On Saturday, May 5, WBA super welterweight champion Miguel Cotto will take on pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather in what could be a career-defining fight for the Puerto Rican star.
Cotto, who hails from the city of Caguas, now carries the torch passed to him by the last great Puerto Rican pugilist, Felix "Tito" Trinidad.
Several years ago, many envisioned that Cotto would be in Mayweather's shoes, perhaps even surpassing Trinidad on the long list of great Boricua champions. He had successfully risen through the professional ranks, had bagged wins over Zab Judah and Shane Mosley, and had been on most experts' top ten pound-for-pound lists.
Then he encountered the gloves -- perhaps plaster-loaded -- of Antonio Margarito.
Cotto's loss to Margarito derailed his career, crushed his confidence, and put a beating on his body that required a few years of recovery time. During those years, Cotto suffered another brutal loss to Manny Pacquiao, but also managed to squeeze in some victories over some lesser opponents.
For Cotto, however, things just weren't right until he recently took on and beat Margarito in a lopsided revenge match. Most memorable was Cotto's post-fight conduct -- standing motionless in front of a beaten-up Margarito and silently glaring at his tormentor, relishing in the moment.
Today Cotto is in a much better place. The Margarito demons are behind him, he is in a good weight class for his body, and he has a drama-free trainer that he trusts.
Now the only thing left for Cotto is to work on that legacy thing.
Although he is the defending champion putting his 154-pound belt on the line, he will clearly be the underdog against Mayweather.
Compounding any self-imposed pressure Cotto might feel is the added weight of the expectations of his fans, as he carries the burden of a Puerto Rican culture that lives and breathes for the sport of boxing.
The history of Puerto Rican boxing presents a remarkable lineage: Light Heavyweight Champion Jose Torres; Lightweight and Super Lightweight Champion Carlos Ortiz; Lightweight Champion Esteban DeJesus; Junior Welterweight, Welterweight and Super Welterweight Champion Wilfred Benitez; 122-pound, 126-pound and 130-pound Champion Wilfredo Gomez; 135-pound and 140-pound Champion Edwin Rosari, and Trinidad, who captured world titles at welterweight, super welterweight and middleweight.
In an interview with Puerto Rico's El Nuevo Dia newspaper, Trinidad said Cotto will need to be fast enough to overcome Mayweather's speed and upper body movement.
"He should stay toe to toe with Mayweather, round-by-round, close to Mayweather like all Puerto Ricans know how to do, put all his heart in and stay toe-to-toe," Trinidad said. "Try to look for a good shot and soften him little by little."
Trinidad continued, "It is going to be very difficult for Cotto because the other guy has the physical conditioning, the intelligence, doesn't take many shots, and is very elusive. Cotto can win, but it's not going to be easy."
In recent years, other Puerto Rican fighters such as Juan Manuel Lopez and Ivan Calderon have also earned popularity and fame. However, Cotto has been the face of Puerto Rico boxing for nearly a decade. Cotto's popularity is such that he is the third biggest PPV star in the sport, trailing only Mayweather and Pacquiao.
No other fighter in recent history has sold as many tickets in the city of New York as Cotto. Puerto Rican fans have come out in droves to see his fights live, buying more than 100,000 tickets for his seven bouts at Madison Square Garden and his fight in the outfield of Yankee Stadium.
Popularity is one thing, one's legacy inside the ropes is an entirely different matter.
The 31-year-old Cotto has taken on a wide range of opponents in his 11 years as a professional, which has included world title reigns at super lightweight, welterweight and currently super welterweight. Because of those accomplishments, he has earned a shot at arguably the top fighter in the sport.
A loss for Cotto will not crush his career. He is already one of Puerto Rico's all-time greats, and is quite accomplished in the ring as both a professional and an amateur.
But a win over Mayweather is definitely a game-changer for Cotto. Not only would it be the biggest win in Cotto's career, but it would also be the island's biggest victory since Trinidad's controversial decision win -- some might claim gift -- over Oscar De La Hoya.
Cotto has the golden opportunity to hand Mayweather the first loss of his professional career this Saturday night and solidify his place as a boxing legend.
An entire island eagerly looks forward to seeing whether he can rise to the occasion.
By Mike Elliott and News Services
Staff Editor for The Daily Sports Herald
Staff Editor for The Daily Sports Herald