Miguel Cotto choosing path not worthy of legendary status

Miguel Cotto is one of the great fighters of the 21st century, a throwback type who has rarely failed to please.

He's met the best of his generation, taking on – and in most cases – defeating enough elite talent to fill an entire wing of the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Never has anyone ever accused the legendary Puerto Rican of ducking a soul.

And as he has hit the homestretch of his career, he wisely took ownership of the business end of it, as well. He used free agency to his benefit, bolting Top Rank to sign to fight Floyd Mayweather in 2012, and then using his market appeal to land the best deals in subsequent matches.

You may have heard that Cotto fights again Saturday.

Or, maybe you haven't.

It doesn't seem like all that big of a deal this time around. Mostly, it's because Cotto made a very un-Cotto-like decision by choosing to face Daniel Geale on Saturday in the main event of an HBO-televised card at the Barclays Center in the New York borough of Brooklyn.

Miguel Cotto is curiously not taking on the best opponents available. (Getty)
Miguel Cotto is curiously not taking on the best opponents available. (Getty)

It's hard to understand why this fight is happening.

This is not meant as a slap at Geale, who is a solid fighter but nowhere near the level of Canelo Alvarez.

Cotto took the money from entertainer Jay Z's Roc Nation, and at his stage of his career, it's hard to blame him. He landed a multi-million dollar bonus as well as another big payday on Saturday in a fight he figures to win handily.

But the days of the public just blindly accepting tuneup fights for the sake of building another fight are over.

Al Haymon's Premier Boxing Champions is putting quality matches, fights that for the most part are HBO- or Showtime-level, on network or basic cable. Fans don't need to pay the $14.99 a month or so fee for a premium cable network with all of the free fights on the air now.

That's forcing HBO, in particular, to be better, and it has responded. It's a big reason why Roman "Chocolatito" Gonzalez appeared on the undercard of the Gennady Golovkin-Willie Monroe fight on May 16 in Inglewood, Calif.

Gonzalez is one of the best fighters in the world and is extraordinarily exciting, and he proved on HBO what a flyweight can do with a scintillating second-round TKO of Edgar Sosa.

Cotto, on the other hand, chose not to fight Alvarez on May 2 as Golden Boy president Oscar De La Hoya had been hoping. Alvarez got tired of waiting for Cotto and eventually signed to face James Kirkland.

The Cotto-Alvarez fight should already have occurred. There is no denying that. Cotto won the middleweight title from Sergio Martinez last June in New York and has done nothing with it since.

A Cotto-Alvarez fight is huge and one of the most interesting and lucrative fights that could be made in boxing.

Cotto chose not to face Alvarez in May as the boxing world was pleading with him to do. He essentially took an easier match. And Roc Nation, with the assistance of HBO's deep pocketbook, paid him well for a tuneup.

From a risk-reward scenario, it was a slam-dunk decision.

It's not, though, the kind of move that covered him in glory or raised the profile of the sport.

College football fans long ago got tired of the squash games in which the Alabamas and LSUs and Floridas and USCs of the world would pay Cupcake U. large sums of money to get routed.

The fans demanded better non-conference games, and the television networks largely acquiesced.

That still isn't happening regularly enough in boxing.

It appears that Cotto is avoiding Canelo Alvarez, above. (Getty)
It appears that Cotto is avoiding Canelo Alvarez, above. (Getty)

The problem with Cotto bypassing Alvarez from a boxing standpoint is that it puts a match the public is salivating to see at risk.

What if the unthinkable happens and Geale wins? Cotto is a strong favorite, but Geale is a professional and has at least some hope of winning. What if Cotto gets hurt and is out for a lengthy period of time?

There are any number of things that could occur to derail an eventual Cotto-Alvarez showdown.

The public doesn't seem particularly excited for the Cotto-Geale fight, even in New York where Cotto has become a rock star. A check of TicketMaster shows plenty of quality seats available.

Given his seeming reluctance to face Alvarez, it seems unlikely Cotto would ever face Golovkin in a middleweight unification bout.

Cotto is not just the WBC middleweight champion; he is also the linear title-holder. That means he is the man who beat the man, etc. And if he is declining to fight a legitimate contender in his division, it doesn’t help his legacy.

Financially, Cotto made the wise choice, particularly if he, as expected, defeats Geale and then is able to take the Alvarez fight next.

But from a perception standpoint, it looks bad.

Very bad.

And that's something one never would have expected from a legend such as Cotto.