Saturday could well be the last time a modern boxing icon gloves up and goes to war in the ring.
Miguel Cotto (40-5-0, 33KOs) has stated that he will officially retire from the sport on the final day of this year. With not much time between now and then, the 36 year old Puerto Rican's second to final tango looks likely to be this weekend against Japanese warrior Yoshihiro Kamegai (27-3-2, 24KOs) at California's StubHub Center. The two veteran pugilists (Kamegai is 34 years old) will fight it out for the vacant WBO light-middleweight world title.
Since Felix Trinidad's glorious run came to an end in the early 2000s, Cotto has been the main attraction for fans from the boxing mad island nation of Puerto Rico. A world title winner in four weight classes, the Boricua with the famous left hook has been a great ambassador for his country during his career.
During a conference call on Monday, Cotto was pressed about continuing beyond his declared exit date: “I think that 16 years is enough. I have other things to do in my life. The decision is already made. I'm leaving on December 31st, no matter what happens with my career.”
It sounds like the man has made up his mind and won't be swayed. The question now is will Cotto say farewell to boxing as a world title holder?
It is hard to predict how Cotto and Kamegai will perform as both have been out of the ring for an extended period of time. Kamegai last fought 11 months ago, forcing Jesus Soto Karass to retire after eight rounds of their rematch. Cotto was last seen in a losing effort to Canelo Alvarez way back in November 2015.
Whichever fighter has stagnated the least during their break from boxing will probably win Saturday's bout.
For Kamegai, the trip to California is nothing new. The Japanese grafter has boxed in the Golden State six times previously. His record there is 1-3-2, not exactly stellar, but he has crossed the Pacific once more to try to add Cotto's scalp to his record. Despite his decade plus of toil in professional boxing this will be Yoshihiro's first world title fight. Compare this to Cotto who has either fought for or defended world honours in 24 of his last 25 outings.
Up to this point in his career Kamegai is best known for being involved in two epic battles on Californian soil. He went toe-to-toe with Robert Guerrero (lost UD) at Saturday's venue back in 2014, then contested a similar slugfest style draw in his first encounter with Jesus Soto Karass at Los Angeles' Belasco Theater in 2016.
Kamegai spoke about the aggressive approach he adopts when boxing in America: “My style changes when I come to the States. In Japan I was more of a technical fighter with good defence. But coming to the States, I know to win here I had to be more aggressive. When I fight in the United States I'm much more motivated. I enjoy fighting here.”
Taking that at face value we can expect Kamegai will come to fight on Saturday. This should lead to a watchable bout as Cotto is not adverse to standing and trading either. Provided Miguel hasn't slipped too much during his layoff he should be the better boxer in the StubHub ring at the weekend. Will he be able to send his fans home happy one more time by ending the contest via his vaunted left hook?
We may well see the fight ending in this manner if Cotto's timing is still as good as it once was, however I think the more likely outcome is for Cotto to earn victory by unanimous decision after a tough, fan friendly scrap.
The fight will air on HBO (USA) and BoxNation (UK).
For what could be his final battle, Cotto has been placed in a competitive fight. Can he go to the well one more time and claim one last title before hanging up his gloves? We will find out on Saturday when maybe, just maybe another StubHub Center classic will unfold before our eyes.
Don't miss the co-headlining bout on this card. Rey Vargas (29-0-0, 22KOs) makes the first defence of his WBC super-bantamweight world title against Ronny Rios (28-1-0, 13KOs). This should be a high quality encounter.