Can Cotto take any more punishment?

Kevin Iole
Yahoo! Sports

You can follow Kevin Iole on Twitter at @KevinI

NEW YORK – Miguel Cotto came to work Wednesday wearing a natty light-brown suit, a crisply starched pale blue dress shirt and a perfectly knotted tie. He would have fit in perfectly had he been trudging along Wall Street with a briefcase in hand.

Instead, he found himself in the Bronx addressing a small army of reporters at Yankee Stadium about his fight for the World Boxing Association super welterweight title with Yuri Foreman on Saturday.

The King of Cliché was in perfect form, noting he "would fight hard," had "come to win" and assured all in attendance he would "get my hand raised."

"I don't know what's going to happen," Cotto said. "But I do know when it's over, I'm going to be the winner."

What he wasn't ready to acknowledge is that he could be in the most significant bout of his career.

Cotto will fight Foreman in a ring that will sit in right-center field, only a few strides away from the Yankees' Monument Park, where the legends who helped make the Yankees into baseball's most storied franchise are honored. And he'll fight, whether he will admit it publicly or not, for his very survival as a boxer.

Coming off devastating and punishing losses to Antonio Margarito and Manny Pacquiao, Cotto has much to prove. Even his promoter, Top Rank's Bob Arum, concedes as much.

"Once you start losing fights on a regular basis, your marketability suffers," Arum said. "I have seen everything in boxing. One thing you see very often is that a guy takes beatings and he's never the same. Now, on the other hand, I've seen fighters who take beatings and they're refreshed and better than ever. But the former is more prevalent than the latter."

Part of Arum's sales pitch is the allure that Cotto can slough off the recent muggings and still compete at the top level. Boxing, however, is a brutal and unforgiving sport. It is one that offers hope to so many in the most desperate economic circumstances, though at the same time one that often sends those who became rich from it home a mumbling, slurring shell of themselves.

There is no Monument Park remembering legendary boxers. When the end comes, it is frequently ugly. Cotto is among the legends of the New York boxing scene, having helped revitalize the business in the city over the past five years.

The possibility exists that Cotto will never be the same. His trainer for the Pacquiao fight, Joe Santiago, did him a terrible disservice by failing to stop the fight when it was clear Cotto couldn't win. Cotto was hopelessly behind and getting badly battered, yet round after round, Santiago kept sending him back out to fight.

It was a dereliction of duty in the most egregious way, but perhaps not all that surprising given Santiago's youth and inexperience. Santiago, 32, was a long-time friend of Cotto's and that was the primary mark in his favor when Cotto needed a new trainer. He had split with his only professional trainer, his uncle Evangelista Cotto, earlier in the year after they had an altercation.

People often make the terribly unpleasant decision to euthanize pets they adore because the pets are ill and suffering badly. In the same way, it's a trainer's job to do the right thing for his fighter, even if the fighter says he wants to press on.

He was so mauled by Pacquiao that his father, Miguel Cotto Sr., who died of a heart attack on Jan. 3, walked to his corner, fearful for his safety, after the seventh round. Son assured father he was fine and kissed him on top of the head before absorbing more punishment while Santiago took no action.

Most fighters aren't able to respond to one such beating, let alone two. Foreman isn't apt to deliver that kind of punishment – he's more of a singles hitter – but there is a legitimate question whether Cotto retains any of his old skills.

He dismissed the question like he once easily dismissed opponents. "I'm going into this fight with the same kind of mentality," Cotto said. "It's pretty good and I've come here to get the victory."

Cotto has hired Hall of Fame trainer Emanuel Steward, who has been predictably sunny. Cotto, by all outward appearances, remains the same man he was before his losses to Pacquiao and Margarito. But Steward has had mixed results when taking over a veteran in mid-stream. He's been wonderful for International Boxing Federation/World Boxing Organization heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko, but he had far less success coming in as the hired gun with Oscar De La Hoya and Jermain Taylor. Arum went so far as to say the De La Hoya-Steward pairing was a "total disaster."

Steward, though, has been through the wars, and is a much better and more calming voice in the corner than Santiago. Steward, who spent much of camp working to improve Cotto's balance, has heard the concerns about whether Cotto has had enough, and he's been through it before. He worked with Evander Holyfield when the Nevada Athletic Commission was so concerned about whether it was safe for Holyfield to box that it was considering not licensing him.

Steward said all signs with Cotto are positive.

"When I worked with Evander Holyfield after his first fight with Riddick Bowe and his other fights, I was told he was too slow and too old," Steward said, "but he turned out to be a different individual, not only to retain the title but also to have some great fights after that for his fights with Mike Tyson.

"I feel very good about it. I'm always going to be honest with you guys because I am part of the media. Miguel's boxing and energy level have been fantastic. His weight is a normal weight.

"He is finishing up his boxing, after 10 or 12 rounds, having never been exhausted in a very hot gym and his weight has been staying around 159. That means without any extra effort he could fight at 154 or 147. He looks wonderful. You could see that Juan Manuel Marquez, who was training for Floyd Mayweather, you could [tell] the weight was very squeezed into a small frame. Miguel doesn't look that way. He looks very normal."

For years, Cotto has been one of boxing's most courageous warriors. Hopefully, Steward is right and Cotto is normal. Nobody who has admired Cotto's work over the last decade wants to see him go out a beaten mess, struggling to hang with men he'd have handled easily just a few years earlier.

During the news conference on Wednesday, Cotto's young son sat next to him, leaning onto his father, playing with an iPad. At one point, as someone was speaking at the dais, Cotto leaned down and kissed his son on top of his head.

For his son's sake, as well as for the sake of the thousands of fans around the world who have worshipped him, hopefully Cotto won't overstay his welcome.

This is not a sport for a long goodbye.

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