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Miguel Cotto's steady success haunted by psychic scars

NEW YORK -- By any standard, Miguel Cotto has had an enviable career.

He has won world titles in three weight classes. He has made tens of millions fighting some of the biggest names in boxing. He is one of the biggest draws in the storied history of Madison Square Garden, selling more than 100,000 tickets in his eight fights.

He is, in my opinion, a first-ballot Hall of Fame fighter.

But when you look at Cotto, you wonder: Could he have been more?

Privately, Cotto wonders the same thing. In 2008, Cotto was a fighter on the fast track. He was young, popular and exciting, with the technique and power that had made him unbeatable.

Then, on a sweltering night in Las Vegas, all that changed. Antonio Margarito -- with what everyone assumes was a little something extra in his gloves -- handed Cotto a grotesque beating. Over 11 gruesome rounds Margarito pounded away at Cotto, gashing his face, rattling his brain. Late in the 11th, Cotto, his body broken, his will drained, took a knee, shook his head, and said no more.

Part of Cotto died that night. The man, the fighter that walked into the ring, did not walk out.

"Margarito stole a lot of things from me," Cotto said. "The old Miguel, who used to go into the gym, who used to go to the track in the mornings, that wasn't the Miguel who returned. I didn't trust myself."

The new Cotto was still good, though far from great. He regained a piece of the welterweight title in his next fight but lost it two fights later to Manny Pacquiao, in another brutal beating. He extracted a measure of revenge by knocking out Margarito last year but was soundly beaten by Floyd Mayweather in May.

Cotto tries not to dwell on the past. Too painful, he says. Besides, Cotto still has a big future ahead of him. Though it seems like Cotto has been around forever, at 32 he still has plenty of good years and formidable challenges to face.

On Saturday, Cotto (37-3) will face another when he takes on undefeated American beltholder Austin Trout for the WBA super welterweight title at Madison Square Garden (9 p.m. ET, Showtime). Trout (25-0) is an interesting choice. He is unknown, so he doesn't offer much help at the gate. And his slick, southpaw style -- which most recently befuddled Delvin Rodriguez -- makes him dangerous.

So why did Cotto pick Trout?

"In every aspect," Cotto said, "he was the best option."

Trout has appeared confident, but Cotto has seen that before. As Trout has built up his resume he has gone into hostile territory, and won. But Cotto believes there are levels of hostility, and Trout has never sniffed the one he is about to enter.

"He said he has been in Panama fighting with a Panamanian guy, he was in Mexico fighting with a Mexican guy," Cotto said. "But next Saturday he's going to be in New York, in Madison Square Garden, fighting with Miguel Cotto. That's my home, and I know nothing is going to be equal or the same as what he has done before. That's a special venue, that's a special night for me, and I know he's going to figure it out as soon as he gets in there."

Indeed, Cotto knows there is a clock ticking on his career. There is no timetable on retirement but he knows he could be one bad loss from being shoved in that direction. And there is so much more he wants to do. A win over Trout would send him into a likely pay-per-view matchup with Mexican star Saul Alvarez that would tack another page on his resume and generate millions in profit.

"Everybody knows the rivalry Puerto Ricans and Mexicans have," Cotto said. "They know what a Mexican guy is capable of doing inside the ring. I know that would be a great fight for all the boxing fans."

A win over Alvarez would set up a rematch with either Pacquiao or Mayweather.

And which fight would he prefer?

"Whichever pays me the most money," Cotto said.

Yes, Cotto still has a lot to fight for. He will never forget that night in Las Vegas, will never stop wondering what could have been. The battle scars on his body have healed but the effects linger. All Cotto can do now is keep working, keep squeezing what he can out of it.

"I'm getting older," Cotto said. "Now I just try to be the best Miguel I can be. I wake up every morning trying to bring my best in every camp. I know next Saturday I am going to climb into the ring and give the people the best Miguel they can possibly see."

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