ORLANDO, Fla. -- After Miguel Cotto suffered consecutive losses to Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Austin Trout, the consensus was that the Puerto Rican star was finished, that his career as a world title contender and top draw had ended, and all that was left to be addressed was his legacy.
How wrong we were.
Instead, the former three-time champion arrived in Orlando last week ready to plant his flag on the junior middleweight division, and although he and trainer Freddie Roach had been telling anyone who would listen that Cotto would show that he is reinvented -- having returned to his roots as a puncher and proving that his lethal left hook was intact -- few took it seriously before witnessing it with their own eyes.
But seeing is believing. And it took only the first 10 seconds of his bout against Delvin Rodriguez at the Amway Center on Saturday to conclude that the changes foretold by Cotto and Roach weren't merely talk. The handle on his Twitter account -- @RealMiguelCotto -- was all but prophetic: Cotto is back.
Cotto's thrilling comeback -- a third-round TKO of Rodriguez -- was the result of a perfectly executed plan drawn up by Roach: Attack the body and top off the assault with power shots, specifically the left hook. This proved to be the blow that sent Rodriguez down for good.
Also significant were the accompaniments to Cotto's win: no entrance music, no hoopla. Only a show of courage from a fighter who knew he had everything to lose.
Cotto looked quick, lucid and comfortable returning to his former attacking style. His back never touched the ropes, and although Rodriguez isn't quite in Cotto's class, he's not a pushover, either. This was a brilliant performance against a capable opponent.
But here's the question now on the lips of fight fans: What's next for Cotto?
We can assume there won't be any adjustments to his corner in the near future. Cotto and Roach said they were "comfortable" with each other, and the pairing obviously produced excellent results. Meanwhile, there are zero promotional entanglements for Cotto, who is essentially a free agent.
General speculation has Cotto eyeing a fight with Canelo Alvarez, although there would a giant hurdle to clear if Cotto wanted to continue his relationship with Top Rank, which promoted Saturday's fight. (Alvarez is represented by Golden Boy.)
Another option could be Sergio Martinez. The only significant issue there would be settling the contracted weight for the fight. Martinez is a true middleweight, while Cotto has repeatedly said he feels best at junior middleweight. He fought Rodriguez at 153.2 pounds, just under the junior middle limit, and seemed as comfortable as a fish in water. His body shots were strong, lowering Rodriguez's defense to allow Cotto to land left hooks to the face that led to the victory.
There's also the possibility of having another go at Trout, who said he would welcome either a Canelo rematch or a fight with the winner of Cotto-Rodriguez.
For Cotto, a Trout rematch would present an opportunity to avenge his December 2012 defeat at Madison Square Garden.
But if you ask Roach, there's only one goal for Cotto at this point: Mayweather.
"Miguel is ready to go against Mayweather," Roach said after Saturday's fight. "He is in the best shape of his career. He returned to the style that he needed to go back to, and as Miguel said last week, if I had been in his corner for his fight against Mayweather, he would have won."
The junior middleweight picture might begin to come into focus as early as this weekend, when the spotlight will return to Las Vegas, where Juan Manuel Marquez is set to challenge for Timothy Bradley Jr.'s welterweight title. That result should clear up a few things at 147, 154 and 160 pounds.
But even while we speculate about what's to come in the weeks ahead, we know this much is clear: In any conversation about boxing's next big fight, Miguel Cotto's name is once again as relevant as ever.