The quintessential warrior Miguel Cotto turns 41 today. His legacy in boxing is secure as the first Puerto Rican to win world titles in four weight classes. He shared era-defining fights with Manny Pacquiao, Antonio Margarito and Shane Mosley. Make no mistake, Cotto did not duck anyone during a glorious sixteen-year run at the sharp end of the sport. It was this refusal to turn down a challenge that led him to perhaps his greatest night, when he took on middleweight champion of the world Sergio Martinez in June 2014.
With titles at light welterweight, welterweight and light middleweight already decorating his mantle, Cotto would attempt to go one better against WBC, The Ring magazine and lineal king Martinez. This was no hand-picked opponent, there was no hint of targeting the weakest champion at 160-pounds just to claim a lesser belt. Cotto moved up with the intention of going after the real middleweight champion, and that was Martinez.
The Argentine had been the dominant force in the division since taking the title from Kelly Pavlik in 2010. A laundry list of top names, including Paul Williams, Darren Barker and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr, had fallen during the four-year ‘Maravilla’ era. While injuries had begun to dull the intense style of the champion, he was still a betting favourite against Cotto. A fourth world crown against a fighter 20-pounds north of the light welterweight class where Cotto started his career felt like a bridge too far.
‘Junito’ had not read the script, however. A man who had fearlessly stood across the ring from Mayweather and Pacquiao, the two greatest fighters of the generation, was already accustomed to the role of underdog. And this underdog had the bite to back up his bark.
Cotto sent Martinez to the canvas three times in the first round. Most fighters who are up against the odds try to survive, some aim to thrive. The Puerto Rican puncher simply wanted to destroy. His veteran foe did exceptionally well to survive the round, and keep a lingering grip on the middleweight championship of the world.
This grasp would be retained for the ensuing seven rounds. Cotto was still the boss inside the Madison Square Garden ring where he enjoyed some of his greatest triumphs, but the bravery and craft of Martinez was keeping the champion in the fight. When your opponent takes your best shots and survives, it can create an insurmountable mental hurdle. However, Cotto diligently stuck to his work, approaching the fight like a consummate professional. There was no resting on his laurels for the man who had amassed a four-point lead coming out of the first round.
A thudding Cotto left would cause Martinez’s troubled knee to touch down in the ninth-round, as the bout increasingly became one-way traffic. At the conclusion of the stanza, Martinez’s trainer Pablo Sarmiento pulled the Argentine out. Cotto had done it, breaking Argentinian hearts the same way he had broken his opponent’s stubborn resistance. The Puerto Rican was the middleweight champion of the world.
This fight could be circled as the end of the incredible prime of Miguel Cotto. He fought on for three years, going 2-2 in the process. ‘Junito’ retained his newly-won gold in four brutal rounds against Australian Daniel Geale, before being relieved of his belts by Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez. The all-action attraction claimed a final world championship in his penultimate bout, beating Japan’s Yoshihiro Kamegai by unanimous decision to claim the WBO light middleweight strap. His final fight, appropriately at his second home Madison Square Garden, saw him lose this belt to unheralded Sadam Ali in 2017. Not the fairytale end Miguel Cotto deserved, but like the humble warrior he had always been, he complimented his opponent and took his bow from boxing.
The measure of a boxer is not the weight of their championship belts, it is the memories they leave behind. Miguel Cotto decorated his sport with countless recollections of wars fought and won, of determination and the relentless pursuit of competition. And in winning the middleweight championship when few predicted he ever would, he provided perhaps his most enduring memory of all.