Miguel Cotto enters Saturday's test against Delvin Rodriguez in a spot he's never previously been throughout his 13-year professional career -- on a two-fight losing skid.
That storyline alone only adds to the narrative of what is already expected to be an exciting 12-round junior middleweight bout at Amway Center in Orlando (HBO, 9:45 p.m. ET). For as much as the fight has been categorized rightfully as a showcase bout for Cotto, he will quickly find himself in an all-action affair against the battle-tested Rodriguez, should age and attrition catch up to him overnight.
But should Cotto, who turns 33 on Oct. 29, come out with his hand raised, the talk will quickly turn to what's next. And outside of pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather Jr., there isn't another boxer in a better spot to call his own shots than Cotto, who can circumvent today’s promotional and network cold war by signing one-fight deals with the suitor of his choice.
Cotto's name still commands respect as the best available B-side on the pay-per-view level, with his fights against Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao having sold 1.5 and 1.25 million buys, respectively. And with the attractive combination of his exciting style and the realities of his vulnerability in the ring, one could make a marketable case for matching Cotto against just about any big name between 147 and 160 pounds.
True to his form, you simply won't get Cotto to comment on any future opponents before he handles the task at hand in Rodriguez. But the fighter did confirm to ESPN.com on Monday that his days at welterweight -- where he hasn't competed since his 2009 loss to Pacquiao -- are completely behind him. New trainer Freddie Roach, who also trains Pacquiao, also has been outspoken in squashing any hope of a rematch between the two fighters.
Outside of that, the world is essentially Cotto's oyster, if he can snap his current losing streak.
"I'm in the last stage of my career and I just want to finish it the best way possible," Cotto said. "I don't know how much time I have left. We are going to return to the winning path in my career on Saturday."
While Cotto wouldn't bite on the notion there might be some unfinished business in terms of his legacy, he outlined the clear reason for his desire to fight on.
"It's about being one of the best, you know?" Cotto said. "It's the reason I am still here. I just want to be one of the best."
Cotto carries a clear sense of pride when talking about his May 2012 loss to Mayweather, in which he inflicted more damage on the unbeaten fighter than anyone in recent memory. Although he's quick to mention he was unable to get what he prepared for -- which was a victory -- "I made a great fight, which proved I am still hungry. For that I am proud," he said.
But the veteran fighter's tone quickly changes when the subject turns to his unexpected December 2012 loss to Austin Trout, which spoiled a prospective PPV date with Canelo Alvarez. While Cotto reflected positively on his three-fight relationship with former trainer Pedro Diaz, calling him a true professional who pushed him to work hard, it’s clear the fallout from the Trout defeat fueled the switch to Roach.
"We didn't prepare ourselves with the right strategy to beat [Trout]," Cotto said. "That was our fault for that fight."
Cotto not only faded late against Trout, he was criticized for not going to the body -- once his calling card -- as consistently. The switch to Roach, who can be best described as boxing's best players' coach, should be an interesting experiment unto itself, but one designed to increase Cotto's confidence.
In the end, nothing helps rebuild confidence quite like winning, which Cotto is at least expected to do against Rodriguez. But it's refreshing to see a fighter who has given so many thrills in such an unforgiving sport find himself in this strong of a position regarding his future.
Quite honestly, it's a rarefied position to find himself in, and one that, unlike at times with Mayweather, is profitable for all parties in question, from the fighter to the networks, promoters and fans due to Cotto's insistence on being matched against the very best.
The twilight of the Puerto Rican icon's career promises to be as exciting and dramatic as the first 41 fights, and the next chapter will be written Saturday, where a victory would launch Cotto right back into the mix against the sport's elite.