It's amazing what one great performance can do for you in the world of professional prizefighting.
It was just a little over 11 months ago. Former multi-time world champion Miguel Cotto was left, seemingly for dead, in the wake of his lopsided defeat by Austin Trout at Madison Square Garden. It was his second consecutive defeat, and unlike the spirited performance against Floyd Mayweather that May, this was much less forgivable to a boxing community ready to write him off as a contender.
What a difference a year makes.
Cotto returned in October, with a new trainer—Freddie Roach—an old/new network—HBO—and a vintage performance that saw him stalking, attacking to the body with a renewed ferocity and scoring a spectacular third-round knockout of Delvin Rodriguez.
Suddenly, Cotto is not only not done at the top level of the sport, but he finds himself the prize in a tug-of-war between two of boxing's premier stars.
As a result, it appears he could be headed toward a career-high payday.
According to Dan Rafael of ESPN.com, Cotto has been offered a purse of well over $10 million, if he's willing to, once again, jump ship and fight Saul "Canelo" Alvarez, March 8, on Showtime pay-per-view. The Puerto Rican legend's previous high payday came in his challenge of Mayweather and would seemingly pale in comparison to this offer.
That's a big wad of cash to turn down, and it's more than a payday.
Canelo is coming off a major defeat, and quite possibly an even bigger disappointment, in getting thoroughly dominated by Mayweather in the biggest boxing event—in terms of money and star power—in years.
You'll find more than a few people willing to pick Cotto to not only be competitive but also even win the fight.
Behind door No. 2 sits reigning WBC and lineal middleweight champion Sergio Martinez. A bout between Martinez and Cotto has been discussed for some time and was reportedly on the table for April at Madison Square Garden, according to a report by Michael Woods of ESPNNewYork.com.
Both are potentially huge money, high-profile fights, and they are both winnable for the future Hall of Famer.
The question in the minds of most boxing fans is: Who should Cotto choose?
You can make a convincing case for either, and boxing fans are in the rare can't-lose situation. Either fight has the potential to be explosive, both are highly competitive and both have compelling storylines with which to build a dramatic promotion.
For sure, the chance to fight for a middleweight championship can't be dismissed. And Martinez's camp has even conceded the possibility of contesting the bout at a 158-pound catchweight, which wouldn't force Cotto to pack on more than a few pounds for the fight.
But when it all shakes out, and it will pretty soon, Miguel Cotto and the boxing world are better off with him facing Alvarez over Martinez.
It's a fight that was all but certain to happen had Cotto gotten past Trout in December, and it was even floated in the aftermath of his defeat.
For that fight, it was a matter of wrong place at the wrong time.
Canelo was already facing a steady stream of criticism for his propensity to face older, smaller fighters, and Cotto fit snugly into both categories.
Alvarez would've received little credit for a victory at the time, and the chorus against him would've only swelled.
No, that fight wasn't ripe then, but it sure is now.
Cotto is coming off a dominant performance—albeit against a decent, but unspectacular, opponent—Canelo is coming off a one-sided loss, and he desperately needs a big victory to restart his rise to the top and justify the hype that landed him the biggest fight in the sport.
It'll be a difficult personal decision for Cotto, who spent the majority of his career on HBO and with Top Rank, to, once again, leave the network to pursue greener pastures—and bigger dollars—on Showtime.
But, in the end, boxing is a business, and for someone who doesn't plan on fighting much longer, it only makes sense.
A Canelo fight opens up a world of possibilities Martinez simply can't match.
Let's say, for the sake of argument, Cotto elects to face Martinez and even manages to knock him off. Winning a world title in a fourth weight class would certainly be a worthy accomplishment. It would be the icing on the cake of a great career and would be a huge achievement, given Cotto's recent rise from the proverbial dead.
You can mark it down that HBO won't be willing to give Cotto the Martinez fight without some sort of assurance he wouldn't skip town when all was said and done. They'd likely require a multi-fight deal—even if it's only one more fight—and, then what?
What's the logical next fight for Cotto if he gets by Martinez? Does he really wanna face someone like Gennady Golovkin at this point in his career and after so many in-ring wars?
Is it plausible to believe he'd go all the way back down to welterweight—where he hasn't fought since 2009—to face Timothy Bradley?
And that's the single-biggest problem with this from Cotto's perspective.
The cupboard—after Martinez—is bare.
Should he upset Canelo on the other hand, the path may well be cleared to a second bite at the biggest money apple in all of boxing.
You picking up what I'm putting down?
Beating Alvarez could well lead Cotto into a rematch with Mayweather, something that isn't possible should he stick with HBO and Top Rank.
Mayweather shifted the balance of power in the cable boxing game earlier this year when he jumped from HBO to Showtime with a record six-fight deal. He's currently in the planning stages for the third bout of that contract, and Cotto could become a realistic option.
He'd certainly be more attractive than the Devon Alexanders or Amir Khans of the world.
It wasn't as though he was outclassed in their first bout. He lost, clearly, but he frequently forced Mayweather on the defensive and was able to touch him up more than any other recent foe.
There's no doubt he'd like to get another shot at becoming the first man to best Floyd in a professional fight, and Freddie Roach—who has led Manny Pacquiao's corner in his fruitless quest for a Mayweather clash—would love nothing more than the chance to, once again, match wits with The Money Team.
And the fight would sell. There's no doubt about it.
Cotto is at the stage of his career where it should be all about the biggest money and the biggest fights. His recent performance notwithstanding, he doesn't have a lot of time left, and he's absolutely fine with that.
Both Martinez and Canelo offer both big money and a big fight. But only one connects the dots to the biggest name in boxing.
That's Canelo Alvarez, and that's the fight he must take.