by Cliff Rold
Miguel Cotto has never risen to the same level of popularity achieved by Felix Trinidad. He’s never shown the artistry of Carlos Ortiz or Wilfred Benitez. The sheer carnage left in the wake of Wilfredo Gomez’s assault on Jr. Featherweight remains in its place.
As preparations are completed for this Saturday’s showdown with WBA Light Middleweight titlist Austin Trout (Showtime, 10 PM EST), the 32-year old can look back on his career and know being Miguel Cotto was good enough.
In the rich history of Puerto Rican boxing, the name Cotto won’t finish at the top.
It’s not out of place in any discussion about the contributions the small island nation has given to the game.
Win or lose against Trout, given the many physical battles he’s been in over the years, it’s not unreasonable to think the end is close. This being boxing, endings come in various shades. Cotto may go on to fight until he’s well past 40. He wouldn’t be the first.
But the best of Cotto? Those moments are growing spare. No one last forever as one of the top guys. Cotto won’t either. There are plenty who think his last best moment has already come, that his brave losing stand to Floyd Mayweather in May of this year was sort of a last hurrah.
Trout is a fashionable pick to win this weekend. He’s younger, quicker, naturally bigger. He’s hungry.
Miguel Cotto could have picked a lot easier fare and got away with it.
He didn’t. While, like any star fighter, he’s had his share of walkovers, they’ve felt fewer. Cotto is a fighter. He does it the right way.
In doing it the right way, what are the things that stand out and serve him well in comparison to the best of Puerto Rico? What are the markers of his place on the island? Here now, a look at the career of Miguel Cotto to date in comparison to his nation’s finest.
Titles: Beginning with the wild Bantamweight days of Sixto Escobar, Puerto Rico has produced more than 60 champions, the highest total of any nation save the United States and Mexico. Of those, only five others have won titles in three weight divisions: Benitez, Gomez, Trinidad, Hector Camacho, and Wilfredo Vazquez Sr.
Of those men, Benitez and Gomez are already in the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Trinidad become eligible for the 2014 class and is a shoo-in for the first ballot. The late Camacho had his last fight in 2010 but is a likely entrant when he becomes five years eligible. Vazquez remains on the ballot but has not yet been inducted.
Cotto will attempt this weekend to win a second sanctioning body belt at Jr. Middleweight after a WBO reign at Jr. Welterweight, WBA and WBO reigns at Welterweight, and a previous WBA reign at 154.
Title Fight Wins: At 17-3, Cotto is closing in on a possible 18th win in title fights with Trout. Only Trinidad and Gomez have more.
Gomez won 20 title fights, defending his 122 lb. title (Lineal and WBC) a record 17 consecutive times. He won additional titles at Featherweight and Jr. Lightweight, losing each in his fist defense.
Trinidad was almost as impressive at Welterweight as Gomez was at Jr. Featherweight, defending the IBF title 15 times and capping his run with a hotly debated win over Oscar De La Hoya for the lineal crown and the WBC belt. He rose to Jr. Middleweight and won the WBA belt, defending twice and picking up the IBF title in the latter defense. In his final title win, he bested William Joppy for a WBA belt. In total, he won 20 title fights.
The next closest to Cotto are Vazquez at 16, Sammy Serrano at 15, and Ortiz at 14.
Competition: Wins are nice, but who a fighter is in the ring with counts too. Cotto can’t say definitively he’s faced the stiffest competition in comparison to his contemporaries, but he’s not far off. Sure, the two best fighters he fought beat him.
But losing to Pacquiao and Mayweather was no shame when recalling that Trinidad (against Hopkins), Gomez (against Sanchez), Benitez (against Leonard and Hearns) also fell short in some critical showdowns. Alfredo Escalera lost both savage affairs with Alexis Arguello.
Cotto, with victories over Shane Mosley, Zab Judah, and an emotional revenge victory over the first man to defeat him, Antonio Margarito, had his share of highs. There were also plenty of good solid pros along the way. He can say he fought the best of his time with the only really big name missing being Ricky Hatton at 140 lbs.
Where Cotto falls short in comparison to some of the Puerto Rican immortals to date is his lack of a signature win. Trinidad had Fernando Vargas. Gomez had Carlos Zarate. Benitez, at the tender age of 17, had the great Antonio Cervantes. His paint brushing of Roberto Duran wasn’t bad either.
But even without that single, signature victory, Cotto can say he’s left fans with the same thing the great Puerto Ricans have been leaving behind for years.
Memories: Win or lose, fans will remember they saw Miguel Cotto leave it in the ring. While there has never been a deemed “Fight of the Year,” Cotto has given fans classic battles against Ricardo Torres, Judah, Mosley, Margarito, Joshua Clottey, Pacquiao, and Mayweather.
When his name is on the marquee fans know, before and now, they have a well better than average chance of getting their money’s worth.
It’s a remarkable career suddenly infused with new life after Mayweather and with an end growing near. On Saturday, Miguel Cotto is fighting.
Someday soon, boxing will ask who the next Miguel Cotto will be.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene and a member of the Transnational Boxing Ratings Board, the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]