Editorials

What Miguel Cotto Learned From the Business of Boxing

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Photo by Hogan Photos

The first time I ever saw Miguel Cotto fight was 10 years ago, on the undercard of Sam Peter’s elimination bout with Wladimir Klitschko for the IBF title. Cotto was defending his WBO Super Lightweight belt for the fourth time against an obscure last-minute replacement, Ricardo Torres.

Torres was a hard-hitting Colombian who had never fought outside his native country. The bell rang and both fighters traded hurt bombs in a violent display of brutality that saw both men get up off of the canvas multiple times. With a little over a minute or so left in the seventh round, Cotto delivered a five punch combination (including that patented left hook) that zapped any remaining desire to continue from the arduous Torres.  In that moment I became a fan of Miguel Cotto. I was amazed with Cotto’s resolve. His focus. His left hook.

After following Cotto’s career closely throughout those 10 years, watching him face–and beat–many of his contemporaries, he always impressed fans with his demeanor and his willingness to put everything on the line. When Cotto entered the Welterweight division during the latter half of the 2000’s, as his star potential rose, he got a “hard knocks” education on how calloused the business of boxing can be towards its fighters.

There are two instances in particular in Cotto’s career arc that highlight this education.

The first instance is in Cotto’s initial clash with former two-time champion and rival, Antonio Margarito. This fight resulted in Cotto’s first and most infamous loss. A loss where boxing fans saw Cotto battered and bloodied like never before (or after), mostly baffled by Margarito’s power and dominance that night.

Margarito had the reputation of a puncher, but this stoppage was succinctly different than others. Though Cotto took the professional high road and was vaguely accusatory in that loss or after it; moments before Margarito was to face Shane Mosley in his follow up title defense, it was discovered that Margarito’s hand wraps contained traces of the ingredients in Plaster of Paris. This was the biggest indictment of boxing and its careless nature towards its participants. Mosley could have been victimized too, if not for Naazim Richardson’s meticulous oversight during Margarito’s hand wrapping.

It was never proven that Margarito used loaded gloves against Cotto, but there was enough implication surrounding that fight to be plausible. Looking at it from Cotto’s perspective, you’d have to question it. How could an athletic commission operate so carelessly that this could happen? Despite all the protocols surrounding hand wrapping and gloves, from negotiations down to the “ceremonial” hand wrapping on the night of the fight, there were plenty of instances to prevent it. The Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC), which was responsible for preventing these kinds of violations, even Cotto’s camp and handlers, dangerously failed to protect Cotto.

The second instance, is when Cotto failed to defend his WBO Welterweight title against eight-time champion and future hall of famer, Manny Pacquiao. It wasn’t in the actual fight where Cotto learned a hard lesson about the business, but the negotiation process. This was a very tumultuous time in Cotto’s boxing career where disagreements with his uncle and longtime trainer, Evangelista Cotto, had come to blows. Cotto removed Evangelista from his duties and promoted his nutritionist, Joe Santiago, to head trainer. Yes. You read that correctly. Cotto’s nutritionist was training him at that time.  Also behind the scenes, his father, Miguel Sr.’s health was declining.

Against Cotto’s wishes and interests, Arum thrust a “catch weight” limit on to Cotto in negotiations. At first Arum wanted the fight to have a weight limit of 143 to accommodate the smaller fighter and challenger, Manny Pacquiao. Cotto flatly refused the catch weight completely, as his position was that he was the champion and the challenger should not be able to have more leverage in negotiations than the title holder. Unfortunately for Cotto, this challenger had Arum (basically Top Rank) on his side. Despite holding out on these negotiations until the 11th hour, Cotto was forced to cave. Not only agreeing to a catch weight of 145 pounds, but also giving up the lion’s share of the purse in a 65 to 35 percent split in Pacquiao’s favor.

Once again, Cotto’s camp and his handlers failed to protect him.

Instances like these might explain a lot of the changes Cotto has made in his career and his corner over the past few years.  For example: the switching of trainers from Joel Santiago to Pedro Diaz to his current trainer, hall of famer Freddie Roach; the off-and-on again relationship with Top Rank, only being held together by Cotto’s loyalty to Todd Debouf, which ended abruptly when Cotto signed with the new promoter on the block, Jay-Z’s Roc Nation Sports; and his own venture as a promoter with Cotto Promotions (which had a rocky start), that is now doing great things for fighters in Puerto Rico. It’s been a rollercoaster ride, but Cotto is now in charge of the decisions that are made for his career.

He’s been almost robotic in recent strings of interviews. “I am just finishing the last part of my career by doing what is in the best interest for me and my family.”

Cotto seems content with having an “actual” say in decisions that affect his career.

The boxing world? Not so much.

Much of the talk surrounding Cotto’s previous defense of his lineal Middleweight titles against Daniel Geale, where many railed against Cotto for demanding what was perceived to be an unreasonable request–a catch weight of 157 pounds. Daniel Geale was struggling to make 160 as it was, and with Cotto being a smaller middleweight, the catch weight definitely favored the three-time champion. Cotto was perceived as a “diva” and was accused of using the Middleweight belts as leverage in negotiations. At the end of the day, Cotto is far from a diva, but he is definitely using leverage to get what he wants. That’s what the business side of the sweet science has taught him to do. So when in Rome, right?

Can you blame him?

There were no talks of Pacquiao or Arum being “divas” when they backed Cotto into a corner and forced the catch weight upon him. Margarito faced a two year suspension after the loaded glove incident with Mosley, but Cotto never challenged the loss on his record despite being able to make a case. So after learning things in the manner in which he learned them; why should Cotto continue to be taken advantage of? Or why should he not behave in the same manner, when that’s what he learned from the business?

Ultimately, it seems fans are upset because they want what Cotto has–recognition as the lineal Middleweight champion–for someone else they believe to be more deserving. That someone is fan favorite Gennady Golovkin, the Middleweight monster, whose goal is to conquer the division by winning all the relevant titles. Cotto, with his shrewd negotiating and leverage, is standing in the way of that goal. While there is an argument to be made about who deserves to be king at 160 pounds, rarely are the ways of the world bound by what people deserve.

The WBC has made a play to effectively remove Cotto as a roadblock to Golovkin’s goal of Middleweight supremacy by squeezing an additional $300,000 in sanctioning fees, after Cotto’s camp has already forked out $800,000 ($1.1 million dollars total) in a “step aside” agreement that allows him to defend the WBC title against Canelo on Saturday, instead of facing the organization’s No. 1 ranked Middleweight and interim title holder, Golovkin.

After counteroffering with $125,000 (which the WBC refused to accept), Cotto declined to pay the $300,000, resulting in his being stripped of the WBC title. This way, win or lose on Saturday, Cotto is out of the picture as far as the WBC is concerned. This seems to play to the more seductive fight between Canelo and Golovkin in the near future.

Even as Cotto prepares to face Canelo this Saturday, its boxing business as usual. In what seems to be a calculated move, the WBC waited until the last moment to impose these fees on Cotto, to pressure him. If it wasn’t to Cotto’s detriment; why would the WBC put him in this situation days before the fight? At least this time, Cotto has the authority to say no.

The business aspect of boxing has forged Cotto into a stern and aloof businessman. When it’s all said and done; if Cotto makes a decision that benefits Cotto more so than the fans or the sport, he is one of the few fighters that has legitimately earned the right to do so. The complaints against his increasingly shrewd negotiating would be more legitimate, if it was anyone other than Miguel Cotto: a fighter that for most of his career has been the consummate professional and the type of fighter that pundits and fans talk about wanting to see in the “Money Mayweather” era of boxing.

While he was adorned by the public, he was getting screwed by the business. Fans used to love him for that, though many seem to have forgotten it.  I just thought I’d remind you.

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