By BARRY WILNER, AP Sports Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — Miguel Cotto is a boxing icon in Puerto Rico. In New York City, too.
On Saturday night, the most popular boxer of his generation from the Caribbean island that has produced so many champions will finish off his terrific career at Madison Square Garden with — what else? — a title fight.
Cotto has fought nine times in what New Yorkers like to call “the mecca of boxing,” and every one of those bouts was a main event. He has won the night before the Puerto Rico Day parade in Manhattan, when thousands of his fans who attended the fight then celebrated the holiday.
He has won in Yankee Stadium, too, and at Barclays Center and the Hammerstein Ballroom. Indeed, Cotto has fought 11 times in Puerto Rico and 12 times within the five boroughs of New York.
So when he bids farewell to the ring at age 37 when he defends his WBO super welterweight crown against Sadam Ali, the setting will be so appropriate.
“It’s been a pleasure for me to try to entertain you guys for 17 years,” Cotto said. “I have done my best at every opportunity for the benefit of my family. They mean everything to me and I am so proud of them and they are so proud of me.
“On Saturday, I will be the same Miguel you have watched for the last 16 years,” he added. “I am going to be a warrior and do my best for the benefit of my family, as always.”
Cotto has something of an extended Big Apple family because of his popularity in New York. He’s almost as much of a fixture at the Garden as the Rangers and Knicks.
“Saturday will be a bittersweet day for us at the Garden,” said Joel Fisher, executive vice president at MSG. “We’ve have a great relationship with Miguel that dates back to 2005.
“When we first started with Miguel, his kids were little, but now they are grown. He has sold more than 150,000 tickets at the Garden,” Fisher said. “Miguel is what makes the Garden what it is as the ‘mecca of boxing.’ It makes us happy that Miguel is going out on his own terms.”
Cotto is 41-5 with 33 knockouts, but don’t let the five defeats throw you. He has lost to the likes of Canelo Alvarez, Floyd Mayweather Jr., Manny Pacquiao and Antonio Margarito.
Cotto has owned six world belts: WBO junior welterweight; WBA and WBO welterweight; WBA and WBO junior middleweight; and WBC middleweight. The first came in 2004, when Ali was 15.
“I’ve been training almost my whole life, since I was 8 years old,” said Brooklyn’s Ali (25-1, 14 KOs), who lost his only world title fight to Jessie Vargas by ninth-round knockout last year. “Everyone wants an opportunity like this for a world title against a legend. If you’re not ready for a legend like Miguel Cotto, then you’re going to be in trouble.
“On Saturday night you are going to see an amazing fight,” Ali said.
And what could be quite a scene as boxing pays tribute to one of its truest champions of the last two decades.
“The conversation with Miguel and his team for this fight was, ‘Is (Gennady) Golovkin available? If not, I’ll fight anybody.
Just tell me the date and the weight and I’ll be there,'” Golden Boy Promotions President Eric Gomez said. “That is so refreshing to hear as a promoter, and that is how Miguel has been throughout his career. It goes to show that when you believe in yourself, you’ll fight anyone.”
The HBO undercard also features WBC super bantamweight champion Rey Vargas (30-0, 22 KOs) and Oscar Negrete (17-0, 7 KOs) in a title bout.
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