By Jake Donovan
The ring return of Miguel Cotto is a big enough sell on its own. That the October 5 bout against Delvin Rodriguez takes place at the Amway Center in Downtown Orlando merely added to the story, one that many in the media has already treated as a major event.
That didn’t stop the city’s mayor from making it an even bigger event.
Buddy Dyer has spent most of his past ten years as Orlando’s mayor bringing improvements to a city that already attracts more visitors than any other theme park destination in the United States. On Tuesday afternoon, the charismatic politician spent his time hyping up the crowd in advance of the October event.
"Are you ready boxing fans," the public servant asked the crowd on hand. "Boxing fans, are you ready?! What an exciting day on October 5 for the city of Orlando. I stand before you to announce World Championship Boxing right here at the Amway Center.
“Miguel lives here in Orlando. I thought he looked a little familiar,” Dyer quipped, referencing Cotto often setting up camp in Magic City for past fights. “It appears he has a bit of a hometown edge.”
In a reversal of past events, Cotto (37-4, 30KO) will now spend his time far away from Orlando before heading back for his showdown with Rodriguez. The Puerto Rican superstar will train in Los Angeles, under the guise of Hall-of-Fame trainer Freddie Roach in hopes of disrupting a two-fight losing streak.
Despite Florida’s rich boxing history, rare is the occasion when big time boxing hits Orlando. A city that plays hosts to more than 51 million visitors per year – more than any other in the United States – has left most of the relevant boxing action to its neighboring city of Kissimmee, which plays host to roughly four-to-six shows on Telemundo every year.
The last show boasting a significant fighter came back in May ’09, a time that marked the second-to-last fight in the career of the late Hector Camacho, who was held to a 10-round draw by Yori Boy Campas in a matchup of badly faded former champs. Before that, you’d have to go back to 1991, when former heavyweight king Larry Holmes played Magic City during his run as an attraction on the now-defunct USA Tuesday Night Fight series.
Another former heavyweight champ, George Foreman made three separate trips to Orlando between 1987 and 1989, part of his comeback tour after 10 years between careers.
With the HBO cameras rolling for Cotto’s ring return following what will be a 10-month hiatus by fight night, the October 5 event will truly be the biggest the city has seen in decades. It also comes at the right time, specifically a month before the Orlando Magic – the building’s primary residents – hope to improve from their 20-62 record, which was the worst in the 2012-2013 NBA season.
The fight is the first time Cotto ever plays Orlando or anywhere in Florida, despite setting up camp in town for his past several fights. Rodriguez (28-6-3, 16KO) hasn’t fought in the state since early in his pro career. Much of his career has been spent in the Northeast, in New York and his adopted home state of Connecticut, to where he relocated from the Dominican Republic early in his youth.
The city of Orlando was chosen by promoter Top Rank because of its healthy Hispanic population. That said, Rodriguez expects to see a see of Puerto Rican flags in the audience, as the city is second only to New York in Boricuas living in the United States.
A small taste of that was offered when a rousing chorus of cheers for Cotto was immediately met with groans once Rodriguez was introduced to the crowd.
"Uh oh," Dyer joked, as he continued to entertain his public.
While Orlando is partial towards Puerto Ricans, the tourist-friendly town is no stranger to welcoming all visitors.
“But on the other hand, Delvin is the visitor and we love visitors. Without them, we wouldn’t be the tourism capital of the world,” noted Dyer.
With that declaration came a request for a peace offering from the pro-Cotto crowd on hand during Tuesday’s press conference.
“We are going to make Delvin feel welcome, right?” insisted the incumbent mayor, prompting a delightful cheer from the enthusiastic audience.
Dyer was instrumental in bringing the fight to Orlando, thus his presence at the presser. His enthusiasm was infectious – and also rewarded.
“I just called Michael Buffer and told him not to come to the fight,” Todd duBoef, Top Rank President, joked at the podium. “We found a new ring announcer.”
The three-term mayor was then presented by both fighters with a perfectly fitted boxing robe, with his name and title on the back. Mayor Dyer proudly wore the garment throughout the press session, though was once again propositioned for a career change towards its conclusion.
“It’s either the robe, or the tux and you do the ring announcing,” duBoef once again joked.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as a member of Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox