The fistic finale of Miguel Cotto – who defends his WBO junior middleweight title against Sadam Ali – this Saturday night at the Madison Square Garden feels more like a gold watch ceremony than an actual prizefight. And while Cotto is among the greatest ticket sellers at this storied venue, this particular promotion has failed to gain any traction.
In fact, as of now, the gate receipts are much more of a bust than a boon.
Imagine throwing a retirement party and hardly anyone shows up.
But this shouldn’t take away from the career of the proud man from Caguas, who long ago stamped his place in the pantheon of great Puerto Rican boxers.
Was he Carlos Ortiz, Wilfredo Gomez or Felix Trinidad? Probably not but it says here that Cotto’s consistency and staying power put him above Wilfredo Benitez and Hector Camacho Sr. Yeah, he makes my Puerto Rican Mount Rushmore and he is the only one from the island to capture major world titles in four separate weight classes – junior welterweight, welterweight, junior middleweight and what was perhaps his crowning achievement, the middleweight title, when he stopped Sergio Martinez back in June of 2014 at the Garden.
His place in Canastota was long ago secured.
Just look at his BoxRec and examine the names that dot his ledger: Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr. at their peaks, Antonio Margarito, when he was the game’s boogeyman at 147, a still-formidable Shane Mosley and a young and spry Saul “Canelo” Alvarez. No, he didn’t win them all but he was never embarrassed in those encounters. Secondary names such as Cesar Bazan, Carlos Maussa, Lovemore Ndou, Victoriano Sosa, Randall Bailey, Paulie Malignaggi, Carlos Quintana, Zab Judah, Joshua Clottey, Ricardo Mayorga, Austin Trout and Daniel Geale were also quality dance partners throughout his career.
There’s a lot of history packed into that 41-5 (33) record.
Who can forget Cotto’s life-and-death battle with Ricardo Torres in 2005? His first defeat versus Margarito – which will forever be shrouded in controversy – remains one of the best and most memorable of the past generation. Cotto wasn’t just a great talent; he was also involved in great fights. Armed with solid boxing skills and a wrecking ball left hook, Cotto regularly entertained fans.
Coming out of the 2000 Olympics, he was quickly anointed the successor to the great Trinidad and he more than lived up to those lofty expectations. No, he wasn’t the universally beloved and revered figure that Trinidad was – he simply didn’t possess the same vibrant personality of “Tito” and his brooding nature could be mistaken for being aloof – but he represented Puerto Rico with honor and distinction. It had to be a tough act to follow. Sometimes following a legend and continuing the tradition can be an insurmountable task – ask Felix Verdejo.
If Trinidad was Muhammad Ali to his people, then Cotto was Larry Holmes. Unconditional adulation may have eluded him but he has earned universal respect.
Boxing is now once again a regular occurrence at the Garden (which is going through a run of three consecutive weekends of boxing) but there was a stretch at the turn of the century when “The World’s Most Famous Arena” only did sporadic cards. But that all changed as Cotto headlined against amateur nemesis Muhammad Abdullaev in June of 2005, the night before the annual Puerto Rican Day Parade, which quickly became a tradition during his days under the Top Rank banner.
Let’s make this clear: Cotto led the boxing renaissance in the Big Apple. Yeah, he made it Miguel’s Square Garden.
It’s a shame that his last appearance at MSG is struggling mightily at the box-office. Perhaps many Puerto Ricans have allocated their money for more important matters back home and Ali – who was knocked out by the relatively light-hitting Jessie Vargas at welterweight – is thought of as a no-hoper. It is a tough sell made tougher by the recent saturation in that market and the fact it is now the holiday season.
The last chapter of this career looks like it might be ending with more of a whimper than a bang commercially but there’s no denying that it was still quite a storybook career. One with drama, heartbreak, redemption and now a conclusion. Sixteen years in the business, nothing given but millions earned. It was a hard road traveled. At 37 years old, Cotto seems like a content man, ready to walk away from the game that has defined him.
It will be a long time before another fighter comes along who will carry a region and mean as much as “Junito.”
Doug Fischer, Michael Baca and I discuss Cotto-Ali and the career of the Puerto Rican star on the latest installment of “10 Count.”
So are we getting a heavyweight unification between IBF/WBA titlist Anthony Joshua and WBO beltholder Joseph Parker?…The HBO opener on Saturday night is Rey Vargas defending his WBC 122-pound title against Oscar Negrete…HBO goes live from the Garden at 10 p.m. ET/PT…Yeah, without Chris Herndon and now Ahmmon Richards, it will be tough sledding for the Miami offense versus Clemson…And yes, I’ll be in Charlotte for the ACC title game…I can be reached at email@example.com and I tweet (a lot) at twitter.com/steveucnlive. I also share photos of stuff at instagram.com/steveucnlive and can also be found at tsu.co/steveucnlive.