By Lyle Fitzsimmons
His permanent record will show that Miguel Cotto lost the last worthwhile prizefight he was in.
Two years ago.
He competed against a talented foe 10 years younger while operating on the fringe of a middleweight class in which he’d frequently claimed he barely belonged and rarely felt comfortable.
Nevertheless, he was still on his feet after 36 minutes of competition, and even though the three scorecards deemed him a loser in all but six of a composite 36 rounds, it was hardly as if he’d been battered from pillar to post from bell to bell.
He didn’t win. But he didn’t embarrass himself either.
In other words, if you thought he was Canastota-worthy going in, that perspective needn’t change no matter what happens this weekend – even against the pedestrian likes of Sadam Ali.
Indeed, when Cotto’s swan song is compared to others whose Central New York credentials are green-lighted without question, he comes off looking particularly exceptional.
Just a quick glance across a list of International Boxing Hall of Fame inductees reveals numerous all-timers with inglorious ends that hardly justified their legendary reputations.
Mike Tyson, whose titillating run included exactly zero wins against in-prime Hall-worthy heavyweights, lost by stoppage in three of his final four fights – and was instantly enshrined five years later.
Arturo Gatti, also a stoppage loser in three of his last four fights, and also a winner over precisely no one whose credentials leap off the page – was also enshrined the moment he became eligible.
And even Terry Norris, whose most remembered feat remains a 12-round whitewash of a past-vintage Sugar Ray Leonard, was given a plaque in 2005 – seven years after ending with a three-fight skid.
So if your logic for questioning Cotto is that he’ll finish with a big-fight L instead of a W, thanks anyway… but you’re just plain wrong.
The Puerto Rican’s affirmation was complete long before Canelo Alvarez came into view, probably more so around the time he shook off a brutal welterweight loss to Manny Pacquiao in 2009 and climbed back to grab a belt at 154 pounds – his third – with a TKO of a gimpy-legged Yuri Foreman.
He’d already defeated multi-belted guys with names such as Paulie Malignaggi, Zab Judah and Shane Mosley, but the mettle he showed with yet another reinvention exceeds that which many with higher reputations ever achieved.
He stopped perpetual troublemaker Ricardo Mayorga in defense No. 1 nine months later and then scored his most satisfying personal win with a tactical hammering of Antonio Margarito in December 2011.
History will record him as barely better than a .500 fighter (four up, three down heading into Saturday’s supposed coup de grace at Madison Square Garden) from that point forward.
But when you study the record and see the stretch-run foes were the Mayweathers, Sergio Martinezes and Alvarezes of the world – and not the Kevin McBrides, Carlos Baldomirs and Dana Rosenblatts – it’s clear that the version of Cotto who's exiting in 2017 is not all that competitively diminished from the one who peaked years before.
He fought everyone. And even though he might have lost the ones that mattered the most, he won more than enough of the others to even the slate.
That’s the sort of career that deserves recognition, no matter how the story ends.
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Weekly title-fight schedule:
IBO light heavyweight title – Le Cannet, France
Igor Mikhalkin (champion/No. 14 IWBR) vs. Doudou Ngumbu (No. 21 IBO/No. 17 IWBR)
Mikhalkin (20-1, 9 KO): First title defense; One KO in four fights in France (4-0, 1 KO)
Ngumbu (37-7, 14 KO): First title fight; Lost to Mikhalkin in 2009 (MD 8) and 2013 (SD 12)
Fitzbitz says: It’s not exactly on the trilogy level of Tarver-Jones, but Mikhalkin and Ngumbu do make competitive bouts. The champ isn’t as far along age-wise, so he’ll make it 3-0. Mikhalkin by decision
WBC super bantamweight title – New York, New York
Rey Vargas (champion/No. 6 IWBR) vs. Oscar Negrete (No. 10 WBC/Unranked IWBR)
Vargas (30-0, 22 KO): Second title defense; Fourth fight in the United States (3-0, 2 KO)
Negrete (17-0, 7 KO): First title fight; First fight scheduled for 12 rounds (2-0, 1 KO in 10-rounders)
Fitzbitz says: Vargas has been an interesting and rugged fighter when venturing stateside and he may indeed be one of the fighters who improve after winning a title belt. He proves it here. Vargas in 9
WBO junior middleweight title – New York, New York
Miguel Cotto (champion/No. 3 IWBR) vs. Sadam Ali (No. 7 WBO/Unranked IWBR)
Cotto (41-5, 33 KO): First title defense; Held belts at 140, 147 (twice), 154 (twice) and 160 pounds
Ali (25-1, 14 KO): Second title fight (0-1); Fourth fight above welterweight limit (3-0, 2 KO)
Fitzbitz says: It may not be the cakewalk that most are anticipating for Cotto’s MSG goodbye, but it’d still be a shock to seem him end with anything less than a successful title defense. Cotto by decision
Last week's picks: 2-0 (WIN: Menayothin, Kovalev)
2017 picks record: 89-26 (77.3 percent)
Overall picks record: 911-300 (75.2 percent)
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.