The bout between Miguel Cotto and Ricardo Mayorga in March will be a show – not a fight. In a fight, both boxers should stand a chance.
As it is, the boxing match will be all about Cotto. Sure, Mayorga, ever the showman, will do what he does, play his part in the show, and receive a nice payday.
But for Cotto, it's so much more.
It's a must-win, of course, but the Puerto Rican fighter is already a 6-1 favorite. Cotto, instead, is focused on more than pulling off a victory: This is a stepping stone, an easy win engineered to thrust him back in the spotlight after what will have been more than nine months between fights.
There is little doubt that the 30-year-old from Caguas has been one of boxing’s most dominant fighters in the last decade. He boasts a 35-2-0 record with 28 knockouts. He’s still in the conversation as one of today’s top pound-for-pound boxers, and he’s only had one fight (a June 5, 2010, TKO over Yuri Foreman) since losing to Manny Pacquiao in November of 2009.
But for the greatest in any sport, a career is not just about leaving one’s mark on an era. It’s about making one’s mark in history, and Cotto has yet to do the latter. Certain setbacks may have been out of his control. For others, he may have only himself to blame.
Either way, he’s running out of time.
Cotto’s first professional loss came July 26, 2008, at the hands of Antonio Margarito. The significance of this defeat wouldn’t become apparent until six months later when the Tijuana Tornado was caught with tampered hand wraps before a bout with Shane Mosley. Many believe Margarito had loaded wraps in the Cotto bout as well. If that’s true, it’s an unfortunate way to end a perfect streak.
How much of an impact the loss had on Cotto is unknown. But one thing with the ability to haunt athletes and sports fans for years is “what could have been.”
That same concept makes recent remarks from Cotto’s trainer to El Nuevo Dia so much harder to comprehend. Emanuel Steward told the Puerto Rican daily newspaper that his boxer has been fighting one-armed for the last four years. The injury apparently stemmed from a 2001 car accident in which Cotto hurt his right arm. The arm was operated on, but over time, it deteriorated.
Steward said Cotto did everything he could to hide the pain until it became unbearable. Now, after having surgery on his right shoulder in July, the light middleweight is supposedly 100 percent.
In the last four years, Cotto has beaten Zab Judah, Shane Mosley and Joshua Clottey. He made it to the 12th round against Pacquaio. If he did that on a single arm, he could be one of the greatest boxers in history.
Correction, could have been. The fact is, Cotto lost to Pacquaio, allowing Pacman to further stake his dominance in boxing and solidify his claim as the pound-for-pound best.
If Steward’s comments carry weight (and it’s fair to question how much Cotto was hindered), it’s a shame to think Cotto could have been limited as much by his own machismo as by his injured arm.
It’s unlikely we’ll see just how improved he is against Mayorga. Cotto could probably easily beat the 37-year-old Nicaraguan with one arm. It will take a bigger opponent, likely only Pacquaio himself, to erase any doubt.
It’s possible a Cotto-Pacquiao rematch could be on the horizon. Bob Arum and Top Rank promote both fighters. The Filipino congressman has his own throwaway bout with 39-year-old Mosley set for May 7, which could set up Pacquiao and Cotto for a fall meeting.
But the sad truth for boxing fans is a Cotto-Pacquiao rematch in 2011, if it comes, will likely come too late for Cotto’s legacy.
Pacquiao is closing in on the end of his boxing career. He’s still incredibly talented, but many – including his own trainer, Freddie Roach – have noted the fighter’s focus is shifting to a life beyond the ring. And while Cotto inevitably has his eye on one opponent, Pacquiao has his choice of challengers.
Even in the event of a Cotto victory, the headlines would read the fall of Manny Pacquiao, not the resurrection of Miguel Cotto.
It would be quite a show, though, not to mention quite a fight.
Maria Burns Ortiz is a freelance sports journalist, chair of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists' Sports Task Force, and a regular contributor to Fox News Latino.