Miguel Cotto had the top-rated boxing match on Showtime in 2012 when he was beaten by Austin Trout at Madison Square Garden in December. The bout, which followed Cotto's May 5 loss earlier in the year on HBO Pay-Per-View to Floyd Mayweather Jr., drew 1.4 million fans.
Cotto returned to HBO for his bout on Saturday, when he faced Delvin Rodriguez in Orlando, Fla., but his two-fight losing skein seemed to not bother his fans.
He drew 1.555 million viewers to the HBO Sports broadcast, the highest-rated cable bout of the year, and the second-best performance of Cotto's career. He drew a career-high 1.597 million viewers for his 2010 fight in Yankee Stadium with Yuri Foreman.
Cotto has long been one of the sport's biggest draws, but the Rodriguez fight wasn't expecting to hit such heights. Rodriguez wasn't particularly well known, having fought mostly on the little-watched Friday Night Fights on ESPN, and wasn't viewed by many as a serious threat to win.
In addition, there was the whole matter of Cotto being on a losing streak and how the public would react to that.
It seems that there are two factors that played a role in this. The first is the Mayweather factor. Mayweather is clearly the sport's biggest attraction, and those who fight him automatically are made bigger themselves by the exposure they get against him.
The Mayweather-Cotto pay-per-view sold 1.5 million units, at the time the second-best performance of Mayweather's illustrious career. It has been been surpassed by the Showtime pay-per-view bout between Mayweather and Canelo Alvarez on Sept. 14, which did a staggering 2.2 million sales.
Cotto performed well against Mayweather, even though Mayweather won a wide decision. He forced Mayweather to work and landed a number of shots that left Mayweather's face visibly marked for one of the few times in his career. That also led to Mayweather re-hiring his defensive genius father, Floyd Mayweather Sr., as his chief trainer for his last two bouts.
Cotto, though, clearly benefitted from the exposure in the Mayweather fight. His bout against Trout set a ratings record for Showtime boxing in what had to be no coincidence. Trout wasn't a big name going into the fight, yet the fan base turned out en masse.
That was a tribute to the passionate Cotto fans, but also to the rainbow effect of his fight with Mayweather.
The second factor that might be at play is the perception that the Rodriguez fight might have been Cotto's swan song. Coming off back-to-back losses, it was hard to imagine Cotto continuing had he lost to Rodriguez and been on a three-fight losing skein.
Is it possible that fans tuned in Saturday believing that it might represent the last time they'd see Cotto in the ring? It sure seems that way. They hung with him through a dreadful heavyweight title fight between Wladimir Klitschko and Alexander Povetkin, which opened the show. That bout was aired live on HBO Saturday afternoon, and then repeated in the evening as the opener of the Cotto-Rodriguez card.
Live, Klitschko-Povetkin attracted 534,000 viewers. In the delayed broadcast that opened the Cotto show, it scored 705,000 viewers. The co-main event, another dreadful bout, between Bud Crawford and Andrey Klimov, got 1.11 million viewers. It bumped to 1.555 for Cotto-Rodriguez, a third-round TKO by Cotto.
Rather than retiring, Cotto is now assessing his options and is likely to face WBC middleweight champion Sergio Martinez sometime next year in a major pay-per-view bout.
But as Roy Jones Jr. once sang, when it comes to Cotto's drawing power, "Ya'll must've forgot."