By Jake Donovan
Very few would have faulted Miguel Cotto had he opted to call it a career following last December’s loss to Austin Trout. It’s not that the Puerto Rican superstar looked his age, but more so the concerns of spiraling further downward.
The loss to Trout marked several firsts in Cotto’s fantastic career. It was the first time he had suffered back-to-back defeats, having dropped a competitive but clear decision at the hands of pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather seven months prior. It was also the first time he ever lost at Madison Square Garden, where he has sold more tickets than any other fighter in the 21st century.
A win was supposed to lead to a potential super fight with then-unbeaten Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez, who instead wound up facing and beating Trout in April before being manhandled by Mayweather last month in Las Vegas. There is still a chance of a clash with Alvarez happening sometime down the road, as well as perhaps one or two more lucrative options for Cotto before his career fades to black.
However, a little bit of winning is required in order to bridge that gap. That tour begins this weekend in his adopted hometown of Orlando, Florida. Cotto squares off versus super welterweight contender Delvin Rodriguez this Saturday, in one of just a small handful of fights left in his career.
The difference between this ring return and the previous occasions in which Cotto came back following a loss is his mental state prior to training camp. The 10 months between fights raises concerns of ring rust but Cotto felt it was necessary to stay away from the ring for as long as possible before coming back at full strength.
“I have had a lot of fights over my career and we thought it would be good to take a break,” Cotto (37-4, 30KO) insists. “I feel good now with all of the training sessions we have had in (Los Angeles and things are very good right now.”
The training sessions in Los Angeles came about after Cotto decided to bring Hall of Fame trainer Freddie Roach into the fold. It’s not the first time he decided to switch up his corner, but for the first time he feels like the move he’s made comes with long-term vision – even when the long-term potentially won’t be very long at all.
“Sometimes you need changes and I feel completely comfortable with Freddie in my corner and everybody is going to see it on October 5,” Cotto promises. “I feel very comfortable with Freddie. Everyone does their job here, everyone is working hard and it makes me feel good. Freddie is doing his best and I am doing my best every day and that makes me a better fighter.”
Naturally the feeling is mutual, but one that also the veteran trainer carries with a sense of urgency.
“We are in a must-win situation for sure,” Roach acknowledges. “That’s why we are working so hard and we are working well together. We start conditioning work every morning at 5AM and that ends at 8AM. That leaves Miguel a little time to rest then we come back to the gym at 2PM and from 2-4PM we are sparring or working with the mitts. We do about nine rounds every day. We are working real hard and we know what the situation is.”
The situation is simple - win, and the big fights keep coming. In addition to the still-possible showdown with Alvarez, there’s a potential move to middleweight for a clash with lineal champion Sergio Martinez, in an effort to win world titles in four weight classes.
Lose… and who knows what’s next. Ever the competitor, Cotto isn’t keen on peeking behind that door. Despite his current slide, there exists the self-belief that he’s still high among the best in the world.
“I feel that I can fight against the best at any time,” Cotto says. “I just made the fight with Mayweather last year. I fought that fight and then I fight the next fight (with Trout).”
His popularity certainly hasn’t taken a hit – Top Rank has continued to open up more seats at the Amway Center, with expectations shifting from a ‘relatively sold out arena’ (scaled down) to the potential of a true sellout come fight night.
However, at some point, the wins have to resume. His team is confident that moment begins Saturday, and will come from the same fighter we have seen for all of these years, perhaps with a simple tweak or two to return to his old ways.
“The thing is, I am not going to change people,” Roach says of the philosophy behind preparing Cotto for this weekend. “I don’t believe in changing people. We are what we are and it’s pretty much, when he was at his best it was the fundamentals of boxing which he excelled at and he had gotten away from the body attack a little bit and we got that back in line.
“He’s been getting a little older and so-forth so we cut back in the roadwork and do more conditioning because running every day for six days a week your whole life is hard on your body. So we cut back on that a little bit and added a few things to replace it. It’s going really well and I can’t wait for him to get in the ring for the first time with me in the corner.”
Pending Saturday’s outcome, Cotto is willing to guarantee that it won’t be the last, but rather a relationships that will last.
“The way things are going makes me feel like I am going to finish my career with him here. I feel I can do the best I can with Freddie,” Cotto envisions. “At this point in my career I realized that I want my career to finish with Freddie on my side.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as the Records Keeper for the Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and a member of Boxing Writers Association of America.