By Ben Block
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Miguel Cotto’s journey began on Feb. 23, 2001, with a flurry of left hooks in Austin, Texas.
Fighting under the Top Rank banner on ESPN, at a powerfully trim 139 pounds, with a jaw line as square as a Rubik’s Cube, in trunks tailored to look like the Puerto Rican flag, the 20-year-old impressed in his professional debut, scoring a first-round knockout of Jason Doucet.
Cotto, who turns 37 on Oct. 29, confirmed to the New York media on Tuesday that his Dec. 2 fight at Madison Square Garden, where he’ll face Brooklyn’s Sadam Ali (25-1, 14 KOs), will be his last.
“Since day one as a professional boxer I was able to bring my best,” Cotto reflected, as he comfortably talked about his decision to retire.
After 16 years, four different weight divisions and six world titles, Cotto (41-5, 33 KOs) seemed at peace and ready to embrace life after boxing.
Citing his family as “the best thing I can have in my life,” the proud Puerto Rican fighter and adopted son of New York said with unmitigated content, “I’ve done enough for them in my career and it’s time to sit and enjoy.”
Long time corner man and confidante Freddie Roach told WFAN.com that he finds solace in Cotto retiring by choice and not as a result of a doctor’s influence or wayward politics from the boxing commission.
However, Roach, who many regard as one of the best trainers of all time, has his reservations.
“I expect him to retire, yes, but he can still fight, believe me,” Roach said.
Drawing from his own experience as a former fighter, Roach added, “Retirement is a lot tougher than people realize. It’s a very addictive sport.”
And before he went on to find success as a trainer, Roach recalled how he, himself, came out of retirement to fight five more times, only to lose four.
Refocusing on Cotto, the tenured trainer admitted how disappointed he was on his behalf, saying that Ali was simply “the best name we could get.”
A 2008 U.S. Olympian who took up boxing when he was 8 years old, Ali has slippery mobility, but underwhelming power, which elicited a deadpanned prediction by Roach.
“We’ll knock him out,” he said.
Roach wanted Cotto’s final contest to be against the winner of last month’s Canelo Alvarez-Gennady Golovkin mega-fight, which turned out to be a highly controversial draw.
“Possibly. I wonder about that,” Roach said of the idea of Cotto being coaxed out of retirement for a rematch with Alvarez, or a clash with Golovkin.
Hall of Fame boxer-turned-promoter Oscar De La Hoya, who was heralded for making that Alvarez-Golovkin fight in September, and is tasked with brokering the rematch, expressed frustration that he couldn’t get a better, more well-known boxer to have accepted the Dec. 2 fight with Cotto.
“I have great admiration for Miguel Cotto, but we offered this fight to everyone,” De La Hoya said, feigning bewilderment.
When pressed about who specifically passed, De La Hoya gave a proverbial stick-and-move response.
“Like an Errol Spence, like a Danny Garcia, like a Mikey Garcia, even fighters in the middleweight division. But some fighters weren’t available and some fighters turned it down,” De La Hoya said.
Spence and Garcia were apparently both openly turned off by the premise that a fight with Cotto would come attached to a multi-fight contract with Golden Boy promotions.
Cotto has always asked to face the best fighters, which in large part has ingratiated him to boxing fans everywhere, particularly in New York City. While specifics on the making of his fight with Ali were not disclosed, Cotto defended the matchup.
“I’m always looking for the best name on the table and every opportunity, and Ali was the best one there,” he said.
Rather than cry disappointment that he didn’t draw a better or bigger name, Cotto remained professional. Perhaps he was unwilling to wait for a more desirable opponent.
“This is another fight, another day of work, but the last one,” he lamented.
Yet, considering how he stung Tokyo’s Yoshihiro Kamegai, who exhibited a tremendous chin but lacked counter-punching ability, for all 12 rounds at a sold-out StubHub Center on Aug. 27, Cotto deserved better than Ali as a reward for his final fight.
The unanimous decision over Kamagei gave Cotto the vacant WBO junior middleweight title, the sixth championship belt of his career.
Cotto, however, harbors no bitterness about how his Hall of Fame career will end. The bout in early December will be his 10th appearance at the Garden, which is expected to be at full capacity, and his 24th time fighting on HBO.
All in all, Cotto said he has no regrets.
“Probably I missed a lot of opportunities, but those opportunities that I lost make me the Miguel Cotto I am right now. And I’m a happy husband, happy father of four, and I’m happy with the decisions I made in my life,” he said.
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