By Steve Kim
LOS ANGELES -- Miguel Cotto has employed various trainers in his distinguished career, ranging from the obscure to the distinguished. As he prepares to face middleweight king Sergio Martinez this Saturday night at Madison Square Garden, in a bid to become the first Puerto Rican to win championships in four weight classes, he does so with the highly decorated Freddie Roach in his corner.
The partnership made a successful debut last October, when Cotto got back to his winning ways by bludgeoning Delvin Rodriguez in three rounds at the Amway Center in Orlando, Fla. Cotto had decided to dial Roach's number following a winless 2012 campaign, in which Cotto dropped decisions to Floyd Mayweather and Austin Trout. Cotto's call startled the trainer, given that when Manny Pacquiao faced Cotto in Las Vegas in 2009, it was a rather contentious affair, with Roach nearly scuffling with Santiago at the weigh-in and heated words exchanged between camps. A night later, Pacquiao stopped Cotto in the 12th round.
"Y'know, the thing is, I was a little bit surprised, because I didn't think we really liked each other because of the Manny fight," Roach admitted last month, at the Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood. "But there's a lot of stuff in the heat of the battle, but we got along great." As they started to talk, the trainer recalled, "It was one of the best phone calls I've ever gotten. He said, 'I think I got three fights left in me. Can you help me?'"
"We had our moments of animosity during the promotion of the Pacquiao fight," Cotto allowed, "but that's in the past. It's another stage in my career, and at this stage, I need the best person to manage my team, manage my workouts, and the best one is Freddie."
It's clear that there is a certain chemistry between the duo, and they are a perfect match philosophically. Cotto, at his best, is an offensive fighter who likes to pressure and pump left hooks to the body and head. Roach has always preferred to train fan-friendly fighters like "Pac Man" and Ruslan Provodnikov as part of his vast stable. "When you have the two main persons of a group who are looking towards the same direction, it's easy to make it click," says Cotto, who has a pro mark of 38-4 with 31 knockouts.
Under the direction of Pedro Diaz, a noted coach from the Cuban amateur system, Cotto had slowly morphed into much more of a boxer-puncher than a puncher-boxer. When he was soundly out-pointed by Trout in December 2012, Cotto looked like a rudderless ship, a fighter who had lost his identity. To his credit, Cotto refuses to throw Diaz under the bus. "Austin Trout is a closed chapter in my career," Cotto said. "It's a new chapter with the hand of Freddie Roach."
Roach insisted on two things from the outset. First, Cotto had to ditch training in the high altitude of Big Bear, Calif., as Roach believes a fighter should only prepare in high altitude if he's going to fight there. Second, Cotto had to abandon a move back down to welterweight, which he'd been considering. "I said, 'No, stay at [junior middleweight], because this way you're not killing yourself making weight and so forth.' He liked that idea, he feels good," Roach said.
Coming to Los Angeles was a bit of a culture shock for Cotto, a native of Puerto Rico, but locale was a key deal point for Roach, who simply doesn't have time to train fighters anywhere but in his own gym. "Everything seemed difficult at the beginning before I arrived here," Cotto said. "But the way Freddie treats me here, the way Freddie staff treats me her, it just makes me feel at home."
Roach likewise credited his staff for Cotto's smooth transition. "The group of guys we have, Marvin Somodio, he's really attached to Miguel," said Roach. "Liam [Vaughn] is a friend, and he just likes the situation." Roach bought out the laundromat that was downstairs last year, converting it into an area reserved for the blue-chip boxers who command his undivided attention. "The atmosphere in the gym is built for guys like him and Pacquiao -- privacy," Roach said.
Roach didn't re-invent the wheel with Cotto, who already had wins to his credit over DeMarcus Corley, Randall Bailey, Carlos Quintana, Zab Judah, Paulie Malignaggi, Shane Mosley, Antonio Margarito, Yuri Foreman and Ricardo Mayorga. Roach got Cotto to do what once had been his trademark: being the aggressor. Their first fight together showed that "the new Cotto" was really about being the old Cotto.
"The first thing I wanted to bring back was the left hook, because he had gotten away from that," said Roach. "He had more confidence in the right hand for some reason, and I told him, 'Your bread-and-butter is the left hook.' When someone mentions Miguel Cotto, they think about the left hook to the body. So we brought that back, first, and it worked really well in the last fight. I thought it was going to be more difficult than it was, but the thing is, Miguel fought the perfect fight. I was really proud of him, and I was really happy with that performance."
Defeating Martinez will be much more difficult. This will be Cotto's first fight at 160 pounds, and his opponent is also a southpaw. Cotto remains undaunted, buoyed by this conviction: "I have Freddie here for Sergio, give me the right keys to beat him. If I follow the path in the way Freddie wants me to follow it, I'm definitely going to win the fight."
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org and he tweets (a lot.)