On an early June Saturday night, with a triple crown being pursued 18 miles to the east and much of the remaining city stricken with Stanley Cup fever, a crowd of more than 20,000 still packed into Madison Square Garden to watch a 2-to-1 underdog fight a guy who hadn’t lost in four years.
And once they arrived at the World’s Most Famous Arena, they were hardly the wallflower type.
Men and women walked the concourses draped in Puerto Rican flags. Kids wore colorful T-shirts bearing phrases like “War Cotto.” And whenever the fighter championed on those shirts—Miguel Cotto—flashed across the above-ring video screens, midtown Manhattan sounded more like downtown San Juan.
If you’re into retina-challenging color and senses-rattling volume, it was your Valhalla.
And for the “boxing is dead” crowd, it was a KO punch to the superiority complex.
Oh, as it turned out, it was a pretty impactful fight, too.
Not only was the 33-year-old Cotto’s career revitalized with a shockingly dominant 10th-round TKO of legitimate middleweight champion Sergio Martinez, but the role that New York City—specifically, the Garden—will play as that new career evolves seems to have been suddenly enhanced as well.
Cotto has always been a reliable commodity at boxing’s Mecca, having appeared there eight times prior to Saturday and emerging with a win on seven of those occasions, not to mention additional triumphs two blocks away at the Hammerstein Ballroom and up in the Bronx at Yankee Stadium.
Five of his now nine Garden fights have been a Saturday precursor to the National Puerto Rican Day Parade, which occurs annually on the second Sunday in June along Fifth Avenue.
He’s also fought there in February, November and twice in December, so when he returns to the ring for WBC middleweight title defense No. 1—likely in early December, according to Bob Arum at Saturday’s post-fight press conference—it’s a fair bet that midtown is near the top of the fighter’s holiday wish list.
From there, it gets even better.
Given the intensity shown Saturday in what had been branded an unlikely proposition by oddsmakers, it’s difficult to imagine it tapering down for the next time around, even if the first post-Martinez foe is a seemingly more mundane challenge along the lines of WBC mandatory Marco Antonio Rubio.
And provided the Cotto-Roach partnership doesn’t go from stunning to stale overnight, a successful year-ender could yield a 2015 with a bevy of options.
Imagine, if you will, next June’s parade preceded by a match that both fuels the traditional Mexico-Puerto Rico ring rivalry while simultaneously thawing the promotional Cold War—Cotto vs. Canelo Alvarez—or perhaps another that would unify the middleweight division to some extent by matching Cotto against unbeaten Kazakhstan slugger Gennady Golovkin.
Golovkin will debut in the Garden’s big room in July, when he faces Aussie visitor Daniel Geale.
Of course, the “Money”-encrusted carrot at the end of the stick is a return match at 160 with former conqueror Floyd Mayweather Jr., which could go a long way toward returning the Garden to the levels it last reached in 1971 when Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier got together to begin their three-fight series.
It may not be as close to reality as the others, but thanks to Cotto’s remarkable return to relevance on a steamy New York Saturday night, it’s at least brought a dream back to the city that never sleeps.