CARSON, Calif. -- It is a surprising discovery that, for all his accomplishments – world titles in four different weight divisions, including the lineal world middleweight championship; sell-out crowds at Madison Square Garden; headline events in Las Vegas – Miguel Cotto has never performed on the main stage in the most populous state in the Union.
As a professional, he has fought in California just twice: in July 2001, as a young prospect with a 5-0 record, he fought at Staples Center in Los Angeles, buried on an undercard below the likes of Roy Jones, Jr., Erik Morales, Andrew "Six Heads" Lewis, Ricardo Mayorga and Mia St. John. Nine fights and about two years later, in Fresno, he was elevated to co-main event status, scoring a fourth-round knockout of Joel Perez before Floyd Mayweather outpointed Victoriano Sosa.
Now, with a record of 40-5, and an all-but-guaranteed place in the Hall of Fame in his future, Cotto headlines in the Golden State for the first – and, if he is to be believed, the last – time. Within the last few weeks, former foe Shane Mosley has announced his retirement, following rapidly in the footsteps of long-speculated future opponents Juan Manuel Marquez and Timothy Bradley. Cotto’s announcement of his intended retirement preceded them all, but his came with a caveat: his retirement would come at the end of 2017, ideally after two more fights. The first, against Yoshihiro Kamegai at the StubHub Center in Carson, comes on Saturday night (HBO World Championship Boxing, 9:45 PM ET/PT).
Kamegai’s is a far less celebrated career than Cotto’s. But the Japanese boxer has thrown punches for profit multiple times in California, including at the very arena where he will meet Cotto on Saturday. In 2013, when the venue was still known as the Home Depot Center, he lost by decision to one Johan Perez; eighteen months later, he was back, enthralling the crowd but dropping another decision against Robert Guerrero. So Kamegai is 0-2 at StubHub, and is favored to fall to 0-3 on Saturday. But he speaks boldly of his chances, of his determination to make it a fight for HBO fans to remember, and of his opinion that he will enable “American fans to appreciate that I am a good fighter.” And Cotto, who responded to questions this week with the kind of confident yet calm, monotone, noncommittal answers that are his hallmark, is not only by some distance the shorter man, he is also the older one. Not by much: on paper, his 36 years old are not a great deal more than Kamegai’s 34, but those years include much more mileage on much rougher ring roads.
Kamegai is a long-professed Cotto fan, but says that it is not for him to worry about whether a victory for him would prompt the immediate retirement of the Puerto Rican; “I just want to give it my best and to beat him.” He’d like to do in some style, too, and indeed, forcing an all-out brawl is almost certainly his best chance of pulling off the upset. And there would be no better place to do so than StubHub, a venue renowned for its memorable nights of action – including, for that matter, Kamegai’s loss to Guerrero.
Cotto, however, would probably be happiest keeping it all fairly low-key – much like Friday’s weigh-in, in fact, held in a small side room in a DoubleTree Hotel, a far cry from the MGM Grand stages of his pomp. His has been a career full of furious battles, against Ricardo Torres, Antonio Margarito, Zab Judah, Manny Pacquiao, and Mosley among many others. But with the finishing line so close he can almost see it, fully expect Cotto to resist any Kamegai entreaties to trade punches, and to seek instead to tuck his chin, move around the ring, and use his boxing skills to assert himself. No need for any unnecessary drama, to add any more miles to his odometer than he absolutely has to. Far better to say hello to California and then goodbye, to move on to one last stop, and then be gone.
Weights from Carson, California:
Miguel Cotto: 153.6 lbs.
Yoshihiro Kamegai: 153.8 lbs.
Rey Vargas: 121.6 lbs.
Ronny Rios: 122 lbs