By Martin Rogers
LOS ANGELES – From the moment his Dec. 2 farewell fight against Sadam Ali was inked Miguel Cotto always knew he would have powerful motivating forces running through in veins in the build-up. At first, the factors firing Cotto revolved around his pride, his wish to end his career on a high, and the prospect of finally being able to spend more time with his family in retirement.
But as he met with BoxingScene.com at the Wildcard Gym this week, the future Hall of Famer had something else on his mind, namely his homeland of Puerto Rico, and its current struggles.
“It is the biggest disaster I ever saw in my life,” Cotto said, shaking his head after a long sparring session overseen by trainer Freddie Roach. “I saw my island destroyed.”
It was the first time Cotto had spoken publicly about the issue since Hurricane Maria swept through Puerto Rico on Sept. 20, sparking a major humanitarian crisis, killing 51 people and causing billions of dollars of damage. A month on, and large sections of Puerto Rico are still without power and other basic services.
Cotto and his family suffered through the raging storm but were physically unharmed, as Golden Boy Promotions officials spent several worried days trying to contact him, without success. The 36-year-old recalled seeing houses ruined, trees uprooted and electrical power lines floored by the gales.
One the storm passed and the recovery effort began, Cotto and his family provided assistance to others in his local community, sharing out part of their saved water supply with those whose properties had sustained greater damage. And while he had to leave the island a few days later to begin camp under Roach, he could already see the resiliency of his compatriots shining through.
“(Helping) is the only way we can overcome from a disaster like this one,” Cotto said. “As a Puerto Rican I can say we are a very unique people, and we do what we have to do. What we can do is help each other and for the benefit of Puerto Rico we do that.”
Golden Boy has already agreed to donate an undisclosed percentage of each ticket sold to the Madison Square Garden event, where Cotto will defend his WBO junior middleweight belt against Ali, to the Puerto Rico relief fund. Cotto is also committed to making his own contribution and will throw himself into those efforts after the fight.
However, the biggest assistance he can give may come with his effort in the ring on his 10th appearance at MSG. Cotto has always had the hearts of his people, and a stirring victory in his final fight would undoubtedly give Puerto Rico a much-needed lift in stricken times. He admitted that there has never been a fight that mattered more to him, including his bouts with the likes of Floyd Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao and Shane Mosley.
“When I am here and training I am always with Puerto Rico on my mind every day, but because of the situation we passed through it is more meaningful,” Cotto added. “All I am thinking about is them. I am going to make the best effort to touch as much of Puerto Rico as possible.”
Cotto looked impressive in his last fight, a victory over Japan’s Yoshihiro Kamegai on Aug. 26, a bout that received little attention as it feel on the same night that Floyd Mayweather fought Conor McGregor. Roach thinks that another strong performance would see Cotto’s wish to retire tested by some meaningful offers.
“He looks good,” Roach said. “And if he wins there are definitely going to be some opportunities. But if he goes out on top, having looked after himself and his money, then I’m happy for him.”
As for Cotto, he said there is no chance of him changing his mind. “I am not going to be looking backwards,” he said. “I have others things to look to now.”