January 3, 2015

The KO Digest 2014 Boxing Comeback Fighter of the Year — Miguel Cotto

Cotto's comeback was worth the weight
By Derek Bonnett — Boxing is about ups and downs. The rise of a great fighter is something to behold. His progression through the ranks as a prospect must endure great scrutiny as he responds to different styles, cuts, knockdowns, and, possibly, early defeat. The boxer raises his game to the next level and tops dangerous spoilers, former world champs, and fellow contenders - all he has left to do is deliver on that initial promise and become a world champion, right?


Boxing is a highly complex sport filled with complicated rankings, officiating, scoring, promotion, and expectation. Each time any given prizefighter advances himself to the next level, the rules change. Getting to the top is no longer the desired objective contrived by the fans for their ring hero.

No, it's far more dramatic than that. You see, boxing at its best often mirrors romantic comedy at its worst. Getting the girl isn't enough. Losing her and getting her back, that's the real story. With boxing, it's the rise, the fall, and the inevitable comeback. Boxing loves to see its marquee losers comeback and win again.

There were doubts after Cotto's loss to Trout
Boxing's history is rich with comeback tales illustrating rematch revenge or a return from retirement. These tales are as sweet as "Sugar" or as "Big" as George Foreman himself. The 2014 boxing year produced a number of fighters who mounted commendable comebacks, but no other return to prominence impacted the sport as much a Miguel Cotto's utter destruction of reigning middleweight champion Sergio Martinez. If 2014 was a year of rebirth for Cotto then 2012 was the year of his slow death. Cotto entered the year on the heels of a gratifying rematch victory over much maligned rival Antonio Margarito. For some, the win was more fool's gold than ring substance, but it served exorcize a great demon for the Puerto Rican star and set him up for the biggest fight of his career. Cotto's 2012 challenge of Floyd Mayweather Jr. showed glimmers of excellence. After all, fighting Mayweather somewhat close was the equivalent to a moral victory in the eyes of many. Cotto lost without question, but he made it interesting enough to live to fight another day. Cotto followed that fight up with a risky challenge of Austin Trout, a capable stylist still seeking to establish himself as something more than just a divisional titlist. The fight, a back and forth struggle which saw Trout sweeping the early rounds, surrendering the middle, and cleaning up the final frames to earn a unanimous decision, appeared to be a definitive nail in the coffin of Puerto Rico's last superstar.

Roach was the key to Cotto's comeback
When 2013 arrived Cotto's fate look certain: he was a fighter in decline. Even a new ring marriage to Freddie Roach appeared as a last ditch effort to convince the boxing world that Cotto was still viable world title threat. Even with Roach's proven track record, the pairing seemed like a hired gun scenario much like Emmanuel Steward's work with Julio Cesar Chavez. Roach became the much needed weapon to combat the irrefutable fact that Cotto's primary weapons had waned in their impact. The selection of Delvin Rodriguez as a comeback opponent inspired two trains of though: Cotto had fallen so far he needed to meet a fringe contender the level of Rodriguez in order to win and Cotto, at his current state, was in deep against Rodriguez. Ten months after his defeat to Trout, Cotto decimated Delvin Rodriguez in three rounds. Cotto looked imposing inside of the ropes. He reminded some of the powerful body assaulter of his youth. Some credited Roach while others credited a ring-worn and seemingly overmatched and intimidated Rodriguez.

Once again, nothing was certain, even the prospects of Cotto rising to middleweight for a shot at the universally recognized champion Sergio Martinez. Yet on June 7, 2014, Miguel Cotto challenged Martinez for the WBC middleweight championship of the world at Madison Square Garden, Cotto's adopted home arena. Cotto fever was rampant, but it was equally countered by Martinez support.

Regardless, the ease with which Cotto dispatched Martinez was unanticipated.

Behind a short, pumping jab, Cotto set up his right hand and produced three first round knockdowns. The less mobile Martinez looked like the clichéd sitting duck against Cotto's bruising attack. Cotto took away Martinez strengths by cutting the distance on him effectively and crowding him with power shots. Martinez' legs could not carry him to safe harbor against this raging "tiburon." Martinez kept his composure and survive the round, but never found a way to avoid Cotto's left hook from the third round on. The mid-rounds saw Cotto beating Martinez with his jab and forcing the champion to fight off the ropes without his desired space. With hardly a backward step in his road to victory, Cotto drained the will from a champion once celebrated for that very attribute. After dipping toward the canvas in the ninth, Martinez received another count from the referee in spite of summoning the strength to keep his footing. The referee's misjudgment proved elementary though as the accumulated punishment absorbed by Martinez through nine rounds forced a tenth round corner retirement.

Cotto made the best 2014 boxing comeback
For Cotto, the cycle was completed. He lost the girl and won her back in stunning fashion or, in boxing terms, his comeback to prominence in the sport of boxing was realized. Regrettably, Cotto remained idle for the rest of 2014, which put him out of contention for the more glorious Fighter of the Year honors. However, Cotto, 34, arguably posted the most significant victory in the boxing world this year. More importantly to the new middleweight champion, he revitalized the spirit of Puerto Rican boxing, which had atrophied greatly over the last several years. Cotto, 39-4 (32), now eyes a potential Mexican-Puerto Rican showdown with Saul Alvarez likely to be stage in May 2015. Prior to the Rodriguez fight, it was easy to imagine this bout happening, but with Cotto playing the role of the sacrificial lamb being served up to the younger star. Now, as KO Digest's 2014 Comeback Fighter of the Year, Cotto enters a "Canelo" bout with a far different public perception and role; he enters as the champion.

Special recognition goes out to Rocky Juarez, Cornelius Bundrage, and Jermain Taylor for also mounting laudable comeback wins in 2014. 

Photography by Jeffrey Freeman, KOD EIC