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Cotto motivated to make history

June 6, 2014
Three-division titleholder Miguel Cotto is looking for the middleweight championship © Getty Images
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The island of Puerto Rico had produced many great champions and boxing Hall of Famers. Among the greatest are Wilfredo Benitez, Wilfredo Gomez and Felix Trinidad, each of whom won world titles in three weight classes and became legends.

Benitez was a champion at junior welterweight, welterweight and junior middleweight, Gomez collected titles at junior featherweight, featherweight and junior lightweight and Trinidad, who will join them in the International Hall of Fame in New York, when he is inducted on Sunday in his first year of eligibility, won belts at welterweight, junior middleweight and middleweight.

Wilfredo Vazquez Sr, who has not yet been elected to the Hall of Fame, is another Puerto Rican star to win titles in three divisions, achieving his hat trick at bantamweight, junior bantamweight and featherweight.

And then there is Miguel Cotto, also a three-division titleholder - junior welterweight, welterweight and junior middleweight - and a likely a Hall of Famer. But he can leave no doubt by doing something none of his countrymen have ever done. That is to win a title in a fourth weight division.

That is Cotto's motivation and one of the historical ramifications of his showdown with middleweight champion Sergio Martinez when they meet on Saturday night - the eve of the annual Puerto Rican Day Parade - at Madison Square Garden, where a record boxing crowd of more than 21,000 is expected.

"I fought some of the best fighters at 140, 147 and 154 pounds and now here I am facing the best at 160," Cotto said. "For me, boxing has always been about challenges and competing and this is one more fight that proves that point."

Cotto's shot at the middleweight crown is not something he has always strived for. In fact, after he dropped back-to-back decisions in junior middleweight title fights to Floyd Mayweather Jr and Austin Trout in 2012, his future was cloudy.

But then he sought out Hall of Fame trainer Freddie Roach and, in their first fight together, Cotto looked as good as he had in years as he destroyed the typically durable Delvin Rodriguez in the third round in October.

At that point the possibility of challenging Martinez was raised. But Cotto also had an eight-figure offer to face former junior middleweight titlist Canelo Alvarez in a non-title fight.

"Never did it cross my mind that I would be able to go up to 160 pounds," Cotto said. "After the fight in October, that was the best scenario. Sergio agreed with us and we moved on to this fight."

In the end, the tug of making Puerto Rican history against Martinez - for a fight that was agreed to at a maximum weight of 159 pounds - was too great to pass up.

"Some of our best fighters are not only Puerto Rican greats but all-time greats of the sport," Cotto said. "Carlos Ortiz, Wilfredo Gomez, Wilfredo Benitez and Felix 'Tito' Trinidad, and many others, have made Puerto Rican boxing what it is today and I am only an extension of their greatness. So to have an opportunity to become the first four-time world champion in different division is very special to me."

Cotto will take great pride if he can pull it off.

"It is a personal matter. A personal achievement that I want to win and I am working for it," he said. "It doesn't mean that I am going to be better than Wilfredo Gomez, better than Felix Trinidad, better than all of the great champions that Puerto Rico has produced, but for me, Miguel, it will be the greatest accomplishment of my career."

The 33-year-old Cotto is a humble sort and while he knows what the title would mean historically, it's not his style to brag. So when asked if a victory on Saturday would put him among the elite fighters in Puerto Rican history, he wouldn't go there.

"I am just waking up every day trying to do my best in preparation so I am at my best for every opportunity that I have to fight," Cotto said. "I don't want to be named, myself, as one of the elite boxers of Puerto Rico. That's for the fans and for the people that know about boxing. I just want to do my job the best I can and I am going to do that the rest of my career."

A big part of Cotto's confidence going into the fight stems from his comfort with Roach, who has raved about his preparation.

"Miguel is one of the hardest punchers I have worked with," Roach said. "His punching power is great, his speed has been good and everything is right where I want it to be. Miguel is one of the hardest workers I have been with and he is the most disciplined fighter I have ever worked with. We have a great relationship and it will show in the fight."

But back in 2009, they were on opposite sides. Roach trained Manny Pacquiao to his 12th-round knockout win against Cotto to claim a welterweight title. During the promotion there were some hard feelings between Cotto and Roach. But after the losses to Mayweather and Trout in 2012, Cotto sought him out and Roach was happy to help.

Cotto said Roach has been just what he needed.

Miguel Cotto lost a welterweight title fight against Manny Pacquiao in 2009 © Getty Images
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"It was no secret that during the Pacquiao-Cotto tour we had our differences," he said. "But when we got into the training camp he made me a better fighter, a better person and a better overall boxer. I think our relationship is great right now and I feel we really understand each other. The chemistry is there to make me a better fighter and that's what I am trying to do - improve with him by my side.

"This was the best training camp I've ever had because of my team - Freddie, [strength coach] Gavin [MacMillan] and [assistant trainer] Marvin [Somodio]. A lot of people say Michael Jordan wouldn't be Michael Jordan without Scottie Pippen. Freddie Roach is my Scottie Pippen. Our chemistry together has been great."

The 39-year-old Martinez, a southpaw from Argentina, will be making the seventh defence of the lineal championship he took from a bloody Kelly Pavlik by decision in 2010, although he is coming off a 14-month lay-off following a second surgery on his right knee.

Regardless, Martinez said he has pored over Cotto's losses and does not believe he will have the power at middleweight that he had in the lower weight classes.

"It is not only Austin Trout that made it a difficult fight for Cotto, but Mayweather and Pacquiao as well," Martinez said. "We have looked at all of those fights, and picked up on different things that have worked against Cotto. My trainer, Pablo Sarmiento, has come up with a great game plan and you will see me execute it perfectly on Saturday night.

"Of course, I realise that Miguel does not have the same power at this weight that he had at 147, but I am the one that has the power in this case. I am the power-puncher of the two of us. But the most important fact in this fight is going to be the intelligence that I am going to be able to use in this fight. I'm sure that I will win the fight by knockout."

But Roach is convinced Martinez's best days are behind him and that Cotto will have enough at the new weight to win the title.

"Sergio is in over his head on this one," he said. "We worked on fighting southpaws and have it down to a science now. Miguel will have no trouble with Sergio's style. Working opposite Miguel with Manny Pacquiao gave me great insight to Miguel's flaws. It taught me his weaknesses and during this camp I was able to eliminate them."

If Roach has done that, and if the health of Martinez's knee is not as good as he insists that it is, then the path to history could be clear for Cotto.

"To be the first Puerto Rican to win a world title in four divisions would be an achievement," he said. "Gomez, Benitez, there have been a lot of good fighters from Puerto Rico before me. When I started boxing, Tito Trinidad was our big star. A victory on Saturday night would make me feel happy and proud. I would like to be remembered as a boxer who tried to do his best."

And a boxer who might just be remembered as his island's very best to boot.

This article originally appeared on ESPN.com

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