Miguel Angel Cotto: A Warrior Martyr
I can’t think of a modern fighter who has absorbed more punishment and anguish—both in and out of the ring—than Miguel Cotto…
The willow knows what the storm does not: that the power to endure harm outlives the power to inflict it.
—Blood of the Martyr
A standard dictionary tells us that a martyr is “a person who sacrifices something of great value for the sake of principle.” Throughout my experiences in boxing, I can’t think of a more principled fighter who has captured my imagination quite like Miguel Angel Cotto (36-2, 29 KOs) of Caguas, Puerto Rico. I also can’t think of a modern fighter who has absorbed more punishment and anguish—both in and out of the ring—than Cotto. Principled in his undying commitment to his family, the craft of boxing, and his country, Cotto seeks ultimate redemption when he faces archrival Antonio Margarito (38-7, 27 KOs) in New York City at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night (HBO PPV, 9 ET, $54.95).
“Miguel Cotto looks very sharp, very quick—in the early going.” Cotto vs. Margarito, MGM Grand Arena, Las Vegas, July 26, 2008
I vividly remember being amazed at the pure boxing ability, combination punching output, and superior ring movement displayed by Cotto in the early rounds against Margarito in their first bout. At the time, Cotto was undefeated, highly regarded by boxing insiders, and seen as the imminent threat to Floyd Mayweather in the talent-rich welterweight division. In the first half of the fight against Margarito, it was easy to see why Cotto was held in such regard. Cotto was flurrying with accurate combinations and then deftly turning Margarito with quick footwork to pivot out of Margarito’s punching range. Thundering off with a snappy jab followed by an arrow-straight right hand, Cotto’s punches were flashy as he showcased a myriad of short, quick hooks that found Margarito’s face time and time again. Cotto seemed to be at his boxing peak as he was thoroughly outboxing the most dangerous man in the welterweight division at the time.
Then something changed.
“It seems that Cotto wishes the fight was over already—while Margarito thinks the fight is just beginning. In a weird way, Cotto wants to run out the clock.”
Weird, indeed. As the rounds wore on, Cotto was still the sharper puncher, but Margarito’s relentless pressure and ability to absorb Cotto’s punches were taking their toll on the Puerto Rican star. As the second half of the fight developed, the Tijuana Tornado seized momentum and continually loaded up with whirlwind uppercuts and straight right hands that landed with increasing regularity. Unlike the first half of the fight, Cotto was no longer able to take Margarito’s punches well. With his face bloodied and swollen, Cotto elected to take a knee in the 11th round. With Cotto’s wife and youngest son crying in anguish at the sight of their husband/father being brutally beat down, Cotto’s corner threw in the towel as Cotto shook his head with a defeated expression on a badly damaged face that hardly resembled the face he walked into the ring with.
“As I was being pounded, I thought of my family watching ringside,” explained Cotto in a recent interview. Once again, Cotto’s regard for his family surfaces again as his concern for them takes precedent over his own quest for glory in the ring.
When asked by Max Kellerman about whether Cotto was willing to die in the ring, Cotto didn’t give the response many might have expected:
“You want me to expose my life, my health? For what? For the fans, for the people? My family, my kids, who is going to take care of them? Nobody, just me.”
This has come to characterize Miguel Cotto; a thoughtful, no frills type of personality unafraid to show emotion and his true face. What you see is what you get with Miguel Cotto and he has never tried to play to the public in order to gain wider popularity. Some have labeled him as “boring” because of this, but it is extraordinarily unique to see such an emotionally honest warrior compete at the highest levels of the sport.
In the aftermath of their first epic battle, Margarito was heralded as the new champ—but not for long. In his very next fight against Shane Mosley, illegal handwraps were removed from Margarito’s gloves just prior to the fight. Those wraps were later proven to contain calcium sulfate, substances that form plaster of Paris. When these substances are mixed with water (or in this case, considerable perspiration), they harden and transform into a deadly weapon. Considering the fact that Cotto was gradually beaten down by Margarito in the later rounds— after the calcium sulfate would have had a chance to harden when drenched by the perspiration build-up in Margarito’s gloves—questions instantly surfaced as to the legitimacy of Margarito’s victory over Cotto.
Since Margarito’s victory over Cotto in 2008 followed by the subsequent discovery of Margarito’s loaded wraps, Margarito’s punches haven’t carried the same power. Margarito’s punches did nothing to deter Shane Mosley, who absolutely destroyed Margarito with a brutal knockout. In Margarito’s next fight, he was unable to even hurt journeyman Roberto Garcia, let alone knock him out. Against Pacquaio, Margarito received the beating of his life and his punches fizzled out as he was not able to do any real damage to a man significantly smaller than him. All of this further casts a shadow over Margarito’s victories before the Mosley fight—as he simply hasn’t been the same quality of fighter since his loaded handwraps were discovered.
While it’s not fair to conclude that Margarito cheated in all of his previous fights after the Mosley handwrap scandal, one can’t help but be skeptical of the devastating punching power Margarito displayed prior to the Mosley bout. He wasn’t just knocking people out—he was severely damaging opponents with punches that had devastating effects. There was the first round TKO slaughter of Golden Johnson in 2007 where Margarito unleashed body shots that crumbled Johnson to the canvas and caused him to roll around as if he had been stabbed by a knife. This was followed by the six-round destruction of Kermit Cintron, who also was severely hurt by body punches and straight right hands to the point where he couldn’t believe how hard of a puncher Margarito was. Recently, Cintron articulated his own skepticism of Margarito.
“Was there a lot of questions in my mind about it? Yes, but I have no proof to prove that he did use plaster, and I believe that if you’re caught once, what makes [anyone] think that you haven’t done it before?”
Cintron didn’t outright accuse Margarito of loading gloves against him, but he did imply as much when analyzing the way in which both he and Cotto crumbled when hit with Margarito’s punches.
“It’s one of them things, like the only fighter that’s ever hurt me and that’s cut me has been Margarito,” Cintron said. “Only fighter that I’ve seen hurt Cotto bad, where he gets cut bad, it was against Margarito. I mean, it’s a weird situation that we both fought Margarito and we both ended up the same way—busted up.”
If that weren’t enough, Cotto recently asked Margarito to explain a photograph of Margarito after the Cotto fight with a viable cut on his wraps at the knuckle as well as a red stain on the wraps that were located in the same position as the wraps confiscated by the California State Athletic Commission prior to the Mosley fight.
“Margarito has never explained the tear in his handwrap to me.” Cotto explained. “If there is no logical explanation, then I would conclude that there was foul play.”
Margarito insists he didn’t cheat—but hasn’t offered a genuinely convincingly response to the question regarding his wraps after the Cotto fight.
“Oh that Cotto. How he cries,” Margarito fired back. “What is he afraid of? Why did he sign up for the fight then? I don’t care what he says. I am not a cheater. I beat him before and I will beat him again.”
For Cotto, this is yet another difficult challenge in a career filled with tough fights. Even if Cotto truly believes Margarito cheated in their first encounter, he still has to overcome the psychological deficit of being forced to take a knee and bow out of the fight. Further, he will undoubtedly be haunted by the fact that Margarito was able to walk through his punches with relative ease in their first encounter. While Margarito’s gloves may have been loaded, his chin certainly was not. Margarito’s size, length, and stalk-forward style pose significant problems for Cotto. However, this is nothing new for Cotto—an always war-ready fighter who has arguably taken on more lofty challenges than any other fighter in the past decade. Unlike many modern fighters whose careers are coddled by overly cautious matchmaking, Cotto has faced the very best competition available year after year. Even more impressive, is that Cotto faces the top guys when they are at their respective peaks, not when they are clearly on the downslide. Whether it was Ricardo Torres, DeMarcus Corley, Carlos Quintana, Zab Judah, Shane Mosley, Paulie Malignaggi, Manny Pacquiao, Antonio Margarito, or Joshua Clottey, Cotto fought them all when they were at their most dangerous. Most fighters would never have given Margarito a rematch. In fact, many believe Margarito should never be licensed to fight inside a ring ever again. However, Miguel Cotto has never shrunk in the face of a challenge—and this fight with Margarito has become deeply personal.
Since their first fight, the lives of both Cotto and Margarito have seen dramatic changes. For Cotto, he lost his undefeated record, was later beaten badly by Manny Pacquiao, and lost his beloved father Miguel Sr. to a heart attack. Cotto’s physical appearance has also changed as he has inked up his body with a plethora of eye-catching tattoos. Suitable for a warrior of his pedigree, Cotto wears the war-like markings of a gladiator while his body absorbs the punishment of a martyr willing to endure extraordinary pain in order to provide for his family and campaign for his slot in the annals of boxing history.
For Margarito, his entire career has come into question as he has yet to prove that his performances before the Mosley bout were legitimate. Until and unless Margarito can beat another top fighter in convincing fashion, his career may never recover and it will be hard to argue that he was a clean fighter at his peak. Margarito has also gained a fascination with tattoo art, and he is also donning new warrior markings as he prepares to do battle with Cotto on Saturday.
While some fights require marketing ploys and manufactured drama in order to build anticipation and intrigue amongst the boxing audience, Cotto-Margarito II sells itself. It is a genuine bad blood megafight. For Cotto, it is an opportunity to avenge the most devastating loss of his career in order to prove that he is the better fighter and still at the elite level to challenge the best in the game. For Margarito, it is a chance to authenticate himself as a legitimate fighter. If Margarito wins, he will go a long way to exonerate himself in the minds of many as it pertains to the lingering question of whether he cheated against Cotto in the first fight.
This is the ultimate episode of high drama in boxing, and the energy in Madison Square Garden this Saturday night is certain to be electric. As Cotto makes his entrance to the ring, the memory of his father will be in his spirit, and undoubtedly redemption will be in his heart as he looks to even the score against his nemesis. As the fighters touch gloves, and Cotto does his trademark sign-of-the-cross in the corner with his back turned to his opponent just prior to the opening bell, Cotto will once again face the fire and attempt to exorcise the biggest demon of his career. The final press conference concluded on Wednesday, and the mounting tension between the two fighters couldn’t be realer as we inch closer to fight night:
COTTO: A “criminal” is (if you don’t know it you can look it up in a dictionary) to those person who utilizes a weapon against another person. I asked you during the Face Off about the rupture of your wraps, a question which you mixed with mucus*.
Second, the wrap during the Mosley fight was removed prior to the bout and had a red spot PRIOR to any gloves being worn on in your hands. Why did you have that red spot?
MARGARITO: You’re worried. We’ll see on Saturday.
COTTO: I’m not worried, and do you know why you can’t answer? Because you’re a shame for the boxing world, and the Mexican people should blush because of you. Next Saturday, you’re gonna see how the “little girl” will punch and play with you at will.
MARGARITO: We’ll see! We’ll see!
COTTO: I’ll see you on Saturday.
Indeed—we shall see.