Miguel Cotto and The Legends of Puerto Rico
Published: December 02, 2017
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Tonight will be the final time fans will see future Hall-of-Famer Miguel Cotto step inside the squared circle. Cotto, who currently holds the WBO Super Welterweight (154) championship will be fighting for the tenth time of his career at the famed Madison Square Garden in New York. The Puerto Rican will be facing Brooklyn, NY native Sadam Ali. Ali is best known as a professional for his knockout loss to Jessie Vargas back in early 2016. While Ali is not the biggest name to make a grand event for a finale for a fighter as famous as Cotto, circumstances brought him to the biggest fight of his professional career.
In this instance, the opponent for Cotto is secondary to looking back and celebrating a career that will enshrine him as one of the best to ever come out of the island nation of Puerto Rico. With Cotto’s career almost in the rearview, fans and pundits will discuss his placement among the greatest to have represented the island.
Boxing is one of the most popular sports in Puerto Rico and an essential part of the cultural makeup of the island. Looking back at Cotto’s career it is difficult to argue that he is not one of the best to have come out of the island. Let’s take a look at how Cotto stacks up to some of the legends of the island.
CARLOS ORTIZ (61-7-1, 30 KOs)
Years Active: 1955-1972
Two-Division World Champion
Unified Lightweight Champion
Two-time Lightweight Champion
World Light Welterweight Champion
WBA Lightweight Champion
WBC Lightweight Champion
When fans speak about fighters who are underrated, there may not be a better example than that of Carlos Ortiz. Ortiz who is rated by many as possibly the best lightweight in history other than Roberto Duran and Benny Leonard is often overlooked and forgotten when it comes to great Puerto Rican fighters. Boxrec.com ranks Ortiz right behind Duran as the best lightweight in history. Ortiz fought in a different period plying the majority of his trade in the 1960’s in an era where fighters were more active and competed in 15 round championship bouts.
While Ortiz may not have had fights that generated the amount of media interest that Cotto’s did, he fought in Madison Square Garden a total of 12 times and was a staple in the New York boxing scene. Ortiz, who was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico may be best known for the rivalries that took place throughout his career. Ortiz fought Panamanian great Ismael Laguna in a trilogy of fights for the lightweight title. He also had a pair of bouts with Cuban legend Sugar Ramos whom Ortiz stopped on both occasions. Before Manny Pacquiao, Flash Elorde was known as the best fighter to have come out of the Philippines. Ortiz faced Elorde twice and stopped him both times in the 14th round.
The quintessential “Nuyorican” fought in an era where the number of belts per division was significantly less. In that period, Ortiz was able to accomplish something that Cotto did not in his career, and that was to unify a division. Ortiz won both the WBA and WBC lightweight titles in 1963 and made two defenses before losing the crown to Ismael Laguna. He won the championships back in a rematch and defended the crown on five more occasions before his final championship bout against Carlos Teo Cruz in 1968 where he lost by split decision.
Wilfred Benitez (53-8-1, 31 KOs)
Years Active: 1973-1990
WBA 140-pound Champion
-Two title defenses
WBC Welterweight Champion
-One title defense
WBC 154-pound Champion
-Two title defenses
Wilfred Benitez plied his trade of boxing in the 1970’s and the 1980’s in two of the best eras in the history of the sport. When one thinks of pure natural talent names like Roy Jones Jr. come to mind. Benitez while not as quick as Jones may have had just as much natural talent. He was known as “El Radar” and “The Bible of Boxing.” Benitez is known for being one of the most defensively adept fighters in the history of the sport. He is in the same class with other defensively great fighters such as Nicolino Locche, Pernell Whitaker, and Floyd Mayweather Jr. In the 1980’s fans labeled the foursome of Duran, Leonard, Hagler, and Hearns as “The Fabolous Four.” Benitez was arguably the fifth member of that group.
The legend of Benitez began with his historic first world title shot in 1977. In front of his entire high school class, Benitez won a split decision victory over Antonio Cervantes in Puerto Rico to win the WBA 140-pound championship at just 17 years of age. Not only did Benitez become the youngest champion in boxing history with the victory but with the bout being a 15-rounder it is likely never to be duplicated.
At 140-pounds Benitez showed some inconsistencies with focus as he was held to a draw by Harold Weston and had two close call bouts with Bruce Curry one in which he was knocked down three times. Benitez would leave the 140-pound division and move up to welterweight where he would face the likes of Carlos Palomino and Ray Leonard. He won the WBC welterweight title over Palomino in Puerto Rico in 1979 and defended his title once in a rematch against Harold Weston before facing off against Leonard. The bout with Leonard ended with Benitez being stopped in the 15th round after 14 highly competitive rounds.
After the Leonard fight, Benitez would move up to the 154-pound division where he would score two of the three best victories of his career. In 1981, he challenged Maurice Hope for the WBC 154-pound championship and scored the most devastating knockout of his career with a right hand in the 12th round. A matchup was then set up with the legendary Roberto Duran at the beginning of 1982. The Panamanian was only a few fights removed from his infamous “No Mas” bout with Leonard, but no one thought he would lose to Benitez in such precise fashion. Benitez would go on to outbox and frustrate Duran over 15 rounds to win a unanimous decision. Duran had been defeated before against Leonard in a strange circumstance and to Puerto Rican Estaban de Jesus at lightweight, but he had never been so thoroughly beaten until he faced Benitez. The victory is still one of the most significant in Puerto Rican boxing history.
The youngest champion in boxing history would face the next significant challenge of his career when he met Thomas Hearns at the Superdome in New Orleans in December 1982. While the Puerto Rican was competitive against Hearns and showcased his defensive genius at times against the ropes, he was not able to mount enough of his own offense to gain a victory. Hearns would win a majority decision in a close but clear bout. Unfortunately, this would be the final championship bout for Benitez, as his career would go into a downward spiral. The former prodigy would go nine in six over the last portion of his career with one-sided losses to Mustafa Hamsho and a second-round stoppage loss to Davey Moore where he broke his ankle. The man once known as the “Bible of Boxing” was now a former shell of himself.
At this time Benitez is unable to care for himself and is now virtually broke. Fans can contribute to help Benitez by donating to his gofundme account and the Wilfred Benitez Foundation. The youngest champion in boxing history is somewhat forgotten, but his legacy lives on as the most talented fighter to have ever come out of Puerto Rico.
Wilfredo Gomez (44-3-1, 42 KOs)
Years Active: 1974-1989
WBC Super Bantamweight (122) Champion
- 17 title defenses
WBC Featherweight Champion
WBA Super Featherweight Champion
Dong Kyun Yum
The man known as “Bazooka” is arguably the strongest puncher in the history of Puerto Rico. Gomez ended his career with an 88 percent knockout ratio and is widely considered the greatest 122-pound fighter in history. His career began with a draw in Panama and was followed by an unprecedented knockout streak that led him to his first world title in 1977 against Dong Kyun Kim. Gomez was able to stop Kim in the 12th round at the Roberto Clemente Coliseum in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Gomez would have five defenses of his title including two stoppage victories in Japan and Thailand before he faced the biggest challenge of his career.
In October 1978, Gomez would face Mexican legend Carlos Zarate (66-4, 63 KOs) a man who had won 51 of his previous 52 bouts by stoppage and made eight defenses of his bantamweight (118) championship including a fourth-round stoppage victory over fellow puncher Alfonso Zamora in 1977. This match put two of the most deadly punchers in boxing history together.
In an unprecedented turn of events, Gomez would stop Zarate in the fifth round after knocking him down twice in the fourth round and once again in the fifth. The Mexican’s corner threw in the towel as the younger Puerto Rican proved to be too much for Zarate. The victory took place in Puerto Rico and is likely to this day still the most celebrated achievement to have taken place on the island. Seven more successful title defenses by stoppage followed for Gomez until he leaped the featherweight (126) division.
At featherweight, Gomez met up with Mexico’s Salvador Sanchez the reigning WBC featherweight champion. Similar to the battle with Zarate this bout played a significant role in the Mexico-Puerto Rico rivalry. Rumors surrounding the fight were that Gomez did not take Sanchez seriously and had a slightly pedestrian training camp. Regardless, he stepped into the ring with a stellar record of 32-0-1 with 32 knockouts. The bout took place in August 1981 at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. The rivalry between Mexico and Puerto Rico was at full blast with the music bands the fighters walked out with having a makeshift faceoff. Gomez did not know what he was running into when he faced Sanchez.
Sanchez scored the first blow of the bout knocking Gomez down and badly hurt in the first round. Through the rest of the fight, Gomez had his moments and landed some hellacious punches that would have usually knocked out his opponents. Sanchez, however, was a natural fighter who showed no emotions in the ring and never looked like he was doing any heavy breathing in between rounds. The fight was close on the judge’s scorecards, but it seemed like a matter of time, as Gomez was unable to hurt Sanchez. The end came in the eighth round when Sanchez again knocked Gomez down, and the referee put a halt to the fight. Gomez and the island of Puerto Rico were devastated by the defeat, but this would not be the end for the Puerto Rican puncher.
Gomez would go back down to 122-pounds where he would make his final stand at the weight with four more defenses of his title all by stoppage. His last fight at the weight was against Mexico’s Lupe Pintor in New Orleans on the same card Benitez faced Hearns. What took place that night was one of the best fights of the entire decade as Gomez and Pintor put on an absolute classic that can stand next to any bout for sustained action. Gomez ultimately outlasted Pintor and stopped him in the 14th round to retain his crown. After the fight with Pintor, Gomez moved back up to the featherweight division and faced Puerto Rican fighter Juan Laporte for the WBC featherweight championship. Gomez would defeat Laporte over 12 rounds to win a unanimous decision. Gomez’ reign was short as he lost his title in his next fight to Azumah Nelson via 11th round knockout in his native Puerto Rico.
The now two-division champion would move up in weight again to the 130-pound division. Gomez challenged Rocky Lockridge for the WBA Super Featherweight title and won a controversial majority decision to become a three-division champion. This would be the last significant victory of his career as he would lose the title in his first defense to Alfredo Layne and only fight two more times.
Gomez for many is the standard bearer when it comes to Puerto Rican fighters. He set the bar for which many from the island are measured.
Hector Camacho (79-6-3, 38 KOs)
Years Active: 1980-2010
-Three division Champion
WBC 130-pound Champion
- One title defense
WBC Lightweight Champion
- Two title defenses
WBO 140-pound Champion
-Two title defenses
Jose Luis Ramirez
Julio Cesar Chavez
Oscar De La Hoya
From a name point of view, Camacho has one of the most impressive resumes of the last 25 years. Camacho set a precedent for trash talk and being flamboyant with his entrances and ring attire. Camacho influenced fighters like Naseem Hamed and Floyd Mayweather. The Nuyorican was an amateur standout and through the first half of his career possessed all the talent in the world. In the 130-pound and lightweight divisions, Camacho had dazzling hand and foot speed, which he showcased in championship bouts against Rafael Limon and Jose Luis Ramirez.
When fans discuss Camacho, they speak of him in terms of before and after he faced Puerto Rican puncher Edwin Rosario. Camacho met Rosario in June of 1986 at Madison Square Garden to defend his WBC lightweight championship. While Camacho won a close split decision victory, he was hurt badly enough during the fight that he altered his style from that point forward. The Nuyorican would fight in more of a method that utilized foot movement. Camacho would make a few defenses of his lightweight title most notably against Cornelius Boza-Edwards before moving to the 140-pound division where he won the vacant WBO title by defeating Ray Mancini.
In February 1991, Camacho suffered the first loss of his career when he lost a split decision to Greg Haugen in Las Vegas. In the 12th round, Camacho was deducted a point for refusing to touch gloves, and this point deduction ultimately became the difference in the judge's scorecards. The flamboyant Puerto Rican would win a rematch with Haugen in his next fight in another close battle.
In September of 1992, Camacho faced the undefeated Julio Cesar Chavez in another battle between Mexico and Puerto Rico. On that night, Camacho proved he could take a beating as he lasted all 12 rounds with the Mexican. From this point, Camacho’s career took a strange turn with fights at higher weights winning non-descript titles at welterweight, super welterweight, middleweight (160) and super middleweight (168). He would go on to face and defeat two of the most prominent fighters of the 1980’s in Duran and Leonard who were both years past their prime. However, he would also face prime versions of Felix Trinidad and Oscar De La Hoya. While he did not win those bouts, he gave a good enough account of himself to be respected.
Camacho would keep on fighting until 2010. He along with James Toney will likely be the last fighters in boxing to have over 80 professional bouts. Camacho tragically died in November 2012 after he was shot in the town of Bayamon in Puerto Rico. In many respects, Camacho was the opposite of Cotto as far as how he conducted himself outside the ring. However, inside the ring, Camacho showed just as much heart and toughness.
Felix Trinidad (42-3, 35 KOs)
Years Active: 1990-2008
IBF Welterweight Champion
-15 title defenses
Unified WBC and IBF Welterweight Champion
WBA 154-pound Champion
-Two title defenses
Unified IBF and WBA 154-pound Champion
WBA Middleweight Champion
Roy Jones Jr.
Oscar De La Hoya
Yory Boy Campas
Felix Trinidad is arguably the most popular fighter to have come out of Puerto Rico. Trinidad loved Puerto Rico and vice versa. Trinidad’s popularity was the cherry on top of a career built on a solid foundation. He was the longest reigning welterweight champion in boxing history holding on to his IBF championship for over six years. When he faced Oscar De La Hoya in September 1999, Trinidad became just the second fighter in boxing history to unify the welterweight division as an undefeated fighter. Trinidad also made 15 successful title defenses at welterweight putting him just behind all-time great Henry Armstong who had 19 title defenses. Similar to Wilfredo Gomez before him, Trinidad made a significant portion of his legacy in one weight class.
While Trinidad had many accomplishments at welterweight, he may have been even better at 154-pounds. He was able to unify the IBF and WBA titles by defeating two undefeated fighters in David Reid and Fernando Vargas. The bout with Vargas was an all-time classic that was another chapter of the Mexico-Puerto Rico rivalry. After making his name at 154-pounds, Trinidad moved up to the middleweight division to join Don King’s middleweight tournament to unify all the major titles. In May 2001, Trinidad faced William Joppy for the WBA middleweight title in front of raucous crowd at Madison Square Garden. Trinidad scored a violent fifth-round stoppage against Joppy to become a three-division champion. At the time, Trinidad’s popularity was at a fever pitch that bordered on the line of fandom and idol worship.
In his next bout, Trinidad faced Bernard Hopkins to unify all the middleweight titles in September 2001 at Madison Square Garden. That night, Trinidad lost for the first time in his career as Hopkins stopped him in the 12th round. Afterward, Trinidad had one more fight in May 2002 before announcing his retirement.
Following the trend of many boxers, Trinidad came back in October 2004 to face the loquacious Nicaraguan trash talker Ricardo Mayorga. In what became one of the more memorable comeback fights for a formerly retired fighter Trinidad stopped Mayorga after eight action-packed rounds in front of another frenzied Madison Square Garden crowd. The comeback did not last long, however, as Trinidad was blanked out by Winky Wright in May 2005 and afterward announced a second retirement.
Trinidad would return one more time to face the final elite foe of his era. In January 2008, Trinidad moved up to 170-pounds to meet Roy Jones Jr. Trinidad would be knocked down twice and ultimately lose a unanimous decision. While the loss to Wright was somewhat embarrassing due to the one-sided nature of the bout, the loss to Jones was respectable as Trinidad was moving up in weight with over two years out of the ring and made a good account of himself in many rounds.
Similar to Larry Holmes having to come after the great Muhammad Ali, Cotto faced the same issue of having to follow Trinidad. Trinidad was beloved and revered by all the island to the point that his fights were cause for the government to give people the day off such as after his victory over Oscar De La Hoya in 1999 where a parade was thrown to have the people of the island celebrate with him. Cotto was not loved in the same way as Trinidad but was always respected.
Miguel Cotto (41-6, 33 KOs)
Years Active: 2001-2017
-WBO 154-pound Champion
WBC Middleweight Champion
-One title defense
WBA 154-pound Champion
-Two title defenses
WBA Welterweight Champion
-Four title defenses
WBO Welterweight Champion
-One title defense
WBO 140-pound Champion
-Six title defenses
The story of Miguel Cotto is one of consistency, longevity, and dignity. Cotto may not end up being ranked ahead of fighters like Gomez, Trinidad, and Ortiz but his career will be the one that future generations will model themselves after. He was able to maneuver through various promoters and leverage his brand to never come out on the short end of the stick. Many fighters in boxing let the sport retire them and leave them broke, Cotto will not be one of those fighters. Cotto was able to bring boxing back to the city of New York with his bouts at Madison Square Garden in the late 2000’s.
Cotto’s crowning achievement, as a boxer may be becoming the first Puerto Rican four-division champion when he stopped Sergio Martinez in June 2014 to become the lineal and WBC middleweight champion. The win over Martinez made him the first Puerto Rican four-division champion. Unlike most of his fellow Puerto Rican contemporaries, Cotto was able to sustain a high level of excellence throughout his 16-year career. Looking at how Cotto fought in his last bout against Yoshihiro Kamegai, he is still a great fighter. The four-division champion may not be in his prime, but he certainly is not a shell of his former self. Cotto fought all the big names of his era including Mayweather and Pacquiao but also fighters he did not need to fight like Austin Trout and Joshua Clottey. While Cotto will not be recognized as the very best of the era, he was always willing to fight the best.
In the pay-per-view boxing era, Cotto was one of the few that gave fans their money's worth. Fights with Antonio Margarito, Ricardo Torres, Shane Mosley and Zab Judah will not be forgotten as they stand the test of time and so will Cotto. Time will be kind to Cotto as his body of work will become more impressive as the years pass. No matter what happens in his fight with Ali, Cotto’s legacy has already been set in stone. While many may argue whether he belongs on the Puerto Rican Mount Rushmore of great fighters, he will always have a seat at the table. Cotto's current trainer Freddie Roach feels Cotto is the best to have come out of the island.
The truth is that fans and Puerto Rico were lucky to have Cotto. A fighter that was willing to fight the best win or lose has become a rare commodity in boxing’s landscape. As we put a close on the book of Cotto’s career, fans can look back at a fighter that embodied pride and honor.
Puerto Rico and boxing fans worldwide can look at Cotto and be proud to have witnessed a soon to be legends career from start to finish.
(Feature Photo: Mikey Williams/Top Rank)