I’m standing in an elevator next to Miguel Cotto as we get ready to discuss his retirement fight against Sadam Ali on Dec 2 at Madison Square Garden and I can already sense this won’t be an easy conversation.
If you are aware of Cotto, the “Pride of Puerto Rico,” you know he is a quiet, reserved person who often gives little away, but recently, the 36-year-old has not been able to control his emotions.
Naturally, a major reason for this deals with the tragic events that are currently happening to his island due to Hurricane Maria. Cotto, who was born in Rhode Island but moved back to Puerto Rico before his second birthday, can’t help but feel what his people are going through.
‘These have been really hard times, so we, as a country, have to face them with courage,” Cotto says. “We know as Puerto Ricans what we have to do in order to go forward and help our people and our families. And we will. Together, we will come together and work for Puerto Rico.”
The more personal reason for his melancholy state of mind is the thought of leaving a 25-year career (16 as a professional) that has seen him experience almost everything a fighter can go through in the world of boxing. From victories over Shane Mosley, Zab Judah, Ricardo Mayorga, Sergio Martinez to defeats against Manny Pacquiao, Canelo Alvarez and Floyd Mayweather Jr, Cotto’s career from light welterweight to middleweight exemplifies the true meaning of what he is: a rugged warrior who has never said no a fight.
But he knows the time has come to hang up his gloves.
“It’s time to stop. After 25 years of everything that we have been through, we have reached goals we never thought possible so it’s now time to dedicate everything to my family,” he says.
As he speaks of his family—his wife Melissa and his four children—it’s clear that for Cotto, retirement is less about quitting and more about starting a new page. After his fight with the Brooklyn-born Yemeni-American Sadam Ali, Cotto wants to prioritize nothing else but family.
It’s natural for retiring athletes to come up with this answer but for boxers, it’s perhaps more complex.
Boxing, unlike any other sport, demands not just the physical but also the mental aspect of a fighter where isolation is your friend. But when you’re a family man, a father or a husband, this can be a mountain to climb.
Boxing is a lonely sport. It begins and ends with just one person. It doesn’t matter how many trainers, managers or members of your entourage come along for the ride because in the end it’s you in the ring so family can often take a back seat.
Cotto, therefore, wants to make up for lost time.
“The truth is that my kids are not kids anymore. I want to spend the majority of my days with them.”
Cotto is the only Puerto Rican to win six world titles in four different weight divisions, and he has seen it all. In 2008 at the MGM Grand, he suffered his first loss as a pro to Antonio Margarito. In a later fight, Margarito was caught with plaster wraps in his gloves, therefore questioning the validity of the encounter.
In 2009, he broke up his relationship with his trainer and uncle, Evangelista Cotto, and after a split decision against Joshua Clottey, Miguel Cotto faced Manny Pacquiao, losing via TKO in the 12th round. What most people don’t realize is that for the biggest fight of his career at that point, Cotto basically trained himself.
Two months after the fight, Cotto unexpectedly lost his father Miguel Sr and this became a pivotal moment for Cotto as it became a moment of inspiration and rejuvenation. The death of his father meant that Cotto would celebrate his dad and everything he taught him by recreating a better version of himself.
Bryan Perez, Cotto’s close friend, said in 2015 to Lance Pugmire from the LA Times, “His father taught him to grow through pain, be himself and strong through adversity. He wants to honor what his dad taught him."
Cotto moved up to light middleweight and won three consecutive battles, including a rematch against Margarito at Madison Square Garden in 2011. Cotto won in the 10th round after the fight was stopped due to Margarito’s severely damaged right eye.
After the fight, Max Kellerman asked him what his opinion of Margarito is now after this win and their tumultuous past. “He means nothing to me,” said Cotto. “I’m here, with all my crowd, with all my people, and like I told you before, he means nothing to me.”
When he lost to Floyd Mayweather in 2012 in a unanimous decision, Mayweather grabbed Cotto and called him the toughest guy he had ever fought. In 2014, Cotto moved up to middleweight and defeated Sergio Martinez, making him the first Puerto Rican boxer to win world titles in four different weight divisions. Later that year he suffered a narrow loss to Canelo Alvarez.
“I’ve won some and I’ve lost some,” he says. “But in the end I wouldn’t change a thing in all I’ve been through. I want young boxers to know that no one should be in charge of your career, don’t let anyone be in charge of your priorities.”
When you analyze the career of Miguel Cotto, you have to consider more than just wins and losses and instead focus on the man himself.
Cotto has never cared much for publicity or the glamorization of what comes before and after the fight. What he truly cares for is a challenge. He thrives on it. That’s why he has never shied away from a fight, and that’s what makes him a true legend.
When I ask him to define his career in one word, he thinks about it for a second and simply says: “Good.” And that’s why we’re going to miss Cotto, a boxer who doesn’t need to say much to explain what he has done for boxing.
Just watch the tape.