NEW YORK — It’s not often that Miguel Cotto is seen relaxed, smiling, even joking. He’s so serious about everything, particularly his boxing career, that to see him in a jovial manner makes one wonder if something’s wrong.
But the 33-year-old three-division champion from Puerto Rico never has been better. He enters Saturday’s World Boxing Council middleweight title fight against champion Sergio Martinez with momentum, the support of the majority of the 19,000-plus who will be inside the refurbished Madison Square Garden and the comfort of knowing he has prepared well for the 12-round fight with his latest trainer, Hall of Famer Freddie Roach.
“A lot of people said Michael Jordan wouldn’t be Michael Jordan without Scottie Pippen,” Cotto said. “I think I found my Pippen in Freddie Roach. Our chemistry is great. We make a good team.”
Roach has tried to get Cotto back to his roots as a devastating body puncher. They teamed for the first time last year, and Cotto made short work of Delvin Rodriguez on Oct. 5, hammering him relentlessly to the midsection and winning by technical knockout in the third round.
Cotto (38-4, 31 knockouts) said he thinks he can bring that same destructive power into the ring Saturday.
“I’m a puncher,” Cotto said. “My power is with me wherever I go.”
Roach said the key to winning the fight is for Cotto to use that power wisely and not forget his exceptional boxing skills that have allowed him to win world titles at the junior welterweight, welterweight and junior middleweight divisions.
“We’ve worked on his ring generalship quite a bit,” Roach said. “If he cuts off the ring, stays off the ropes and out of the corners, he’ll win the fight. He’s a great student, one of the best I’ve ever trained.”
Cotto has seen Roach in the opposite corner of his fights, most notably when Manny Pacquiao knocked him out in the 12th round in 2009 at the MGM Grand Garden. Roach obviously saw flaws in Cotto, and Pacquiao exploited them.
Now that he’s training Cotto, Roach has worked to eliminate those flaws.
“I’m asking Miguel to do the opposite from when he fought Manny,” he said.
Cotto remembers when his relationship with Roach wasn’t cordial. The lead-up to his fight with Pacquiao was fraught with head games, personal attacks and bitterness.
“It was no secret that during the tour we had our differences,” Cotto 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. I feel we understand each other.”
Cotto couldn’t say if having Roach in his corner instead of Pacquiao’s would have helped him win that fight. Or when he lost to Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Austin Trout in 2012.
But Cotto knows that having a trainer he can trust is important. It was the case when Cotto’s father trained him early in his career and when Emanuel Steward trained him in 2010 and 2011.
“I have complete faith in Freddie,” Cotto said. “I follow all the orders, and everything he needs from me, I do.”
For Cotto and the Puerto Ricans who live in the New York metropolitan area, it’s a huge weekend. There’s Saturday’s fight, then Sunday’s parade down Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. And Sunday in upstate New York, compatriot Felix Trinidad will be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
Cotto probably will join Trinidad in Canastota, N.Y., some day. A win against Martinez (51-2-2, 28 KOs) would add to his legacy as he tries to become the first boxer from his country to win a world title in four divisions.
“To be in the conversation with (Wilfredo) Gomez, (Wilfred) Benitez and Trinidad makes me very happy,” Cotto said. “The New York fans have always supported me, and they’ve gotten me through some tough fights. So it is an honor for me to compete this weekend.”
Contact reporter Steve Carp at email@example.com or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.