By Steve Kim
From the time he turned professional in 2001 to 2011, Miguel Cotto fought under the Top Rank promotional banner. During that stretch, Cotto not only won major world titles at super lightweight, welterweight and junior middleweight, he became one of the biggest stars in the sport. But at the beginning of 2012, as his contract with Top Rank expired, he took the opportunity to face Floyd Mayweather and then Austin Trout in bouts promoted by Top Rank's archrival Golden Boy. Now, as Cotto makes his 2013 debut this Saturday night at the Amway Center in Orlando versus Delvin Rodriguez, he's with Top Rank once again.
So why does this matter?
First, to understand the context, let's take a step back to when Cotto first left the Top Rank fold. In December 2011, the fighter was coming off a cathartic victory over Antonio Margarito three years after the relentless Mexican had stopped Cotto in a bout marred by the possibility that Margarito had used illegal hand-wrappings. After this high profile revenge match, Cotto was a free agent and started fielding various offers for his services. Then he took the opportunity to face Mayweather last May, a decision that Top Rank had to respect.
"When I got that text that he was going to take the Mayweather fight, I understood it and I wasn't angry at him because he had the decency to send me the text and he never said anything bad about us," said Todd duBoef, the president of Top Rank, who actually allowed Cotto to use their gym during the lead-up to that "Money" match.
But Top Rank was under the impression that, after the Mayweather fight, Cotto would return. Instead, Cotto faced Trout in December under Golden Boy. It's what duBoef described as a "communication lapse on both of our sides." After reopening dialogue with Cotto at the beginning of the year, a deal was struck in the summer for his return to the ring against Rodriguez with Top Rank as the promoter. It's a union essential for both sides.
During Cotto's first stint with this promotional outfit, who signed him after he represented Puerto Rico in the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia, the fighter became a legitimate pay-per-view attraction, and his brand was so strong that, when he was paired with Mayweather and Pacquiao, both events garnered well over a million PPV buys.
Cotto also established himself as a Madison Square Garden franchise beginning in 2004 when he avenged his Olympic loss to Muhammad Abdullaev. Top Rank staged five other fights at the Garden, drawing upon the large Puerto Rican base in New York; matches against Paulie Malignaggi (2006) and Zab Judah (2007) were planned on the second weekend of June to coincide with the annual National Puerto Rican Day Parade in the city.
The architect of this career plan was duBoef, who developed a close bond with Cotto from the very beginning. "Miguel and I, when we signed him, my wife was pregnant and he was having a baby. It's like the kids were the same age, so there was a personal relationship, there," said duBoef. For Cotto's part, he says, "Todd and I have a beautiful relationship at the beginning. Boxing is not our first thing, we have other things. We have families, we have a lot of things in common."
Now they are reunited -- and, with apologies to Peaches & Herb -- it feels so good. In fact, this weekend's bout against Rodriguez in Orlando is doing so well at the box-office that Top Rank and Miguel Cotto Promotions announced that more $25 tickets were made available to satisfy the public demand. Cotto's opponent Rodriguez is a decent professional fighter, but one that was chosen for a reason -- he's a recognizable name (with his numerous appearances on ESPN2 throughout the years), but also imminently beatable. Oddsmakers have Cotto as a 5-to-1 favorite.
Despite his 0-for-2012, Cotto, at the age of 32 and a career record of 37-4 (30 KOs), is still among the most viable box-office attractions in the sport. His bout against Trout set records for Showtime and you can assume he'll deliver another strong Neilsen number this Saturday night for HBO. That's why both the network and Top Rank needed him back. With Manny Pacquiao's recent struggles, the continued troubles of Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., the early demise of Kelly Pavlik and Juan Manuel Lopez -- who were counted on to be hitting their prime earning years in 2013 -- Cotto is still an important piece on the chess board as Top Rank/HBO and Golden Boy/Showtime battle for boxing supremacy.
Stars matter in boxing. They are the ones that drive interest in the sport. So Cotto is key.
And why does Cotto need Top Rank?
Well, industry sources say that Top Rank will be working in association with Cotto Promotions moving forward and HBO has made a multi-fight commitment to him. They've been instrumental in grooming his career up until this point and appear to be all in on making sure he puts the finishing touches on a Hall-of-Fame career with them. And while a bout against Canelo Alvarez or a rematch with Mayweather are non-starters (because of their rival promotional associations), a fight against the middleweight champion of the world, Sergio Martinez (who has a multi-fight agreement with HBO), is a distinct possibility for 2014.
But, as mentioned before, this is personal.
"I began as a professional boxer with Top Rank, they made me the boxer I am, right now," he says. "I'm a loyal guy, y'know? I think who else is better to finish my career with than Top Rank?"
* * *
Steve Kim began covering boxing in 1996 and has been writing for Maxboxing.com since 2001. He is also a regular contributor for Boxing News. He can be reached at email@example.com and he tweets (a lot).