ORLANDO, Fla. -- Miguel Cotto, written off by many after back-to-back losses to Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Austin Trout, obviously isn't done just yet.
In fact, he still looks like a baaaaad man. A very bad man.
Cotto, in one of his most explosive performances in years, blew away longtime fringe contender Delvin Rodriguez in the third round of a one-sided junior middleweight fight on Saturday night at the Amway Center, the arena of the NBA's Orlando Magic, which hosted a boxing card for the first time.
The crowd of 11,912 -- including a large Puerto Rican contingent -- was on hand to cheer on the island icon, and he gave them their money's worth in a tremendous performance.
After the loss to Trout last December, Cotto took some time off and then this summer parted ways with trainer Pedro Diaz. For his comeback, Cotto hired Hall of Fame trainer Freddie Roach to work with him.
Cotto went to Roach's Wild Card Gym in Hollywood, Calif., and the pairing obviously clicked. Roach wanted Cotto to get back to being the offensive machine he had been for so many years, when he was a three-division world champion from junior welterweight to junior middleweight. Namely, Roach wanted to see more body work and more left hooks, two of Cotto's fiercest weapons.
He delivered both. Big time.
"I felt like I was watching the old Miguel Cotto. Just like a surgeon," said Top Rank president Todd duBoef, whose personal relationship with Cotto paved the way for him to return to the promoter he had been with for his entire career except for the past two fights, both losses. "He diced Rodriguez up, pushed him back, bullied him. He was efficient and he fought great. He used the body so well. He stayed in the pocket. That's the Miguel Cotto we all fell in love with and the Miguel Cotto who was so effective.
"Look at this place. Everybody is saying how amazing he looked. My phone is blowing up, and this place is electric."
Cotto wasted no time going right to Rodriguez's body in the opening round. Of the 24 punches Cotto landed in the energetic frame, 13 were to the body. Rodriguez looked like he was feeling every one of them.
In the second round, Cotto began to crank up the left hook. He was taking it to Rodriguez, who landed almost nothing, and at the end of the round Cotto badly staggered Rodriguez with an overhand right and a left hook.
"Anyone who lays on the ropes against Cotto is a dead fighter," Roach said. "We started with the body first to wear him down. Our plan was to break him down with body shots."
Rodriguez (28-7-3, 16 KOs), 33, a native of the Dominican Republic from Danbury, Conn., couldn't really recover between rounds, and it was in the third that Cotto (38-4, 31 KOs), 32, destroyed him, landing a huge left hook that sent Rodriguez staggering into the ropes and then another left and right to the head as he was falling. Referee Frank Santore nearly tripped over Rodriguez trying to get between the fighters as he called off the fight 18 seconds into the round, sending the crowd into delirium.
"I felt the power go right through my arm. I hit him flush," Cotto said. "Thank you, Freddie Roach. This all started in my first day of training camp with Freddie Roach. All of this is from hard work with Freddie Roach at the Wild Card. It all came together.
"I just wanted to make me and everyone happy with my performance. It feels good bringing it back to basics, fighting back at grassroots level."
Rodriguez barely knew what hit him.
"I was trying to relax and get a rhythm, but when he came in with the hook, he dazed me [at the end of the second round]," said Rodriguez, a former two-time title challenger. "I didn't feel like he was that strong at the beginning of the fight, but then he hit me with the hook. I was trying to get a rhythm, but he has that weird movement, jumping in and out all the time. I should have known better than to relax in the ring against a guy with that kind of power."
Roach had raved about how Cotto looked throughout training camp, and the praise continued after the fight.
"To see where he came from to where he is today is unbelievable," Roach said. "He had the best camp of any fighter I ever trained. It was an explosive performance, more than I expected."
That is saying a lot, considering Roach has trained a who's who of fighters during his career, most notably eight-division champion Manny Pacquiao.
"It was a great performance," Roach said. "Body shots broke him down and head shots finished him. Line 'em up. Cotto is ready to fight anyone."
Although Cotto, who earned $2 million plus a share of the profits from the event, returned to Top Rank after the two-fight absence for this fight, he is a free agent once again, not bound to a promoter or television network. That means he could pursue any number of fights, including a possible rematch with Mayweather or a showdown with Mexican star Canelo Alvarez. But another serious possibility would be for him to challenge Sergio Martinez for the middleweight championship.
DuBoef hopes Cotto will stay with him.
"We discussed this from the beginning when he decided to come back -- that we'd figure it out and make it work," duBoef said. "We have a relationship that is more than business. I think we're a really good combination. Look what he did tonight."
The prospect of fighting for the middleweight title is an interesting one for Cotto and one Top Rank could likely deliver by making a deal with Martinez promoter Lou DiBella. After all, the companies worked well together last year when they made Martinez against Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.
"To be the first Puerto Rican to win titles in four weight divisions would be very tempting to me," said Cotto, who had fought in 21 consecutive world title fights before facing Rodriguez. "I have to talk to my team, but going for a middleweight championship would be [a goal]."
If Top Rank remains part of that team, it is a fight the company would like to make.
"I think that fight would be a natural progression," Top Rank chairman Bob Arum said. "That should be a goal to fight for the middleweight championship. It would be a great accomplishment and it would mean loads of money for him, the opponent."
"I think Sergio Martinez is a dream match with the great Argentine support Martinez would get and the Puerto Rican supporters for Cotto. Miguel would love to win the middleweight title. The way he looked Saturday night, there are not many people who could stop him from 154 to 160."