LAS VEGAS – Miguel Cotto sat back in his chair, perfectly upright, looking every bit the son of a Navy man. He stared straight ahead, his solemn countenance providing no hint what emotions lay beneath the surface.
He's a few days from becoming the latest man to try his luck against Floyd Mayweather Jr., on the verge of earning the largest payday of his life.
He answered questions in a voice barely above a whisper, speaking so softly that those seated more than a few feet away had to crane their necks to hear him.
Cotto has been through the hoopla of the big show many times and understands how the various pieces fit together. There are interviews to do, photos to pose for and appearances to make. He may not be having the time of his life, but he's the consummate professional, usually on time and always well-dressed.
"It's part of the job," Cotto said of the work required to promote a pay-per-view fight. "I don't do it because I choose to do it. I do it because it's the job."
He shrugged at the massive 7-1 odds against him and the widely held perception that he is here mostly because no one has yet shown an inclination to pay $69.95 to watch Mayweather dance around a ring by himself.
Just five months ago, Cotto could barely contain his fury in the final few days before he climbed between the ropes at New York's Madison Square Garden to fight hated rival Antonio Margarito.
Cotto was convinced Margarito had committed the sport's most unforgivable sin in 2008, coming to believe he’d packed his hand-wraps with a plaster-like substance.
The beating Cotto had taken that night not only inflicted horrific injuries upon him and heaped untold emotional distress upon his family, it also sapped him of the one thing that made him what he was: his belief in himself.
What he thought he knew before that infamous July night in 2008, he no longer was so sure about. He privately questioned whether he belonged, if he could do his job at the highest level. How, he asked himself, could he ever have taken so much punishment and been forced to surrender by taking a knee?
It's hard to fight guys like Manny Pacquiao, as Cotto did in the best-selling pay-per-view of 2009, without supreme confidence in your ability to not only survive, but succeed.
His faith in himself was restored in December, when he routed Margarito and forced doctors to stop it after 10 one-sided rounds.
He was back to being Miguel Cotto. And he has such an unassailable belief in himself once again that he's actually coming to win Saturday and not just collect an $8 million paycheck.
It may be an audacious thought to some, but Cotto knows what he knows.
"I don't need anyone to say I have a chance," he said of those who think he's there to be a target for Mayweather's fists. "I trust myself. If I trust my work, my preparations, I don't need anyone else [to say I can win.]"
Whether he does win will depend in large part on a man who, less than a year ago, was practically unheard of in American boxing circles.
Pedro Diaz, the former coach of the Cuban national team, was a surprise choice to replace Hall of Famer Emanuel Steward as Cotto's trainer last year.
Because he's unfamiliar to American boxing fans, his presence in Cotto's corner has been ignored or, in some cases, seen as a liability.
Not to Cotto, who quickly acknowledges Diaz's role in his victory over Margarito.
"What you saw me do on Dec. 3, the man responsible was Pedro Diaz," Cotto said. "He was the architect. He did the plan."
And Diaz is devising the plan for the Mayweather bout. An assistant for years under legendary Cuban Olympic coach Alcides Sagarra, Diaz has handled elite talent.
While he expressed his respect for Mayweather, he certainly wasn't acting intimidated.
"He's a great champion," Diaz said, "but he has two hands like anyone else."
Diaz later said he understood Mayweather's game completely and that Cotto will be ready for anything Mayweather may try. That caused more than a few raised eyebrows, but the significant thing is that Cotto has complete faith in him.
He's finally put the Margarito affair behind him and feels like the same man he was before, a guy who started his career 32-0 and beat elite fighters such as Zab Judah and Shane Mosley.
Cotto knows what he's up against, but unlike the last few years, he goes to bed at night believing he's capable of becoming the first man to defeat Mayweather since Bulgarian Serafim Todorov did it in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.
"Nobody is invincible in life," Cotto said. "I know that because I passed through that point in my life. I'm ready for anything Floyd brings me. The question is, is Floyd ready for anything Miguel can bring to him? I know he's a hard worker. He said to everybody he's a hard worker, but he's going to have in front of him on [Saturday] a hard worker like him. I'm trusting in myself. I know what I have to do to get the victory."
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