Trainer Manny Steward told RingTV.com on Tuesday morning that he will not be working the corner of WBA junior middleweight champion Miguel Cotto during his rematch with Antonio Margarito on Dec. 3 due to a “scheduling conflict.”
Steward’s replacement is Pedro Luis Diaz Benitez, who has been training Cotto (36-2, 29 KOs) for the return bout with Margarito (38-7, 27 KOs) in Orlando, Fla., “for about a week and a few days,” according to Cotto’s legal adviser Gaby Penagaricano.
“Miguel is working with Pedro Luis Diaz Benitez. He is a well-known trainer of Cuban origin, and there will be an open letter from Miguel to his fans about it,” said Penagaricano.
“Pedro has worked with most of the Olympic gold medalists from Cuba, and he lives in Canada and has worked with [former lightheavyweight titleholder] Jean Pascal and other world champions.”
Steward has spent the past few weeks camped out at his Kronk Gym in Detroit preparing middleweight contender Andy Lee (27-1, 19 KOs) for last Saturday’s 10-round unanimous decision over Brian Vera, whom he had lost to previously by seventh-round knockout.
Lee’s win was his 12th straight during a run that included seven knockouts since being stopped by Vera, of Austin, Tex.
Among the conflicts, said Steward, was the fact that Cotto wanted him in camp “a week prior to” Lee’s fight with Vera.
“They wanted me to be in the camp last week, but I was still very busy with Andy Lee, who had a big fight. So I’m not going to be working his corner because there is too much of a conflict,” said Steward.
“We spoke [Monday,] and they said that they were moving forward with another trainer. Basically, they wanted me there a week ahead of time, so they decided to move on and to go with somebody else.”
Steward had replaced trainer Joe Santiago, guiding Cotto to a ninth-round knockout of Yuri Foreman that dethroned him as WBA junior middleweight titleholder at Yankee Stadium in New York in June of last year.
On March 12, Steward elected to remain with Cotto for his 12th-round stoppage of Ricardo Mayorga even as Lee faced unbeaten Craig McEwan on the same night. In McEwan, Lee faced a fighter who owned a victory over Vera.
Although McEwan rocked Lee early and led throughout the fight, Lee rallied by dropping him in the ninth round as well as the 10th and final round of a knockout victory.
“I had everything packed up and ready to go when I spoke to [Cotto's camp,] but they said that they simply had to move forward,” said Steward. “They said that they had wanted someone to be there right away, but I couldn’t do that to Andy again. So we parted ways, but we did it on good terms.”
Former lightheavyweight titleholder Chad Dawson recently chose to replace Steward with a previous trainer, John Scully, after one fight with Steward, who had worked with Dawson for his unanimous decision over Adrian Diaconu in May.
Dawson is preparing for what is likely the biggest fight of his career against RING and WBC beltholder Bernard Hopkins on Oct. 15.
Below is Cotto’s statement announcing the switch to Benitez from Steward.
“Today, I am very happy to announce that my trainer for my December 3rd fight in New York will be legendary Cuban boxing trainer and expert Pedro Luis Díaz Benítez. Pedro Luis is a Doctor in Pedagogical Sciences. He holds a Master’s degree in sports training and a Major in Physical Culture and Sports.
” He is also specialized in boxing training’s planning and control. He was a professor and investigator for the University of Sports in Cuba. He has also worked with and trained several Olympic Gold Medalists and professional world champions.
“I met Pedro Luis as an amateur several years ago and had the opportunity to share time with him in several international competitions. I was instantly amazed as to the vast boxing’s technique and conditioning knowledge that he transmitted to his fighters. I feel that together with Phil, Pedro Luis is a perfect fit to bring my best potential for my next fight in December and lead me to victory.
“I want to take this opportunity to express my wholehearted gratitude to Emanuel Steward, who I consider a friend and mentor. Because of calendar conflicts and other matters, we were unable to work together for this next fight. He is one of the best trainers I have ever met in boxing, and I will be forever appreciative for the two fights we worked together.
“We have both kept the doors open to maybe join forces in the future if the circumstances and timing are adequate. Now I will focus on my training camp! I feel happy and thrilled as ever to commenced preparing for December. I will be ready and will win the fight for all of you.”
Cotto’s fight against Foreman was also his first without Miguel Sr., whose died in January of last year. Cotto made the first defense of his belt against Mayorga.
“We like Emanuel very much, he’s a friend and will remain a friend and we don’t discount working with him in the future. There were just too many conflicts,” said Penagaricano.
“We just couldn’t agree on the timing. It was the conflict with the [Lee] fight, in part, together with other reasons as well, but yes, that is one of the reasons.”
Cotto had been an unbeaten WBA welterweight titleholder before being battered, beaten bloody and dethroned by an 11th-round knockout loss to Margarito in July of 2008.
It had been Miguel Sr.’s decision to replace Cotto’s uncle, Evangalista Cotto, with Santiago, blaming his brother for not examining Margarito’s gloves prior to facing his son.
Against Margarito, Cotto’s nose was broken, he had been knocked down once and taken a knee once, and blood dripped down his face from a deep gash over his left eye by the time the bout ended.
Although illegal plaster was found in Margarito’s hand wrappings and removed prior to his ninth-round knockout loss to Shane Mosley in his next fight in January of 2009, no one is sure whether or not Margarito was dirty when he faced Cotto.
Lem Satterfield can be reached at email@example.com