When Miguel Cotto’s name was mentioned to one of Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s leading advisors a few years before the pair fought in 2012, the man wondered, “Who?”
That was the type of stunning, outsize ego that surrounded and rubbed off on the unbeaten fighter, whose 2007 record-breaking pay-per-view victory over Oscar De La Hoya further inflated his self-importance.
Miguel Cotto didn’t beat Mayweather in May 2012, but he brought him down a peg or two.
The stoic Puerto Rican was finally given that fight after Mayweather had to fend off calls of throwing a sucker punch in September 2011, a fight-ending right hand to Victor Ortiz’s face just after an extended fourth-round break due to an Ortiz head butt.
That was followed by a memorable post-fight interview in which Mayweather complained to HBO boxing analyst Larry Merchant that the broadcaster never gave the unbeaten champion a break, and Merchant countered that if he were 50 years younger he’d kick Mayweather’s rear.
The Cotto fight would be Mayweather’s last on HBO until May 2, when the network that televises Manny Pacquiao’s bouts has the rights to air a joint pay-per-view with Mayweather’s current network partner, Showtime.
After first being dismissed by the Mayweather camp in 2008, Cotto suffered two losses, to Antonio Margarito, who a fight later was found to have plaster wraps inside his gloves, and in 2009 to Pacquiao, who was in the most dominant stretch of his career.
Cotto basically trained himself for the Pacquiao fight after a falling out with his uncle/trainer Evangelista Cotto.
The downward spiral continued two months after that loss when Cotto’s father, Miguel Sr., died unexpectedly at age 54.
What might’ve been a descent to oblivion instead was a revival.
“His dad, that was the most painful feeling of all,” Bryan Perez, Cotto’s close friend, told The Times. “But his father taught him to grow through pain, be himself and strong through adversity. He wants to honor what his dad taught him.”
Cotto won three consecutive fights after the 12th-round technical knockout loss to Pacquiao, including a powerfully emotional rematch with Margarito inside Madison Square Garden.
The well-schooled body puncher aligned with Cuban boxing trainer Pedro Cruz, and even though Cotto was an 8-to-1 underdog against Mayweather, there was a feel the battle would be more compelling than the margin indicated.
“If this fight had happened before [beating Margarito], it might not have been the best moment,” Cotto said. “To come back from things, to regain that confidence in myself, the trust in myself ... this is the right moment.”
Mayweather, thanks to more repetitive and accurate punches, won at least four of the first six rounds on the scorecards, but the margin was narrow. In the sixth, Cotto swept the round.
Mayweather swept the seventh, closing with an impressive combination of blows. The eighth was a clean sweep again by Cotto.
The round-by-round action went like this: “Cotto buries more body punishment in the middle of ring, he gets Mayweather back to a corner and works him over with combinations. Mayweather trying to smile through it, but Cotto pounds him against the ropes. A right to the body, a left to the head. Best round of the fight, the crowd’s roaring.”
Mayweather was well aware he was in a fight to win over the judges, and pressed the action in the ninth, sweeping that round, the 10th and the 11th, by relying on brilliant combinations and effective counterpunches.
Cotto promised improved stamina, but he couldn’t match Mayweather’s legendary conditioning in the championship rounds.
A right-left and two hard Mayweather rights in the 12th won another sweep.
Times columnist Bill Dwyre described the feeling at the final bell this way: “It wasn’t that Mayweather hadn’t fought well, and hadn’t deserved the decision. It was just that Cotto had given him more, lots more, than perhaps anybody else in Mayweather’s now 43-0 run.
“It was a difficult fight to score, in many ways a difficult fight to comprehend. Cotto would get Mayweather in a corner and start pounding away, but often, from that apparent position of disadvantage, Mayweather would connect more often.”
Judges Robert Hoyle (118-110), Patricia Morse Jarman (117-111) and Dave Moretti (117-111) each awarded a margin wider than the action appeared.
Mayweather was so visibly beat up after the bout he fired his uncle/trainer, Roger Mayweather, and reunited with his more defensive-minded father, Floyd Mayweather Sr., as head trainer.
In the ring after the fight, Mayweather Jr. embraced Cotto and told him, “You are a hell of a champion -- the toughest guy I fought.”