There is only one visible change in Miguel Cotto's appearance since his devastating loss to Antonio Margarito in Las Vegas in July 2008. And that is a tattoo of a set of Chinese characters running vertically down the side of his neck.
Cotto said it symbolizes those who are closest to him -- his son and wife and his family.
The tattoos Margarito put on Cotto's body, including cuts above his eyes and a bloody nose, healed and disappeared long ago. Whatever injury Cotto's psyche suffered is invisible. But that will be the most important factor in his career going forward.
As Cotto (32-1, 26 KOs) steps into the ring against Michael Jennings, a British welterweight contender, for the vacant WBO 147-pound title at Madison Square Garden in New York on Saturday night, it is the mental side of Cotto's game, not the physical side, that will attract the most scrutiny.
Jennings (34-1, 16 KOs), who took short money and traveled across the Atlantic Ocean for his first title shot, certainly will be looking for any mental chinks in Cotto's previously invincible armor.
"Probably, it is a good time with him coming off that loss," Jennings said about facing 28-year-old Cotto now rather than in the past or the future. "Then again, he probably wants to come back and prove himself and show that he's better than he was. It's a gamble."
You never know how a supremely confident boxer such as Cotto will react after the first loss of his career. But the loss to Margarito wasn't just an ordinary loss. It was not a split decision. It was not a close 12-round unanimous decision for Margarito. Margarito administered a savage beating that forced Cotto to relent before referee Kenny Bayless stopped it in the 11th round.
Cotto said he got over the loss quickly. "In four or five days, I felt OK," he said. "OK, but not better. When I got back to Puerto Rico, people treated me with the same attitude [as before]. That made me happy."
Cotto hasn't watched the Margarito tape and doesn't plan to anytime soon.
"I was there," he joked.
On the same night that Cotto takes on Jennings, middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik will defend his title against Marco Antonio Rubio in a 12-round match in Pavlik's hometown of Youngstown, Ohio. Pavlik also is coming off the first loss of his career -- a lopsided 12-round unanimous decision to light heavyweight Bernard Hopkins. Pavlik has a few built-in excuses for his loss, though he doesn't use them. He was fighting 15 pounds above his weight class, was suffering from bronchitis and hadn't sparred in two weeks because of tendinitis in his elbow.
Bob Arum of Top Rank -- who promotes Margarito, Cotto and Pavlik -- said he is always concerned about how a boxer will return from a crushing loss.
"You just never know," Arum said. "They can be fine, or you can have a horror show. You saw what happened to Donald Curry after he lost to Lloyd Honeyghan. He was never the same again. They're young enough that, physically, it doesn't take much out of them. How it affects them mentally, who knows?"
Curry, a devastating knockout artist, briefly held the WBC 154-pound title after beating Gianfranco Rosi, but he was knocked out in championship matches by Milt McCrory, Terry Norris and Michael Nunn.
There is nothing to suggest that Cotto will go down the same path as Curry, but Arum believes Pavlik's temperament might make him better suited to come back from a loss.
"It probably affected Cotto more," Arum said. "Psychologically, he's that kind of guy. Kelly isn't fazed by adversity. But who knows?"
Cotto might be able to get a psychological boost from the fact that Margarito and his trainer were caught trying to use illegal hand wraps before Margarito fought Shane Mosley at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Jan. 24. Margarito and his trainer, Javier Capetillo, have had their licenses revoked for a year by the California State Athletic Commission after an investigation determined there was tampering with the wraps. The discovery was made by Mosley's trainer, Nazim Richardson, before the bout, so Margarito wasn't using loaded gloves in the ring.
Cotto does not want to believe that Margarito was using loaded gloves when the two fought in July. He would rather chalk up the loss to Margarito's having a good night. They were supposed to meet in a rematch at the Garden in June, but that is out.
Arum is appealing Margarito's one-year revocation because he believes Margarito didn't know anything about Capetillo's tampering with the hand wraps. Cotto disagrees with Arum and believes Margarito should serve his suspension. He isn't buying that Margarito didn't know what was going on.
"All I know is, when everybody gets their hands wrapped, they know what's in them," Cotto said. "They know if there's something in their hand wraps or not. As a fighter, you know if there's something in there."
Cotto said he doesn't feel as if he has lost any ground in the welterweight division since the loss, particularly given that Margarito now has lost to Mosley, whom Cotto beat in 2007. Cotto believes he can tangle with Mosley, Manny Pacquiao, Andre Berto and anybody else in the upper levels of the 147-pound division.
"I only have one defeat, and Margarito has [six]. I know I have the ability to take things in the same level that I did before the loss," Cotto said. "And I know I'm going to do it. I don't know if the writers and the people who love boxing put me lower than before. But I'm going to work to be at the same level again.
"I still feel like a champion. I made a good fight last July against Margarito. The only thing that happened was that Margarito won the fight. We brought the people a good show, a good fight, and the only people who won that night was the fans."
Tim Smith is the boxing columnist for the New York Daily News.