By Jake Donovan
The plan all along was for the legendary Miguel Cotto to call it a career by the end of 2017. The only question was finding the perfect starting point to launch such a farewell tour.
Six months and one failed attempt later, the former four-division world champion is finally back in the ring. Given the Hall of Fame career he’s already led, the immediate question is—why return from a 20-month hiatus in the first place, rather than just head off into the sunset and await your call to the Hall by December 2020?
“All I want to do is finish my career in the best way possible,” said Cotto (40-5, 33KOs), who returns this weekend to face Japan’s Yoshihiro Kamegai in a vacant super welterweight title fight live from StubHub Center in Carson, Calif. (Saturday, HBO, 9:45PM ET). “It’s the reason why I’ve been working hard to finish it the best way possible.”
With that brief—even if vague—response came the real reason the 36-year old Puerto Rican superstar is still lacing ‘em up in 2017. While he’s made history for his boxing-rich island as the only ever from Puerto Rico to win titles in four weight classes, the bitter taste of going out with a loss just never seemed like the appropriate way to call it quits.
If only for that reason, Cotto returns for the first time since a close but clear points loss to Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez in their Nov. ’15 World middleweight championship contest. He’s back this weekend for another attempt at a super welterweight reign, even if winning another belt isn’t high on his priority list.
The last time he won a title at this weight came in the lone boxing show to take place at the new version of Yankee Stadium, stopping Yuri Foreman in the 9th round of their June ’10 affair which aired live on HBO. He returns to that very network, fighting live on its flagship station for the first time since his last victory, a 4th round stoppage of Daniel Geale in June ’15—coming a year after etching his name in the Puerto Rico history books following his one-side technical knockout win over Sergio Martinez to win the middleweight crown.
Just four fights have come of the past four years of his career, a win over Delvin Rodriguez in Oct. ’13 ending a 10-month layoff following back-to-back losses to Floyd Mayweather and Austin Trout in his last piece of title action at super welterweight.
Having fought just once in 2014, twice in 2015 and not at all a year ago, there was speculation that rumored bouts continuing to fall through would simply lead to his quietly fading away from the sport altogether. But that wasn’t the case.
“I just took time time off to spend with my family and heal what needed to be healed in my body,” explained Cotto, who has spent nearly the past year training for a comeback.
Original plans called for a February ring return versus James Kirkland in the greater Dallas area. That card fell through when his opponent suffered an untimely injury late enough into the promotion where securing another foe to save the show just wasn’t worth the effort.
Perhaps it just wasn’t meant to be. The show was to be distributed as a Pay-Per-View event, which most industry experts pegged as a disaster waiting to happen. It instead meant Cotto and Roc Nation Sports ending their two-year relationship on a whimper, a move that meant the entire Promociones Miguel Cotto also coming with him to his next destination.
Months later came his resurfacing with Golden Boy Promotions, with whom he enjoyed a brief yet impactful relationship in 2012—although it didn’t result in a single win, going 0-2 in losses to Mayweather and Trout before returning a year later with Top Rank, his promoter from the start of his career through 2011 and then for a two fight stint ending with the win over Martinez.
His reunion with Golden Boy has already resulted in the start of planned long-term business together, as together they launched the first ever ESPN Friday Night Fights telecast live from Puerto Rico which took place earlier this month. Plenty more is to come, particularly once Cotto hangs up the gloves for good and focuses on promoting full-time.
“I’m just trying to (give back) boxing what I got from boxing,” Cotto says of his foray into the promotional field, as his company has already run a successful “Boxeo Al Maximo” series on the island for the past several years. “I want to give boxers what boxing gave to me. I want to give them the opportunity to show their skills.”
This weekend, a legend gives the boxing community an opportunity to see the skill set he still possesses in the twilight of his career. It also marks his debut in California, appearing at the famed StubHub Center which has regularly churned Fight of the Year contenders for more than a decade.
Assuming a win comes in his anticipated war with Kamegai (27-3-2, 24KOs), last call is budgeted for December which will be shortly followed by his official retirement speech by year’s end.
Barring a career-ending injury, nothing about this weekend will change those plans—regardless of any offers to be made for 2018 and beyond.
“It’s a decision that’s already been made,” insists Cotto. “I’m leaving on December 31, no matter what happens with my career (on Saturday).”
So what will come of his final lap?
“I didn’t have this conversation with Golden Boy yet, but we will make a decision soon,” promises Cotto. “I just have to think about Kamegai. After that we will do what we always do – pick and choose the best challenger out there and face him.”
All that’s left now is to look back at his greatest hits. Wins over Martinez and Shane Mosley, his revenge-fueled stoppage of Antonio Margarito to avenge his first career loss, and his thrilling knockout victory over Zab Judah all took place at Madison Square Garden, where Cotto has sold more tickets than any other boxer in the 21st Century.
The location also served as the backdrop for a years-long boxing tradition that began in 2005, with Cotto appearing in the greater New York City area on the eve of the Puerto Rican Day parade. He did so on six separate occasions—five at Madison Square Garden, along with his aforementioned win over Foreman at Yankee Stadium in Bronx, New York—in flying La Bandera prouder than any Puerto Rican boxer in the post-Felix Trinidad era.
Still, the ever-reserved boxer—whom proudly represented Puerto Rico in the 2000 Olympics—refuses to single out any particular moment in a 17-year career.
“I enjoyed my whole career. I don’t want to point out any one opponent,” Cotto insists. “I think my whole career has been great for the sport of boxing.
“I’m proud of everything – the win over Mosley, the rematch with Margarito. But in the end I’m proud of my whole career.”
As well as he should be—even if he decided not to return this weekend, or at all.