By Cliff Rold
If you wanted to make the case that former four-division titlist Miguel Cotto, now 37 years old, was already gone it wouldn’t be that hard.
After taking all of 2016 off, Cotto (41-5, 33 KO) returned this year and Saturday enters what he says will be his farewell fight. His first start of the year came against Yoshihiro Kamegai, a tough and television friendly fighter whose only chance for victory was if Cotto was shot in ways no prior evidence had indicated.
Cotto was not.
Saturday, he faces a fighter with slightly better credentials than Kamegai but plenty of question marks. Sadam Ali (25-1, 14 KO), a 2008 US Olympian, has won three straight since suffering the lone professional loss of his career. In March 2010, Ali was stopped by Jessie Vargas in a fight for the then-vacant WBO welterweight belt.
There’s no shame in losing to Vargas, a solid professional. However, Vargas had only had nine stoppages in twenty-seven fights prior to Ali. If the physicality and pressure of Vargas overwhelmed him, what is an even an aged Cotto likely to do?
But that’s sort of the point, right?
After losing the lineal middleweight title to Saul Alvarez in 2015, Cotto took some time away. There was grist for the mill about a fight with Juan Manuel Marquez but it never came about. If Cotto does opt to retire for good after Ali, it’s not unfair to ask if he hasn’t really been retired since the Alvarez fight after all.
Kamegai and Ali level foes have dotted his career over the years, but rarely back to back since he crossed the threshold from his development phase. Well paying, nearly un-losable fights are hard to resist.
But, of course, it’s not retirement. As he showed against Kamegai, Cotto is still doing the work of getting himself into shape. Those grueling hours, the sparring aches and pains, are no retirement any sane person would ask for.
This is the Miguel Cotto farewell tour on the road to retirement. He even comes back to the site of some of his biggest nights, Madison Square Garden, for the curtain call. Assuming he wins, the only thing left to find out is whether he can really stay away.
Is this really the end for Miguel Cotto?
It’s typically the question when a fighter announces their time in the sport is over. Very few follow through. Lennox Lewis walked away and stayed gone. Few others can say the same.
It’s been almost two decades since Cotto appeared at the 2000 Olympics for his homeland of Puerto Rico and there have been more ups than downs. He never quite reached the popularity of a Felix Trinidad but he built his own strong following. Anyone who was in the Garden for his fight with Zab Judah in June 2007 knows how much energy was in the building that night. It was loud, and wild, and Cotto had completely arrived.
There were losses of course, to Pacquiao, and Mayweather, Alvarez, Austin Trout, and to Antonio Margarito in a fight that can launch days of social media debate. There were also some close calls: seemingly friendly officiating in the DeMarcus Corley fight, a just barely squeeze by Joshua Clottey, and an early career nail biter with Ricardo Torres.
Still, titles in four weight classes and the star power he added to showdowns with other major names, win or lose, are a net positive. Boxing, particularly in the current US market, doesn’t have enough stars.
Mayweather is allegedly gone for good (might have heard that somewhere before) and Pacquiao isn’t far behind. Cotto was well behind those two in terms of what he could do as an A-side but well ahead of almost everyone else for a lot of years. Cotto fights delivered for fans more often than not. He was good, exciting, and vulnerable and it made for many a thrilling evening.
Now, as an elder statesman, he commands enough respect that an HBO reportedly in a boxing budget crunch would pay for two appearances in 2017 against, well, Kamegai and Ali. That sort of option might not be there forever, and allegedly Cotto tried for a bigger name for this weekend’s fight.
He still got this one, along with an HBO retrospective unusual for any fighter on their air over the years. Ali is the sort of opponent who might make Cotto look younger again this weekend, providing the sort of confidence boost that tricks an old man into thinking he’s got one more serious test in him.
That trick has fooled many an older fighter back for that one fight too many. Miguel Cotto is the sort of stoic personality who might mean exactly what he says, but he’s also a fighter.
He’s been one for longer than the public memory that recalls his Olympic appearances or early ESPN appearances. He’s still good enough at it to command serious dollars.
Will Saturday really be farewell?
Ask again this time next year.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]