Somewhere along the line, in the seemingly unending battles he’s been through, Miguel Cotto temporarily lost it. That glare, the stern, beam-right-through-your-soul look of unrequited resolve on his face. Gone, wiped away. Pushed aside for a dubious, quizzical demeanor -- a mask of uncertainty.
One mention of two others besides Daniel Geale can bring that killer stare back.
When Saul “Canelo” Alvarez or Gennady “GGG” Golovkin are broached, Cotto bristles. His attention is focused solely on Geale, whom Cotto will defend his WBC middleweight title against on Saturday at Barclays Center on HBO.
But for a moment, Cotto needed to give a little history of one of the two opponents boxing fans and pundits feel should be in the ring with the Puerto Rican star Saturday night.
“Alvarez had his moment to shine against (Floyd) Mayweather,” Cotto said on Tuesday during a press conference. “Everybody knows what happened there (losing by a majority decision). Golovkin is a guy who never faced, in my opinion, a Class A opponent, and people still asking for those kinds of fights. Miguel Cotto has been here for 14 years, facing everybody and it’s the time for Daniel Geale. After Saturday, we’ll see what happens next in my career.”
Two years ago, Cotto’s career didn’t appear to be going anywhere. A pair of losses can do that. It can fill you with doubt, even if you’re a future Hall of Famer, like Cotto. After consecutive defeats in 2012, the boxing world was ready to write off the pensive Puerto Rican firebrand.
Hall of Fame trainer Freddy Roach wasn’t, though.
Roach still saw the Cotto that electrified boxing through much of his career. He did not see the final remnants of an eroding fighter looking to hang on. To the contrary, Roach felt he could coax parts of Cotto’s game that were simply dormant. That’s what Roach has reconstructed -- a vintage, confident Cotto (39-4, 32 KOs).
It’s that burgeoning version that will be stepping through the ropes to take on rugged Australian Geale (31-3, 16 KOs).
Roach retooled Cotto, re-instilling the faith and trust Cotto once had in his boxing ability.
“Daniel Geale is a very tough opponent, and I know the talk out there about Miguel fighting Alvarez and Golovkin, but it’s one fight at a time, and this fight is first,” Roach said. “We can’t look past someone like Geale. That’s how you lose.
“Geale is a very good fighter. It’s why I picked him. I respect Geale and I know he’ll come to fight. I know they’re fighting at (a catchweight 157), but I could care less. We’re anxious. Miguel’s ready to go. I know he can’t wait.”
Under Roach, Cotto has won his last two fights, including the 10-round destruction of Sergio Martinez to wrest away the WBC middleweight championship.
It will be almost a year since Cotto last fought. Roach, however, doesn’t feel the down time will affect his 34-year-old fighter.
Still, Cotto has only fought 13 rounds in the last two years. And, the 11-month layoff, between Cotto’s middleweight title victory and Saturday, is the longest in Cotto’s 14-year career. It won’t matter, Roach says.
This version of Cotto is a much more complete fighter than the earlier model -- with far less training wear. Roach concentrated on Cotto’s penchant for backing up against the ropes as a way to lure opponents close. He worked masterfully with Cotto’s footwork and increased his aptitude in cutting off the ring against slick opponents.
It helps having faced Cotto in the opposite corner as an opponent, as Roach’s prized pupil, Manny Pacquiao, did Cotto in November 2009.
“I knew (Cotto) pretty well so I knew what I had to do to improve on him,” Roach said. “Cotto is one of the best students I’ve ever had. Another thing we corrected is running hills. He liked running hills six days a week and run long distances where his legs were gone. We got rid of the long runs and put him on machines. We focused more on speed through a lot more sprint work. I wasn’t going to let him burn out.”
Geale can move. He has decent speed -- and he’s desperate. The Aussie is 2-2 over his last four fights, including losing the IBF middleweight belt to Darren Barker in August 2013, when Geale had Barker down and in trouble in the sixth round.
“Geale has good speed. We’re looking to get some rounds and we think Geale will give them to us,” Roach said. “I expect Cotto to go to the body, break Geale down and beat him in the later rounds, around the eighth or ninth. Then we’ll worry about Canelo, and then Golovkin. For now, all of our focus is being placed on Geale.”
As for the other guys, they’ll have to wait.
Joseph Santoliquito is the president of the Boxing Writer's Association of America and a frequent contributor to Sherdog.com's mixed martial arts and boxing coverage. His archive can be found here.
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