Puerto Rico has a long, storied boxing history, and Miguel Cotto is among its most accomplished fighters. He is the country’s sole owner of 6 world titles in 4 weight classes, but this past January, Cotto announced 2017 would be his last year boxing. In August, after fighting in a bout ignored and overshadowed by the Floyd Mayweather vs. Conor McGregor fight on the same day, Cotto announced his last fight would take place on December 2nd in Madison Square Garden, where he’s long been a crowd favorite–especially when fighting after the Puerto Rican Day Parade.

Cotto’s last opponent—for a fight that’s being promoted as Last Stand for a Legend—is Sadam Ali. Despite having just 1 professional loss and a distinguished amateur career that included representing the United States in the 2008 Olympics, Ali has been only a fringe contender who is now moving up a weight class to face Cotto. That Cotto is facing Ali is not the Puerto Rican’s fault; it’s a matter of boxing politics.

Options for a final opponent included the winner (or loser) of September’s fight between Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and Gennady Golvokin fight. But when their fight ended in a draw, the option of having Cotto face either for a December bout fell through. Other names mentioned as possible opponents included Jesse Vargas and Juan Manuel Marquez, the latter of whom retired in August. Errol Spence Jr. and Mikey Garcia were also options but, with Cotto’s promoterGolden Boy insisting a fight against their fighter include the opponent sign a long-term deal with them, both Spence Jr. and Garcia passed. David Lemieux was also an option, but it always seemed unrealistic that he could cut enough weight to face Cotto. And so, we end up with Cotto facing Ali to end a career that 5 years from now will get him enshrined into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Aside from the successes, however, some of the lasting memories of Cotto verge on the tragic.

In examining Cotto’s career, we can split it into 2 phases: before and after he fought Antonio Margarito. In 2008, Cotto was a 27-year-old undefeated welterweight champion. Margarito was 30 and–despite the 5 loses on his record–enjoyed the distinction of being among the most avoided boxers; that includes Floyd Mayweather turning down a then-career high payout to not face the Mexican fighter. His fight with Cotto continued the great Mexico versus Puerto Rico boxing rivalry, and in the first 5 rounds, the boricua’s superior skill and speed dominated Margarito. But, as the fight progressed, Margarito’s constant pressure erased those advantages. About half way through the 11th round, Cotto took a knee to avoid Margarito’s punches. Some 40 seconds later, he took another knee before standing up and–with a bloody, dejected look–Cotto signaled to his corner to stop the fight, all while his wife and children sat in their seats, stunned and crying over the beating they saw first-hand.

For different reasons, neither Cotto and Margarito were the same after their fight. After the loss, Cotto supposedly cried tears mixed with blood. After his win, and before his next fight, boxing officials caught Margarito using illegal hand wraps—“a plaster-like substance”—for which the sport banned the fighter and his trainer. Boxing commissions reinstated Margarito more than a year later, while Cotto continued to struggle after the loss.

Often time, a championship boxer’s first loss is more emotionally damaging than physically.

Often time, a championship boxer’s first loss is more emotionally damaging than physically. His aura of invincibility gone and convinced Margarito fought with loaded gloves during their fight, Cotto appeared lost. “Margarito took a lot of things from me,” Cotto would later explain. “Trust, confidence, and other things that made me the boxer I was.” Counting his loss to Margarito—which he’d later avenge—Cotto lost more than a third of his last 14 fights, including against every top opponent he faced. Manny Pacquiao, Floyd Mayweather, Austin Trout, and Saul “Canelo” Alvarez all handed him loses while his best victory, on paper, came against Sergio Martinez who, by that time, fought on one leg and with brittle hands.

Away from the ring, Cotto also lost his father, who died unexpectedly from an asthma attack at age 57. “He died on January 3, 2010,” Cotto said. “I remember the day. We had some unfinished business between us. But he is my biggest hero. If I could have my father back for one day, I would say to him, ‘thank you.’ Those are just words but I would mean them.” To honor his father, Cotto has a portrait tattoo over his left shoulder with “54/10” underneath it, symbolizing the years of his father’s birth and death.

Attempting to regain what he lost, Cotto continually changed trainers, including a public and violent breakup with his long-time trainer and uncle, Evangelista Cotto. In the locker room after his loss to Canelo, Cotto’s wife begged him to retire, since watching him lose took a toll and her and the family. “It’s the only thing I know,” Cotto responded, referring to boxing. “What else can I do?”

Canelo

Photo is licensed under the CC BY 2.0 license.

Cotto eventually turned to the great boxing trainer Freddie Roach, who helped resuscitate part of the fighter’s final years. Both Cotto and Roach, along with others, dispute his loss to Alvarez and openly sought a rematch. Alvarez vs. Cotto II will not happen unless the Puerto Rican great continues to fight past this year—which he’s continually said he won’t. Cotto is adamant that Sadam Ali will be his last opponent, though boxers rarely stay retired.

Cotto is 37 years old now. He is likely the greatest boxer Puerto Rico ever produced but, since he is quiet and reserved, he probably won’t be remembered with the same reverence as the charismatic Hector “Macho” Camacho or Tito Trinidad. The latter fighter became a national hero, in part, when he entered the ring against Oscar De La Hoya with a “Paz por Vieques” sign, protesting the United States’s Navy using the small island—just east of Puerto Rico—as a bombing and testing site. All of this seems fine with Cotto, who, despite his reputation for being a quiet, serious person, is known by his friends for his loyalty and constant joking.

Cotto appears increasingly regretful of all the time he’s been away from his family during his boxing career.

The main reason boxers rarely stay retired is they can’t afford to not fight. Not so for Cotto, whose father invested many of his earnings wisely, and who doesn’t appear as the type of boxer forced to keep fighting long past his prime. He’s also not delusional of the natural athletic decline that comes with age.

Before his fight in August, Cotto stated, “I’m getting old every day and now, in my life, I have better things to think about than boxing.” Cotto appears increasingly regretful of all the time he’s been away from his family during his boxing career. “They won’t return,” said Cotto of his children’s birthdays and graduations he’s missed. “But I’ll fully enjoy the day-to-day and I will never again miss another day.”

If Saturday is Cotto’s last fight, he seems more than content with what he’s accomplished. He wants to stay in boxing through his promotional company, and help Puerto Rico recover from the hurricanes that devastated the island. But more than anything, after December 31, 2017—which he’s repeatedly mentioned as his last day as a boxer—Cotto is excited about spending the rest of his days with his family.