HBO Boxing Insiders Eric Raskin and Kieran Mulvaney reflect on Sadam Ali's upset win in Miguel Cotto's farewell fight, discuss what the future holds for Ali, pay tribute to future Hall of Famer Cotto, and look ahead to the December 9 tripleheader in Las Vegas headlined by Orlando Salido vs. Miguel Roman.
Photos: Ed Mulholland
NEW YORK, N.Y. — It would be easy to forget that there are two men, not just one, in Saturday’s main event, such has been the focus on it being the final appearance of one Miguel Angel Cotto. The nearly-forgotten of the pair, Sadam Ali, totally understands why that is.
“It’s Cotto’s last fight, so I understand they’re going to be all on that,” he said earlier this week before working out for a small group of media at his basement gym in Brooklyn. “Cotto’s a legend, he’s the biggest star, so there’s going to be more attention on him. It doesn’t bother me in any way.”
Ali was not the first choice to be Cotto’s final opponent: if various reports of those who turned the opportunity down are to be believed, it isn’t at all clear that he was the second, third or even fourth choice. He is, however, in many ways the perfect one — certainly much more than the Puerto Rican’s preferred option, middleweight wrecker Gennady Golovkin, would have been. Ali is just good enough for it to be feasible that he might spoil the party and win on Saturday; but not so good that he is likely to. Before his sole career loss, a stoppage defeat to Jessie Vargas last year, he was certainly considered a rising talent and legitimate contender. But he did suffer that loss to Vargas; and while Vargas is himself no slouch, boxers knocked out by him generally aren’t expected to defeat future Hall-of-Famers, even future Hall-of-Famers who might be distracted by the hoopla surrounding the fact that their next fight will bring an end to a 17-year professional boxing career.
Not that Cotto gives much impression of being distracted in any way, or of distracted being the kind of thing he would allow himself to be. The Puerto Rican has generally been a no-nonsense, matter-of-fact guy; although he has sometimes been dismissed as a diva for what has been perceived as an aloofness, in reality he has preferred to eschew small talk and to concentrate on the core aspect of his job, which is climbing into a ring and punching another human being who is trying to punch him.
Not that his has been a career or a life entirely free of drama. There was, after all, the time his uncle Evangelista threw a cinder block at his car windshield - while Cotto was in the car, driving away, and after the two men had twice come to blows. That resulted in Evangelista, who had been in his nephew’s corner for the first 34 fights of his professional career, being excised, Trotsky-like, from Cotto’s world. The proximate cause of the internecine brawl is unspecified, but reportedly was nurtured by a growing discord between the two over training techniques — today hailed as a model professional, Cotto was not always so dedicated to his craft — and came to a head following the fighter’s first loss, to Antonio Margarito.
That first defeat was also seemingly the most impactful to Cotto’s psyche. In the years that followed, he not only fought with his uncle, he sported an ever-growing array of tattoos, cycled through a succession of trainers — Joe Santiago, Pedro Diaz, Emanuel Steward — and boxed well without ever quite convincing the way he had done in the past. With Evangelista in his corner, he compiled a record of 33-1. In his subsequent seven outings, he went 4-3. Not even avenging his loss to Margarito in a hate-drenched rematch at Madison Square Garden seemed fully to exorcise the demons.
Then, in 2013, when all seemed at its lowest ebb, he linked up with Hall-of-Fame trainer Freddie Roach, who not only righted the ship but helped it get underway again, steering it toward a successful denouement that included claiming the lineal middleweight championship of the world.
In the process, Cotto appeared to find an inner contentment that had previously been lacking, a sense of satisfaction that enabled him to declare, after beating back the challenge of Yoshihiro Kamegai in August, that there would be “one more fight in December, and then we are done.”
That final fight is now 24 or so hours away. And lest Ali seek comfort from the notion that one pink croc-shod Puerto Rican foot might already be out the door, at Thursday’s final press conference Cotto made a promise, albeit in a voice that cracked with the emotion of farewell, that enough fire burned within him to fuel one more battle.
“All I can say is that, on Saturday, I’ll be the same Miguel you watched for the last 16 years,” he said. “I’m going to be a warrior inside the ring, and I’m going to do my best, as always.”
Weights from New York:
Miguel Cotto — 151.6 pounds
Sadam Ali — 153.0 pounds
Rey Vargas — 121.4 pounds
Oscar Negrete — 121.2 pounds
Take a look back at the life and career of a living legend in Miguel Cotto: A Retrospective.
Tune into Cotto's final fight against Sadam Ali on Saturday at 10 p.m. ET/PT on HBO.
There will be no tickertape, bunting, or parade floats in sight, but it will be a memorable farewell party nonetheless when Miguel Cotto ducks through the ropes for the last time on Saturday night in Madison Square Garden. After years of seeing his image flashing on Jumbotrons across the country, Cotto, closes out a distinguished career with a junior middleweight title defense against Brooklyn fringe contender Sadam Ali.
Cotto, 37, joins a slew of luminaries who have recently retired—including Timothy Bradley and Andre Ward—but none of them ever had a stranglehold on the American public the way Cotto did. If not for Floyd Mayweather, Jr., Manny Pacquiao, and Oscar De La Hoya, Cotto would have been the biggest draw of his era, a remarkable achievement too often overlooked in a sport dominated by small dreamers. After all, the first rule of prizefighting, developed during the days when municipal laws forced aficionados to board mystery trains to parts unknown for a chance to see their bruising idols, remains simple: exact a visceral response from a hardened blood sport audience. And Cotto mastered that principle—especially among his enthusiastic Puerto Rican countrymen—despite maintaining a public personality that was equal parts bland and blasé.
As if to underscore his no-frills approach to a vocation often linked, metaphorically, at least, to carnivals and professional wrestling, Cotto never bothered to adopt a nickname, a marketing tool few fighters neglect to employ. Showmanship was never in his DNA. Indeed, at times Cotto seemed to rue the fact that the bright lights of fame did not include a dimmer – one that he could control at will. With cameras, tape recorders, and iPhones surrounding him, Cotto often seemed determined to hone his nonverbal communication skills. That such a sparing and sometimes sullen figure could retain his superstar status for a decade is extraordinary.
A converted southpaw with a crippling left hook to the body, Cotto developed into a versatile boxer-puncher whose vulnerabilities regularly sparked two-way action between the ropes. His biggest flaws remained with him throughout his career: shaky defense, limited stamina, and a susceptibility to bruises and cuts. Ironically, these same drawbacks made Cotto a crowd favorite just a few short years after turning pro in 2001. His fights against Zab Judah, Joshua Clottey, and Shane Mosley were grueling affairs and his pairing with Ricardo Torres in 2005 turned into an unforgettable free-for-all. He may have been short on pizazz and razzmatazz at the podium, but Cotto provided thrills in the ring so often that he began drawing comparisons to white-knuckle icon Arturo Gatti.
In a career that spanned 15 years, Cotto won six world titles in four divisions and routinely tangled with the elite of his era. At the heart of his 46 fights is his first defeat as a professional: a shattering KO loss to Antonio Margarito in a pay-per-view shootout in Las Vegas. On July 26, 2008, Cotto jumped to an early lead on the scorecards by boxing neatly from the perimeter and peppering a charging Margarito with combinations. But nothing could deter Margarito, a man determined to turn the ring into his own personal abattoir. His thudding shots began to take a physical toll on Cotto halfway through the fight. Finally, in the 11th, a bone-weary Cotto, who had already been knocked down earlier in the round, dropped to a knee beneath a fusillade of blows. As a bloody Cotto staggered to his feet, his trainer, white towel in hand, ended the butchery. Later, his loss to Margarito would leave him embittered and mark his last years as a demanding negotiator who insisted on catchweights and other advantageous provisos. After Margarito was caught with doctored hand wraps prior to his loss to Shane Mosley in 2009, Cotto was convinced that similar skullduggery had taken place in his own fight against “The Tijuana Tornado.”
Less than a year and a half after losing to Margarito, Cotto squared off against the most dangerous man in boxing: Manny Pacquiao, then running roughshod across multiple divisions. Few contemporary welterweights could have beaten Pacquiao that night (which is one reason why Floyd Mayweather, Jr. waited years to mix it up with “Pac Man”) and Cotto was no exception. Yet even after suffering his second knockdown of the fight—courtesy of a supersonic uppercut in the fourth that left him in suspended animation for a frightening millisecond—Cotto rebounded to push Pacquiao in the following round. That headlong rush into danger, as much as anything, can serve as a metaphor for his career as a whole. Eventually, Pacquiao overwhelmed Cotto, sending him backpedaling to a gruesome 12th-round TKO loss.
Unlike so many of his peers, Cotto did not find himself adrift for long. Even Shane Mosley, adored by pound-for-pound fetishists for a few short years, wound up off-trail for a while, fighting 10-rounders on pay-per-view undercards. For Cotto, it was never anything but top billing. He bounced back with stoppage wins over undefeated titleholder Yuri Foreman and faded wild man Ricard Mayorga. Then Cotto exacted revenge on Antonio Margarito, the man he openly referred to as a “criminal,” repeatedly shaking a dogged Margarito en route to a TKO victory in a lurid rematch held in Madison Square Garden. By then, however, Margarito had been irreparably damaged following a 12-round battering at the hands of Manny Pacquiao in 2010.
This mini-streak vaulted Cotto into a blockbuster pay-per-view against the reigning box-office king and anti-hero extraordinaire Floyd Mayweather, Jr. On May 5, 2012, Cotto drew first blood but found himself outfoxed down the stretch by as pure a virtuoso as has been seen in the ring since the heyday of Pernell Whitaker. Even so, Cotto managed to spur a rarity in boxing: a lively fight involving Floyd Mayweather. Unfortunately, losing to Mayweather marked Cotto as a choke artist to some, and the peanut gallery (now a 24/7 concern) never failed to let its displeasure known.
Even Cotto’s most significant victory, an upset TKO win over Sergio Martinez in 2014, triggered his critics, who believed that “Maravilla,” the legitimate middleweight champion of the world, had entered the ring hobbled. A recurring knee injury had hampered the footloose Martinez for a couple of years, but it was the knockdown he suffered within a minute of touching gloves with Cotto that aggravated it. No matter—Cotto ignored his nitpickers and two fights later co-starred in the last Big Time event of his career: an entertaining points loss to formidable Saul “Canelo” Alvarez in Las Vegas.
Whether or not one believes Cotto is overrated or underrated, the fact is he will be voted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. To some, Cotto, with a dedicated following along the Eastern Seaboard, was more popular than he was accomplished. There are plenty of fighters in the Hall of Fame whose feats did not match their celebrity—Ray Mancini and Barry McGuigan, for example—but Cotto had clear wins over at least two future Hall of Fame candidates: Shane Mosley and Sergio Martinez. He also rates high in longevity and quality of opposition. Among the world-class fighters Cotto defeated were Mosley, Martinez, Carlos Quintana, Ricardo Torres, Paulie Malignaggi, Zab Judah, and Joshua Clottey. He also topped a number of contenders and titlists, including Foreman, DeMarcus “Chop Chop” Corley, Cesar Bazan, and Randall Bailey. In addition, Cotto reached a unique milestone when he became the first Puerto Rican fighter in history to win titles in four different weight classes.
If his overall standing is hurt by KO losses to Margarito and Pacquiao, then his legacy ought to reflect a simple fact no record book can ever reveal: Miguel Cotto separated himself from his peers by consistently chasing dangerous assignment after dangerous assignment and—this is the key—without having to. Unlike, say, Orlando Salido or Ray Beltran, fighters whose limited options forced them into repeatedly accepting disadvantageous matchups, Cotto could sell a dumpster full of tickets in New York City and produce solid television ratings whenever he gloved up. In other words, Cotto could have avoided some of his conquerors and still have gotten paid handsomely.
To Cotto, however, facing long odds was nothing more than a professional obligation. Every 18 months or so, Cotto popped up, usually as an underdog, in an extravaganza: Margarito, Pacquiao, Mayweather, Martinez, Alvarez. This is a man whose reserved persona belied a steely gambler beneath it all – Doc Holliday without the repartee or a Colt Lightning; Stu Ungar without the loathsomeness or cocaine. His lo-fi persona and willingness to answer the bell against anyone gave Cotto a retro-chic air seldom found among the newfangled breed. Ultimately, this is what makes Cotto special. And this is why he was a credit to his sport.
Under normal circumstances, Sadam Ali could be dismissed as an unseasoned pro whose limitations are ripe for violent exploitation at the hands of a dangerous veteran looking to make a final indelible statement. And this, in fact, is what is likely to happen on Saturday night. But Cotto found his original hopes for a memorable swansong scotched by the mystifying draw between Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin last September. In the end, his wish for a final chance at glory went unfulfilled. Instead of reaching for tomorrow, then, Cotto will have to settle for today, something he was rarely comfortable doing as a world-class professional for nearly fifteen years.
On the undercard, windmilling Rey Vargas from Mexico City defends his super bantamweight title against Oscar “El Jaguar” Negrete. Last August, Vargas (30-0, 22 KOs) outpointed former super-prospect Ronny Rios in his first title defense in a mild upset and is now looking to extend his undefeated record against the untested Negrete. Although Negrete (17-0, 7 KOs) is Colombian, he is now based out of Rosemead, California, and has been a staple on Golden Boy cards staged at the Belasco Theater in Los Angeles for years. That means Negrete, who until recently has been fighting 8-rounders, might not be ready for his first step up. Neither man is world-class, but Vargas has faced better competition, wields an educated left hand, and has a high-octane style that should keep Negrete on the defensive for long stretches of each round. Since both men like to mix it up from time to time, there should be a few sparks before Vargas pulls away for a unanimous decision or a late TKO.
HBO Sports, with a 44-year tradition in professional boxing, takes a deep dive into the career of sure-fire Hall of Famer Miguel Cotto, the most accomplished and decorated fighter in Puerto Rican history, as he prepares to make one last ring appearance next month against former U.S. Olympian Sadam Ali when Miguel Cotto: A Retrospective debuts Saturday, November. 25 at 12:45 PM ET/PT immediately following the live HBO World Championship Boxing tripleheader telecast from New York.
The special will also be available on HBO NOW, HBO GO and HBO On Demand, and at hbo.com/boxing, as well as other new media platforms.
Four-division and six-time world champion Miguel Cotto (41-5, 33 KOs), returns to the ring for the final time in what will mark the end of an era for the future Hall of Famer. Cotto will look to successfully defend his junior middleweight title in his last outing before a packed crowd of loyal New York supporters as he closes the book on his legendary career.
HBO Sports production cameras will visit Cotto as well as family members in Puerto Rico to tell his backstory — both personal and professional — as he trains for the final time in Hollywood, CA under the guidance of Freddie Roach. The Caguas, Puerto Rico native will also sit with Jim Lampley for a retrospective on his accomplishments.
On Saturday, Dec. 2, Cotto and Ali meet at the World's Most Famous Arena, Madison Square Garden in New York in a 12-round 154-pound world title bout that will be televised live on HBO beginning at 10:00 PM ET/PT. This will mark Cotto’s 24th appearance on the network and his tenth showcase at MSG.
Rey Vargas (30-0, 22 KOs), the undefeated 122-pound champion of Mexico City, Mexico, will make the second defense of his WBC World Super Bantamweight Title against NABF Bantamweight Champion Oscar “El Jaguar” Negrete (17-0, 7 KOs) of Tierraalta, Colombia in the 12-round co-main event of the showdown between Miguel Cotto and Sadam “World Kid” Ali for the WBO World Junior Middleweight Title on Saturday, Dec. 2 at Madison Square Garden. The event will be televised live on HBO World Championship Boxing beginning at 10 PM ET/PT.
Vargas is a 26-year-old champion who brings a considerable height and reach advantage in every fight, which he has used to nullify all of his previous opposition. In February 2017, Vargas traveled to the United Kingdom to defeat Gavin McDonnell for the vacant WBC Super Bantamweight Title. For this fight, Vargas enlisted the help of Hall of Fame trainer Ignacio “Nacho” Beristain, who has been training him ever since. In August, Vargas defended his title for the first time against longtime super bantamweight contender Ronny Rios via a decisive unanimous decision, and will look to defend again in his Madison Square Garden debut on Dec 2.
“I feel privileged to be fighting at an arena where some of history’s best fighters have fought,” said Vargas. “I know that Oscar Negrete is a brawler and that this is a fight between two undefeated fighters. Negrete is a young man who pushes forward hard, and his 17-0 record and his place in the rankings demonstrate that he’s a great rival. Also, it will be an honor to share the card with Miguel Cotto, and I know that the arena will be filled with a lot of emotion for his last fight. And, just as a star is making a grand exit, I hope that a new star is born, and his name is Rey Vargas.”
Negrete, a 30-year-old native of Tierraalta, Colombia, has been a staple of Golden Boy events on the west coast after making his United States debut in June 2014. Since then, he has appeared over ten times in the California, steadily defeating tough opponents in both the bantamweight and super bantamweight divisions. In his last outing, Negrete moved down to 118 pounds to defeat Sergio Frias for the NABF Bantamweight Title in the main event of the June 30 edition of Golden Boy Boxing on ESPN. Negrete, who will debut on the east coast at Madison Square Garden, will move up again to take on the toughest test of his career.
“I am super happy for this opportunity,” said Negrete. “I am not only seeing one dream come, true but two dreams. It’s been a dream of mine to fight for a world title and a dream to fight at Madison Square Garden, and on December 2, I’ll be doing both. I know Rey Vargas is a great fighter, but I’ve always wanted to fight the best. If I’m going to fight for a world title, it has to be with a great rival who is worth it and whom I can be proud to fight.”
HBO Boxing Insiders Eric Raskin and Kieran Mulvaney dissect several recent news items, including what went down at the Daniel Jacobs-Luis Arias press conference, which names on the International Boxing Hall of Fame ballot are deserving of induction, Miguel Cotto's selection of Sadam Ali as a farewell opponent, and Jim Lampley remaining the voice of HBO boxing for the foreseeable future.