LOS ANGELES — After Miguel Cotto lost both of his fights last year, the three-division champion took several months off to choose between reinvention and retirement.
Cotto eventually chose to keep fighting. And like many determined men over the centuries, he headed west.
Almost every day for the past two months, Cotto showed up at 5 a.m. at the Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood for three hours of strength and conditioning work. He returned from his rented house every afternoon for two hours of training with Freddie Roach, rebuilding his game and rekindling his fire.
“I still have that passion, that same kind of feeling,” Cotto said. “We are committed to doing so good, and to look amazing at the fight. We are working together to get the best out of me.”
Southern California is an odd place to find the best Puerto Rican fighter in recent boxing history. Cotto has trained on his home island and in Florida in recent years, and he has a passionate fan base in New York, where he has sold more tickets at Madison Square Garden than any fighter in this century.
But the 32-year-old Cotto (37-4, 30 KOs) decided he couldn’t stick to his usual haunts when facing the final years of his career. He needed distance from everyday concerns — and he needed Roach, the sport’s most respected trainer.
“I figured if he’s willing to move to train, he really means business,” Roach said. “I told him he’ll have to work every day, do whatever we decide he needs to do every day, and he’s more than lived up to everything we put in front of him.”
Cotto wasn’t alone at the Wild Card during one of his final workouts before traveling to Orlando, Fla., for his 154-pound bout on HBO at the Amway Center on Saturday against Delvin Rodriguez (28-6-3, 16 KOs), a Dominican-born contender fighting out of Connecticut.
Cotto’s wife, Melissa, watched the session in her own workout clothes while two of their children lounged on the floor by the heavy bag, engrossed in their phones. His mother, Juana, has been in Los Angeles for much of camp, making sure Cotto can concentrate on Roach’s training with minimal real-life distractions.
Cotto had lost just twice in his career before dropping both his 2012 fights, losing to Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Austin Trout. There was no shame in the first defeat, since he provided the stiffest recent test in Mayweather’s career, but his inert performance against Trout had many wondering whether Cotto was cooked.
After the loss to Trout, Cotto split with Pedro Diaz — the latest in a long recent line of trainers unable to stick with the mercurial champion. Cotto won’t say why he dropped Diaz, but he subsequently called Roach, who trained Manny Pacquiao to beat Cotto in November 2009 in a victory that still stands as arguably the most impressive in Pacquiao’s remarkable career.
“Freddie is the kind of guy who knows what he has to tell you to get you to do what you need to do,” Cotto said. “He knows a lot about boxing. He’s really helping my career.”
Roach wants more body punching and more activity from Cotto, who lost his fight with Trout largely because he sat back and relied too heavily on counterpunching. During sparring sessions at the Wild Card, Roach demanded 100 punches per round from Cotto, who usually complied.
“I don’t believe in changing people,” Roach said. “We are what we are, and when he was at his best, it was the fundamentals of boxing which he excelled at. He had gotten away from the body attack a little bit, and we got that back in line.”
Cotto easily got back down to his fighting weight several weeks before the bout, leaving no doubt about his determination to recapture the form that made him a pay-per-view draw and one of his generation’s most consistently popular fighters.
If Cotto handles Rodriguez, he’ll still be an attractive opponent for the world’s best fighters at 154 and 160 pounds, given his drawing power and achievements. Roach imagines Cotto’s next bout could be against middleweight king Sergio Martinez or Mexican star Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, with the possibility of a rematch with Mayweather looming in the background.
Cotto isn’t thinking beyond Saturday in Orlando, but if he takes care of Rodriguez, he’ll soon be back on the West Coast to plot the big finish to a probable Hall of Fame-worthy career.
“A couple more fights, then it will be over,” he said. “I am not thinking about a championship or defending titles, or staying longer than I have to. I have an idea what I want to do, but everything will be decided after this fight.”