Through all of his many epic battles, throughout his 12 years as a pro, Miguel Cotto never lost sight of what was most important to him in professional boxing:
It's a common ritual for the media to ask a star boxer who he wants to fight in upcoming bouts. And for that, Cotto has a stock answer, noting he'll take the fight that pays him the most.
It's the appropriate answer, given the risk every boxer takes when he or she climbs between the ropes. It's particularly appropriate for Cotto, a family man and father of four, whose aggressive, offensively oriented style leads to a lot of abuse.
Cotto fights little-known WBA super welterweight champion Austin Trout Saturday in New York on Showtime at Madison Square Garden. A win will set him up for a mega-fight in the first half of 2013, either a rematch against Floyd Mayweather Jr. or Manny Pacquiao or a showdown with Canelo Alvarez.
[Related: Austin Trout gets shot at big time]
The Trout fight, though, is risky for Cotto, who is guaranteed $1 million. Trout is left-handed, highly skilled defensively and exceptionally motivated.
Cotto sneers at the skeptics who question his choice to fight Trout and decision to meet a left-hander.
"Fighting southpaws is not difficult for me," Cotto said. "Actually, I'm a converted southpaw. I used to fight southpaw, but converted into an orthodox stance. I have already fought many southpaws and didn't really have any problems with them. I don't expect to have any problems with Austin, either."
Cotto has beaten left-handers such as DeMarcus "Chop Chop" Corley, Carlos Quintana and Zab Judah in his career, though he was dominated and then stopped by Pacquiao in the 12th round in 2009.
Fighting left-handers, particularly those like Trout whose style is predicated upon making an opponent miss and move out of position, is always tricky for conventional fighters.
Cotto turned down a rematch with Pacquiao to take on Trout because Pacquiao wouldn't agree to fight at 154 pounds. That decision is a risky one for several reasons, not least of which is because even with pay-per-view revenues from Puerto Rico, Cotto will be lucky to take home a quarter of what he would have against Pacquiao.
It's even riskier given their relative motivations. For Trout, Saturday's match is a now-or-never proposition. He defeated Delvin Rodriguez on June 2 in a stinker of a bout that had remotes clicking to change the channel all over the country. It was the same Rodriguez who had fought Pawel Wolak in the 2011 Boxing Writers Association Fight of the Year.
Trout is aware if he is blown out by Cotto, he'll likely never get a similar chance again.
"This fight is allowing all my dreams to come true," the affable Trout said. "I am crossing a lot off of my bucket list with this one. After Saturday night, I'm either going to become a big star or it could stop here."
Cotto will remain one of boxing's biggest names regardless of what happens on Saturday. Clearly, the Trout fight is no big deal in his world. He's been there, done that many times previously.
In his previous five fights, he fought Pacquiao in the biggest fight of 2009; met Yuri Foreman in a bout that drew in excess of 20,000 to Yankee Stadium in 2010; stopped Ricardo Mayorga in Las Vegas; defeated bitter rival Antonio Margarito at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 3, 2011; and lost to Mayweather on May 5 in a bout that sold in excess of 1.5 million on pay-per-view.
Four of those five fights were pay-per-views which sold a combined total in excess of 3.5 million. That's an average of about 900,000 per show, which means Cotto became a very wealthy man from those bouts.
He's been the consummate professional in the ring and has always come prepared to fight at a high level. But he's 32 and on the back stretch of his career, and boxing history has shown repeatedly those are the situations where upsets can occur.
Cotto is the more gifted fighter and should win. If he wins and gets out unscathed, the choice to fight Trout will have paid off. He'll add another world title to his collection and earn a $1 million-plus payday for his troubles.
But if Trout were to spring an upset, which can't be completely discounted, then Cotto may long rue the day he chose to take the fight.
He chose the lower-paying option for one of the few times in his career. Whether it was the right choice won't be known until the final bell clangs.
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