LAS VEGAS – Miguel Cotto Sr. always knew the darkest of days might come, and he was ready. After each of his namesake son’s victories, he would utter a prayer of thanks, never once taking success in the ring as a right or a given.
Miguel Cotto's first career setback was a brutal defeat to Antonio Margarito, one suffered under suspicious circumstances.
When the fateful night of July 26, 2008, handed Cotto his first pro defeat at the hands of Antonio Margarito, Miguel Sr. was prepared for the emotions. He had thought about how he would handle the pain of seeing his boy beaten and bloodied, how he would cope with the concern for his welfare and the desire to protect.
Yet there was another feeling the middle-aged Puerto Rican had not counted on, and in the days and weeks that followed Margarito’s 11th round TKO victory, it gnawed at him.
“It was a very sad night for me,” said Cotto Sr. “Miguel was not crying tears. The tears coming out of Miguel’s eyes that night were not normal. They were tears of blood.
“You had to see it, bleeding out of his nose, bleeding out of his ears. You had to see how deep his wounds were; it is impossible to explain. I could not explain how someone with gloves could do that.”
Manny Pacquiao has lost three times and drawn twice in his 54-fight career, yet none of those results are being mentioned as significant in the lead-up to his bout with Cotto at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on Saturday.
Instead, it is the Cotto-Margarito matchup that is seen as the piece of recent history most meaningful to the outcome of this contest.
When Margarito was caught with his hands rolled in wraps containing illegal hardening substances before his fight with Shane Mosley on Jan. 24 in Los Angeles, thoughts immediately turned to how long he had been cheating.
It can never be proven, yet there are precious few in the boxing world who believe he wasn’t using loaded gloves when he turned Cotto’s face into pulp.
Instead of being seen as a positive for Cotto’s chances – that his only defeat may have come against an opponent with a drastically unfair advantage – it is instead used by many observers as a reason why Pacquiao will emerge victorious.
Popular perception suggests that Cotto hasn't been the same since that night, when he sunk to his haunches amid a flailing barrage from the Mexican and was waved off in the 11th. Once seen as unstoppable at welterweight, his aura of invincibility dissipated and he is now regarded in some quarters as damaged goods.
His last outing, a points decision over Joshua Clottey, was unconvincing, and if anyone is going to expose mental frailties or slowness of thought it will be Pacquiao and his up-tempo, high-pressure approach.
“I don’t think Cotto is the same fighter,” said Freddie Roach, Pacquiao’s trainer. “A loss like that is tough to come back from, being knocked out for the first time in your career.
“It was brutal and if there was foul play involved it is disgusting for any boxer to resort to that. He will have more fear, less confidence and we will jump on him early.
“You think you are invincible until it happens and then you have a big doubt in your head. Some people never come back from it and I think Cotto has rushed into a big fight like this too quickly. You can never tell if the gloves were loaded but it did look bad. You can assume, but it won’t ever be proven.”
I am happy for people to think [Manny] Pacquiao is going to win. It gives me extra motivation and I will enjoy it even more when I prove them all wrong.
-- Antonio Margarito
Yet is there a scientific case to be made that Cotto is a different man if he was smashed up by hardened fists?
“If you put plaster of Paris in a fighter’s gloves then you risk killing somebody,” said Dr. Robert Cantu, a neurology expert from Emerson Hospital in Concord, Mass., and author of "Boxing and Medicine." “It hardens when the sweat of the hands reaches the gauze and the boxer would know what was happening because he could feel the material heating up inside his gloves.
“I would have been worried if this was Cotto’s next fight, but he has fought since and done well so even though he received a lot of trauma, he seems to be unaffected.
“I do not subscribe to the theory that Manny Pacquiao is fighting damaged goods.”
Cotto insists he has no physical or mental side effects from the Margarito bout, whether his opponent cheated or not. He is adamant that his first loss served only as inspiration and added greater awareness to his approach.
“Only Margarito and his team know how long he used these wraps, these things,” Cotto said. “But it has not changed me.
“I did not like to lose but it has not made me a worse fighter. It has made me a smarter fighter. I am happy for people to think Pacquiao is going to win. It gives me extra motivation and I will enjoy it even more when I prove them all wrong.”
Top Rank promoter Bob Arum is in a difficult spot, having promoted Cotto and Margarito. Arum lays the blame for the Margarito result at the feet of Cotto’s uncle and former trainer Evangelista, illegal gloves or not.
“Whether Margarito had loaded gloves or not is beside the point,” Arum said. “People say they must have been loaded because of how Miguel’s face looked. That is [expletive]. He looked like he had been in a tough fight, but the issue of gloves never even came into anyone’s consideration until later.
“One way in which we could have known one way or another would have been if Miguel’s uncle had done the right thing and been in Margarito’s dressing room when the gloves were put on. But he wasn’t, he was out watching one of his undercard fighters.
“Either way, I have spent a lot of time with Miguel since and I don’t think there is anything different about him. All I see is that determination to show the world he can prove them wrong.”
Try telling Miguel Cotto Sr., or anyone else present that night, that the state of the gloves is not the issue. Cotto Sr. still sees flashes of his son's mangled face when he closes his eyes, images that even a resounding victory over Pacquiao and the worldwide acclaim that would follow could never erase.
For all the bullish words of Arum, there is only one way for Cotto to prove he is unaffected by the worst night of his career, and that is to demonstrate it in the ring on Saturday, against the most electrifying opponent possible.
For a nervous father, the need to provide preparatory support is a constant battle against emotions and memories he fights daily to block out. "I never want to see my son like that again," Cotto Sr said. "He is a warrior and a champion but most of all he is my son. I know he will fight with everything he has and I am proud of him for that, but this must never happen to him again."