For years, Miguel Cotto was the consummate company man. He did his work, usually better than just about anyone else. He fought who he was told and where he was told. He trained fanatically, fought ferociously and quickly became one of the elite boxers in the world.
Unlike most elite boxers, though, Cotto had been content to let Top Rank, the promotional company that had guided his career since he turned professional following the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, call the shots.
It would be Top Rank that would decide the who, when and where. Cotto was around to take care of business in the ring after all the papers were signed and the details arranged.
"That's up to my company to decide," Cotto would inevitably say when asked who he would fight next.
He became a star of the highest magnitude while fighting for Top Rank, earning millions of dollars, multiple world championships and countless significant victories.
He defeated Shane Mosley when Mosley was still a prime fighter. He destroyed Zab Judah. He outfought everyone who climbed into a ring with him.
These days, as Cotto prepares to defend his World Boxing Association super welterweight title on Saturday in a sold-out Madison Square Garden against Antonio Margarito, he's assumed much greater control of his career's direction. His future with Top Rank is tenuous, the relationship clearly not what it once was.
Those who once wielded the power in his camp are, for the most part, no longer around. Saturday's bout, he points out, is the last on his contract with Top Rank.
He parted ways with his long-time trainer, his uncle, Evangelista Cotto, in early 2009. His father, Miguel Sr., who had a significant impact upon his career, passed away in early 2010.
He has his own promotional company now, as well as other business ventures, and so feels content to take a more active role in his own boxing career.
"I know the game, the business, all sides, a lot better now than I did before," Cotto said. "I can make decisions for myself. I know what's best for Miguel Cotto, better than anyone else, you know?"
And he proved that on Nov. 21, during what became a farcical conference call that was designed to promote his fight with Margarito. At the time of the call, the venue for the fight, and even the status of the fight itself, was in doubt.
[Related: Margarito still battles his demons ]
The New York State Athletic Commission was vacillating on whether to license Margarito and had ordered him to visit an ophthalmologist of its choosing to determine his fitness to fight. Margarito suffered eye injuries during a 2010 fight with Manny Pacquiao that put his career in jeopardy.
While New York was considering whether to license Margarito, Arum had begun making alternate plans. He had millions invested in the fight, was convinced by experts that Margarito was fit to fight, and wasn't going to give up on it simply because New York might say no. For a while, it was looking very much like the fight could wind up at the Pepsi Center in Denver if New York wouldn't pass Margarito.
On that conference call, in which Cotto and Arum were speaking to reporters, the new Cotto emerged. He would not, he said, fight anywhere but New York, hitting Arum with a broadside.
"I signed for this for New York," Cotto said on the call. "I didn't sign this for somewhere else. I'm going to fight in New York. I'm not going to fight in another place. I'm not going to present myself in any other state."
Arum was apoplectic and shouted at a publicist to end the call.
Days after Margarito passed the test and was granted his license to fight in New York, Cotto insisted his remarks had been no idle threat. This was not a threat to extort more money. This was a cold and calculated decision based upon what he believed in as a man and what he felt was best for his sport.
"I was serious," he said. "Very serious. I was going nowhere else. People have to respect the commissions. It's the commissions that make the rules and who run the fights. I go by the rules and if the commission says there is no fight, that he couldn't fight, then I'm not going to fight. This kind of a decision, can a fighter fight or not, is one that only the commission makes, not a boxer, not a promoter. If it was no, then it was no and there was no fight."
Cotto had made up his mind. No longer was it "my company" that was in charge. It was Cotto now. He would hear of nothing else.
His relationship with Top Rank, always so strong, always so productive for them, is no longer the same. Cotto is incensed at Arum's passionate defense of Margarito, who six months after beating Cotto in a hellacious battle in Las Vegas was caught with an illegal knuckle pad in his hand wraps prior to a Jan. 24, 2009 bout against Shane Mosley in Los Angeles.
Arum launched a passionate defense of Margarito as Cotto seethed and the relationship between them became strained.
"He's not very happy with our defense of Margarito," Arum said. "I did what I felt was the right thing. We talked to him, but he's convinced [that Margarito knew his wraps were loaded]. As a result, he's not thrilled when he sees that we're so passionately defending Margarito.
"But look, we're very fond of him. We've had a long, and what I would honestly say is a great relationship. [Top Rank president] Todd [duBoef] is committed to him. We feel like we raised him in this business. Is he displeased that we're defending Margarito? Yeah. But can it be rectified? Of course it can. We've put him in a lot of big fights in which he's made a ton of money. When this is all over, we'll sit down with him and talk and I think he'll get it. It's just not the time as he's getting close to a fight, with all of the emotions that go into that."
Cotto is as angry as any fighter has been about an opponent in a major fight. At Wednesday's news conference, Cotto again called Margarito a criminal and looked at him and said, "You should be embarrassed to be a Mexican."
Margarito shot back, "I didn't throw punches at my uncle. That's criminal."
In 2009, Cotto parted ways with his uncle after they got into some sort of altercation at a gym in Caguas, Puerto Rico.
Cotto no longer has a relationship with his uncle, saying of him, "He's my father's brother. It's no more than that."
And Margarito, well, that's another matter. He despises the lanky Mexican and vows to attack Margarito's right eye, given the chance.
"If he knows there is something bad with his eyes and he decides to fight anyway, it's fair game," Cotto said. "He didn't show me any [compassion] when he fought me with plaster in his gloves. I won't show him any, either."
He vows to win Saturday's fight and then plot out his future after he returns to Puerto Rico. He's always been stoic and solemn in his dealings with the media in the past, but now, he's emotional and intense.
It's a very different Cotto than the one who was, only a few short years ago, undefeated and one of the sport's biggest stars and all too willing to let others make important decisions for him.
"I am a man," he said, firmly.
But he's a man with a great passion and a desire to rectify what he sees as a horrible wrong. And now, he's determined not to cede control of his career to anyone but himself.
He'll seek all the counsel he can get, but where he fights, how much he fights, when he fights and who he fights are all going to be decisions made by Cotto himself.
"This is my job and this is my career," he said. "We'll see what happens from here."
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- Miguel Cotto
- Antonio Margarito