FOR a professional boxer, there is no greater victory than the one achieved when his back is against the ropes, when he was supposed to be down to his last haymaker.
Entering his recent 12-round showdown with Argentina’s Sergio Martinez for the World Boxing Council (WBC) middleweight (160 pounds) championship, Cotto was looked upon as a shop-worn champion headed to sunsetville. A pro since 2001, Cotto has not been the same fighter since he was pulverized by Manny Pacquiao in November 2009. Cotto locked lips with the canvas and was being battered to a pulp when referee Kenny Bayless exercised fistic euthanasia in the 12th and final round.
Cotto’s career has since been topsy-turvy. He looked ordinary against pedestrian foes and struggled against the marquee ones. In May 2012, Cotto put up a game effort but was eventually outclassed by Floyd Mayweather Jr. in a fight for the World Boxing Association (WBA) junior middleweight (154 pounds) diadem. Seven months later, in December 2012, Cotto hit rock bottom when he showed up out of shape and sleepwalked in an embarrassing decision loss to the unbeaten but relatively untested Austin Trout.
Cotto took the next 10 months off and did some soul searching. At the time of the loss to Trout, Cotto had been hounded by domestic woes. Just before the Pacquiao fight, Cotto had a violent quarrel with his uncle and longtime trainer Evangelista Cotto, who had sued the former over alleged unpaid management fees. Thereafter, Martha Avecedo, a former administrator of Cotto’s residential property in the Carribean, filed a US$500,000 sexual harassment case against the fighter. As if things cannot get any worse, Cotto’s father Miguel Cotto Sr. died of a massive heart attack.
With the roof literally caving in on him, Cotto sought a new home. He overhauled his entourage and tapped the services of veteran trainer Freddie Roach. Roach broke down Cotto’s faults and rebuilt him. When Cotto returned to the ring in October 2013, he looked rejuvenated in scoring a third-round knockout of Delvin Rodriguez.
Truth be told, majority of Cotto’s losses had been due to unique circumstances. When he suffered his first loss to Mexican Antonio Margarito in 2008, there were loose whispers that he got beaten up because Margarito’s gloves were tampered. When Cotto lost to Pacquiao, not a few attributed it to the weight loss he had to go through as the fight was fought at a catch weight.
But there was no denying that Cotto looked shot when he bowed to Austin. Fortunately for Cotto, he was able to salvage his career in the nick of time.
Facing no weight issues and his confidence successfully repaired by Roach, Cotto manhandled Martinez in 10 rounds to win the WBC middleweight plum, his fourth division title. Flaunting his vintage pressure and power punching, Cotto floored Martinez three times in the first round and battered him the rest of the way. Post-fight statistics showed that Cotto landed 54 percent of his power punches, and it was evident with the way Martinez was rocked by almost every blow. Cotto’s trademark left hook hurt Martinez again in the third and fourth frames and by the time the fight was stopped, Cotto was ahead, 90-77, in the scorecards of all three judges.
Cotto, 33, improved his record to 39-4 with 32 knockouts. He rewrote the history books, becoming the first four-division world champion of Puerto Rico. The son of a former employee of the National Guard of Puerto Rico, Cotto took up boxing to lose weight (he weighed 156 pounds at age 11). Falling in love with the sport, he figured in 125 amateur fights (losing 23) and went as far as representing Puerto Rico in the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Before dethroning Martinez, Cotto had won titles in the junior welterweight (140 pounds), welterweight (147 pounds) and junior middleweight (154 pounds) divisions.
At his best, Cotto inflicted serious harm with every punch. He owned a horrific left hook and toasted the breadbaskets of his foe with ferocious body assaults. Against Martinez, Cotto showed that he still has the tools and has even mixed them with patience and poise. Cotto may be fighting on borrowed time, but the Martinez fight showed that he is still clicking and punching.