Miguel Cotto looking to recapture former glory with Freddie Roach in his corner

Kevin Iole
Yahoo Sports

This was to be the professional obituary of Miguel Cotto, one of the finest fighters and fiercest warriors of his era.

Cotto thrilled fans and captured a nation with his skill, his courage and his unwavering will to win. He'd been one of the biggest draws in boxing, but as so many of the greats often do, he'd begun to lose down the stretch.

It was the path the great Joe Louis took, as he fought on so that he could pay his income taxes after doing so much for the country during World War II. It was the same route that the legendary Muhammad Ali went down, suffering beatings from men nowhere near his equal, as he couldn't see that it was long since time to say farewell.

Cotto heads into Saturday's HBO-televised bout against Delvin Rodriguez at the Amway Center in Orlando, Fla., on a two-fight losing streak. He was beaten – and punished over 12 rounds – by the great Floyd Mayweather Jr. on May 5, 2012.

And then he was trounced by Austin Trout, losing a decision and seemingly his standing as one of the game's elite along with it.

"I saw his fight with Trout and I was completely shocked," said trainer Freddie Roach, who has long respected Cotto. "He looked terrible."

Roach had trained against Cotto in the past and knew that when he was at his peak, he was as dangerous as anyone in the world.

But when he switched off the television after watching Trout romp, he didn't give Cotto a second thought. He had plenty of other fighters to occupy him.

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Earlier this year, though, Roach received a call from Cotto, who had opted to part ways with trainer Pedro Diaz. Diaz had helped Cotto to perhaps his greatest win, a revenge victory over Antonio Margarito, but something happened between the two that no one who knows or would be in position to know will discuss.

Whatever it was, it ended their relationship. And so Cotto called Roach, who was mildly surprised, but agreed to work with him.

What he has seen has been beyond his wildest expectations. Saturday, Roach insisted, won't be a going-away gift for Cotto. Instead, he said, it will be a reminder to those who may have forgotten about Cotto's greatness.

"Where he is now compared to the day we started together is really amazing," Roach said. "He's a whole different person. He was dedicated to working hard from the first day. He did his strength work from 5 to 8 in the morning and pushed himself doing that, and then he came to the gym from 2 to 4 in the afternoon and gave me everything he had."

After seeing the Trout fight, Roach assumed, like many in boxing, that Cotto had hit the end of the line. But as the days passed in the gym, his belief changed.

He said Cotto was fresh, moving well and looking like he was in the midst of his prime.

"I'm not sure what happened between him and his old trainer, and I never asked him because it was none of my business," Roach said. "Something, though, was affecting him. He's been so different with me from what I had seen before.

"I wear that big body protector when we're in the ring [practicing body shots] and there are few guys who can hit me when I have that thing on and make me go home and pee blood. But he was hitting me with some left hooks and I was peeing blood when I got home."

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It's no surprise to Cotto's longtime friend, Bryan Perez. The two have long had a close bond, and Perez said they regard each other as brothers.

If he felt Cotto were at the end of the line and in danger of being hurt, Perez said there is no way he'd sit back and remain silent.

"I would like him to quit now and go and live his life and enjoy his family, but that's not because I see anything bad," Perez said. "I know how hard he has worked and how much of his life he dedicated to boxing, and I want to see him enjoy that. But he still has the desire and the motivation to fight.

"If I thought there were a chance he would get hurt, I would definitely tell him. Miguel is a very intelligent guy and if I said that, he'd listen to my opinion and take it under consideration and make a decision. But I don't have to say that because he's in such a good place now."

Cotto raved about working with Roach and said he feels he can still compete with elite opposition. He said he's not sure how much longer he wants to fight, but that he will continue for the time being.

"A couple more fights, then it will be over," Cotto said.

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He's hardly looking past Rodriguez, but Roach has come to the conclusion from the few months they've been together that Cotto is capable of facing anyone.

He gave Mayweather one of his best bouts, though Cotto took a lot of punishment in the process.

It's not out of the question that he could one day face Mayweather again.

"Miguel told me the other day that if he had been in the kind of shape when he fought Mayweather that he's in now, he would have won that fight," Roach said.

Roach said he would like to see Cotto (37-4-0) fight middleweight champion Sergio Martinez after Rodriguez – "I think he could beat Sergio right now," Roach said – and then perhaps make another run at Mayweather.

There is a possibility that after this fight, he lands a bout against Canelo Alvarez.

He's clearly on the home stretch of his career, with a Hall of Fame berth dangling in front of him like a carrot on a stick.

Perez, though, said Cotto isn't worried about any of that stuff.

"Miguel is a very humble guy and he doesn't like to talk about that kind of thing," Perez said. "He just takes the attitude that those things are nice, but that his job is to focus on what is going on in the ring. His last fight [against Trout] wasn't what any of us wanted, but it doesn't mean anything more than it was a bad night. We made changes, and changes are tough.

"In that last fight, something happened [between Cotto and Diaz] that only he knows. It's in the past, and Miguel refreshed his corner. He thanks Pedro for his contributions, but he committed to his own future and I think you'll see on Saturday what I mean. He's looking amazing."

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