By Corey Erdman
Boxing breakups are very rarely of the amicable variety. Most often, they’re long, they’re drawn out, and they’re painful. The fight game isn’t the ex that treats you well on the way out, no matter how well you’ve treated them.
Think of Joe Louis, old and decrepit, laying on the ring apron separated from his senses in his final fight. Or Muhammad Ali, slow and flabby, laboring through ten rounds with Trevor Berbick on a shoddily produced event in the Bahamas.
As far as final fights for boxing legends go, Miguel Cotto’s loss to Sadam Ali on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden in New York City was a respectable sendoff.
As he was nearly his entire career, the Puerto Rican icon was in an entertaining fight with Ali, a solid, technical battle with several swings of momentum. Cotto was hurt several times in the fight, but did manage to stagger Ali with a right hand of his own. In the early going, Ali overwhelmed Cotto with his superior hand speed and deft footwork, but by the fifth or sixth round, the old pro made the necessary adjustments and started to land left hooks downstairs. According to Cotto, his undoing came in the seventh round, when he reportedly suffered a torn biceps. His account fits perfectly with the fight’s timeline, as things started to become one-sided for Ali two rounds later when Cotto was forced to back up and use his right hand to block and parry as much as he could.
“I’m feeling good with the performance,” Cotto said. “Something happened to my left biceps, seventh round. I don’t want to make excuses. Sadam won the fight. It is my last fight. I am good, and I want to be happy in my home with my family. “Thank you for all the fans. I am proud to call MSG my second home. I had the opportunity to provide the best for my family because of the sport.”
Cotto was one of the rare fighters who could say he was truly a top-level practitioner until the very end of his career. It’s likely that Ali was settled upon as an opponent because they felt he was beatable, but such is the nature of boxing matchmaking. As he demonstrated on Saturday night, Ali is no slouch, and the fact that Cotto was favored to beat him and was competitive with him is impressive enough for a fighter with one foot out the door. (It should be noted as well, that two other fights which would have been considered significantly more dangerous—against Errol Spence and Kell Brook—were considered and even discussed before the Ali bout was signed.)
But just doing enough was never satisfactory for Cotto. During the buildup to and now in the brief aftermath following his final fight, the 37-year old was showered with prose that might have been deemed purple for any other fighter. He’s been dubbed the consummate professional, a true warrior, a model boxing citizen.
Cotto managed to be incredibly popular and incredibly decorated without leveraging any of the things star fighters typically get to. He’s a bit of an anomaly in that he has worked with both HBO and Showtime, with Top Rank, Golden Boy, Roc Nation and himself, made money for everyone and is on amicable terms with everyone. Cotto was always paid handsomely, but he took risky fights in order to earn his money. He may have found himself in title contention a little faster than other fighters would have been at times, but when he got those opportunities, he always delivered with thrilling scraps. Seemingly the only criticism Cotto ever took was that he took his losses hard, and sometimes believed he’d won fights that he’d clearly lost. But what is a true fighter if not someone who always believes in himself, and that he can beat someone up, sometimes to the point of irrationality?
Cotto was one of the biggest stars of his era, and down to his final fight, one of the sport’s few big arena draws in North America.
Instead of milking that status, Cotto seemingly always used it to challenge himself, and in turn, better the sport. Cotto’s intentions weren’t necessarily charitable, but one of the reasons his contemporaries Floyd Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao and Canelo Alvarez reached the levels of fame and fortune they ultimately did is in part because they fought, and beat Cotto.
But Cotto didn’t always take challenges that were lucrative. His losses to both Antonio Margarito and Austin Trout were tough fights for the sake of taking tough fights—ones he could have easily avoided by flexing his star power—much like his final fight against Ali.
Perhaps because of his high-profile losses, we haven’t always appreciated Cotto as much as we should have. To have an elite fighter with box office and pay-per-view drawing power willing to travel to different weight classes and make the best fights, even if he might lose, checks all the boxes of every fan’s wish list for a fighter.
But that’s how breakups go. Sometimes you realize what you had when it was too late.
So Miguel Cotto and boxing will part ways now. They both helped one another grow, and have incredible memories to look back fondly upon. They’ll both miss one another as they move on.
But more than likely, it will be boxing who’s missing Cotto more.