’s debut at Madison Square Garden in June ’05. Standing across the ring was Mohammad Abdullaev, the last fighter at the time to have defeated Cotto when the two met in the ’00 Summer Games.
The night was a success in terms of settling an old score, but box office gold was yet to be discovered. Cotto found himself competing against another major show not even in the New York area, as most of the East Coast Media instead fled to what would become Mike Tyson’s last ever fight a few hours south in Washington D.C.
Still, there was something to be made of Cotto playing the Garden on the eve of the Puerto Rican Day Parade. With each passing year, the numbers grew bigger, with wins over Paul Malignaggi and Zab Judah producing massive and rabid crowds. The stoppage win over Judah in June ’07 was followed up by a unanimous decision over Shane Mosley five months later, marking the first time Cotto headlined back-to-back fights at ‘The World’s Most Famous Arena.’
Cotto’s last New York appearance came in another historically famous venue, headlining the first fight card at Yankee Stadium in more than 20 years when he defeated Yuri Foreman in June ’10. Foreman was an unbeaten 154 lb. titlist at the time, though Cotto was a 2-1 favorite to leave the ring with a belt in his third weight class.
Early handicapping on this fight has the bilingual Boricua an even heavier favorite to win in December, though the 14-5 line could be due in part to the general unfamiliarity of Trout. The New Mexico native has two straight fights on Showtime, one a low-key Shobox appearance late last year and the most recent fight a lethargic points win over Delvin Rodriguez this past June.
Cotto is never one to pay attention to odds, or hyperbole. A dozen years into the pro ranks, he’s still the same fighter who seeks, faces and – more often than not – beats the best available fighters placed in front of him. The ability to do so depends heavily on respecting the competition and recognizing the threat posed if he’s anything less than at his absolute best.
"He's a world champion, he's undefeated,” Cotto says of Trout in explaining why he’s taking this fight. “He's a dangerous fighter and he was the right opponent for me, but I'll still walk out of the ring with another belt on December 1st."
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter: @JakeNDaBox