When Paulie Malignaggi fought Miguel Cotto as a 140-pounder at New York’s Madison Square Garden in June of 2006, the Brooklyn native recalls feeling as if he was at an extreme disadvantage against the screams of the fans who favored the defending WBO titleholder from Puerto Rico.
“It’s just loud, constantly. It doesn’t stop. It doesn’t stop, and it stays loud. Then, when the guy throws a punch, even if he doesn’t land it, it gets even louder. You think it’s not possible, but it’s possible,” said Malignaggi, who was dropped in the second round of an eventual unanimous-decision loss.
“I just remember telling myself, ‘man, I can’t even hear myself think right now, I mean, what’s going on?’ It makes a man out of you. I definitely took that experience with me, and it’s helped me the rest of my career.”
Cotto (37-3, 30 knockouts) will look for a repeat performance at The Garden on Saturday night, when the four-time, three-division titlewinner challenges southpaw WBA junior middleweight beltholder Austin Trout (25-0, 14 KOs) in a Showtime-televised event being promoted by Golden Boy.
A resident of Caguas, Puerto Rico, Cotto is looking to improve on his mark of 7-0, with four knockouts at The Garden, where he has decisioned Malignaggi as well as former world titleholders Shane Mosley and Joshua Clottey, and knocked out Zab Judah and Antonio Margarito.
“I’m just happy to be here again,” said Cotto, whose unanimous-decision loss to Floyd Mayweather Jr. in May ended his run of three straight stoppage wins and and dethroned Cotto as WBA 154-pound beltholder. “People here have treated me great for my whole career, and I know that next Saturday, it’s going to be the same.”
“There will be a lot of people there shouting for myself, and they will be there just to watch an entertaining fight. That’s what Miguel is used to in the ring. So I’m ready. I’ve had good preparation for this Saturday, and I’m going to be ready for the fight and to beat Austin Trout next Saturday.”
With Trout representing Cotto’s eighth fight at venue, the fighter was presented with a commemorative “Golden Ticket” by Executive Vice President of Madison Square Garden Sports, Joel Fisher, at Wednesday’s press conference.
The award celebrated the fact that Cotto has sold more than 100,000 tickets at The Garden — a number that is believed to higher than any fighter overall, including Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier and Roberto Duran
In New York overall, Cotto is 9-0 with five stoppage wins, including a ninth-round knockout that dethroned Yuri Foreman as WBA beltholder at Yankee Stadium in June of 2010.
Cotto debuted with at The Garden with a ninth-round stoppage of Muhammad Abdulaev in defense of his WBO 147-pound belt in June of 2005, and was last at the venue for a 10th-round knockout of 154-pound rival Margarito on Dec. 1 of last year that avenged the first loss of Cotto’s career, an 11th-round knockout in July of 2008.
“When I fought Abdulaev, I didn’t think that this arena was going to be so special for me for my entire career. But I’m happy. I’m thankful, and I’m just grateful for having a special and such a wonderful career, and such a wonderful arena such as Madison Square Garden,” said Cotto.
“I can’t tell you that I just train to be a good boxer then something special came to my career when Madison Square Garden appeared in my career. People were there for Miguel Cotto, and Miguel Cotto has tried to do the best that he can for them just to bring them entertaining fights. I think that they appreciate that, and I appreciate a lot more what the people who have been there have done for me.”
That emotional lift was never more apparent than before the boisterous and partisan, sold-out crowd of 17,943 that witnessed his fight against Margarito.
“People just show me their good things that the had for me on that night. They are there for me, and I’m there for them. I’m going to make them proud. They’re going to tell me whatever happens with their cheers during the fight,” said Cotto.
“This fight with Margarito was special, you know?” It was my redemption fight. So I was given hope from the people after what had happened in 2008. I was just there for them, and they were there for me, and it was just as special for me as it was special for them.”
Still, Trout has vowed to end Cotto’s dominance in The Big Apple.
“I plan on making history,” said Trout. “Not because I made Miguel Cotto a five-time world champion, but because I will be the only person to beat Miguel Cotto in New York.”
But Malignaggi believes Trout’s plan is much easier said than it is to execute.
“Trout reminds me of being in the position I was in when I came here to fight Miguel Cotto in 2006. A hot-shot slickster, a good fighter, but one who hasn’t yet stepped up to that level yet, and Cotto is that step up,” said Malignaggi, the WBA’s current 147-pound titleholder.
“But to do it, not just against Cotto, but to do it at The Garden, you know, man, this crowd is the toughest I’ve ever fought in front of. I mean, Cotto at The Garden, that’s the toughest crowd I’ve ever had to deal with in my career even now, all of these years later, and I’ve fought in front of a lot of crowds, you know?”
That’s saying a lot, considering that Malignaggi traveled to the Ukraine in April to dethrone Vyacheslav Senchenko in hostile territory.
“To have your step up in class in power, and, in atmosphere all in the same night, it’s hard. Especially when you’re a technical boxer like Trout, you have to have all of your nerves in check, or else, you’re not going to be that slick. If your nerves are not in control, you’re going to not be as slick as you want to be. So I’m curious to see just how Trout controls his nerves,” said Malignaggi.
“We all say that we want to be in this atmosphere, because it’s the big atmosphere. But when you’re actually there, for the first time, and it’s all in front of you, sometimes it’s hard to keep those nerves in check. I had a slow first couple of rounds when I fought Miguel Cotto because I had to get myself together. I’m interested to see what Austin Trout does, because he’s a very talented kid.”
“I know what Trout says. He says that he’s been in Panama fighting with a Panamanian guy, and was in Mexico, fighting with a Mexican guy. But next Saturday, he’s going to be in New York, and in Madison Square Garden, fighting with Miguel Cotto. This is my home. And I know that nothing is going to be equal or the same as anything that he’s pass through before,” said Cotto.
“This is going to be special. It’s a special venue, and it’s going to be a special night for me, and I know that he’s going to figure it out as other guys have had to figure it out in there. At the end of the road, it’s only him, the referee and myself that are going to be inside of the ring. What people outside of the ring do, people here, they are rooting for me.”
In the end, the 32-year-old Cotto expects to exit the ring wearing Trout’s belt.
“I know that next Saturday, I’m going to climb into the ring to bring the whole crowd and myself the best Miguel that they can see,” said Cotto.
“I’m just thankful for being here and I’m going to do my best, just for all of the fans and all of the people who are going to be there for me. I don’t know what will pass through Austin’s mind, but I’m going to enjoy the whole night.”
MIGUEL COTTO’S FIGHTS IN NEW YORK:
Waklimi Young, UD 4, Hammerstein Ballroom, April 28, 2001
Muhammad Abdulaev, TKO 9, Madison Square Garden, June 11, 2005
Paulie Malignaggi, UD 12, Madison Square Garden, June 10, 2006
Zab Judah, TKO 11, Madison Square Garden, June 9, 2007
Shane Mosley, UD 12, Madison Square Garden, Nov. 10, 2007
Michael Jennings, TKO 5, Madison Square Garden, February 21, 2009
Joshua Clottey, SD 12, Madison Square Garden, June 13, 2009
Yuri Foreman, TKO 9, Yankee Stadium, June 5, 2010
Antonio Margarito, TKO 10, Madison Square Garden, Dec. 3, 2011
Photo by Chris Farina, Top Rank
Photo by Rich Kane, Hogan Photos, Golden Boy Promotions
Photo by Chris Farina, Top Rank
Lem Satterfield can be reached at email@example.com