Middleweight world champion Miguel Cotto, one of boxing’s biggest stars, will be back in the ring in June with a new promoter handling his fights — music mogul Jay Z’s Roc Nation Sports.
Cotto and Roc Nation Sports officials told ESPN.com that he signed a multifight, multiyear deal with the company this week before making an announcement on Thursday.
Cotto, once again leaving Top Rank, which has promoted all but two of his fights, is the second high-profile boxer to sign with Roc Nation Sports in seven weeks. The agency, which got into boxing promotion in August, signed super middleweight champion Andre Ward in mid-January.
[+] EnlargeMiguel Cotto
AP Photo/Frank Franklin II
Middleweight champion Miguel Cotto has left Top Rank to join Roc Nation Sports. “I am just finishing the last part of my career by doing what is in the best interest for me and my family,” Cotto said.
Cotto told ESPN.com that he will return to the ring in June — probably June 6, one day shy of a year since he stopped long-reigning 160-pound champion Sergio Martinez to become the first Puerto Rican fighter to win world titles in four weight classes.
The fight will take place in New York — where Cotto is a major draw because of his Puerto Rican fan base — at either Madison Square Garden or the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, Cotto attorney Gaby Penagaricano said.
The opponent has not yet been determined, although junior middleweight titlist Cornelius “K9” Bundrage is a leading candidate.
“We are really happy to have this partnership with Roc Nation, and we are going to do our best as always to fight at the same level I have always fought at,” Cotto said. “We are going to discuss the opponents and the venue, but the best option for us is to be in New York.”
David Itskowitch, the chief operating officer of Roc Nation Sports’ boxing division, used to be the COO at Golden Boy Promotions and got to know Cotto when Golden Boy promoted his fights with Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Austin Trout. Itskowitch had been pursuing Cotto for months.
“We bring a lot to the table beyond the world of boxing,” Itskowitch said. “We can bring certain things in boxing that were attractive to him, but there’s a lot that we can help establish for him in his years beyond the ring.”
Cotto’s move will come as a surprise to some because of his long association with Top Rank; he reunited with the promoter in 2013 after a two-fight hiatus. It was about the time of his fight with Martinez that Cotto pledged loyalty to Top Rank. He had been working without a promotional agreement because of his close relationship with company vice president Todd duBoef.
But Roc Nation Sports pursued Cotto aggressively in recent months and made him an offer he said he couldn’t refuse.
“I am just finishing the last part of my career by doing what is in the best interest for me and my family,” Cotto said. “We had the opportunity to work with and have nice relationships with Top Rank and Golden Boy [for two fights] and now we have an agreement with Roc Nation. That was the best option for us. Just like any other businessman, I am just thinking about the benefits, the money and the opportunity in this deal.
“When you talk about Miguel Cotto, it’s not only about Miguel Cotto the boxer. Miguel Cotto has a company [Cotto Promotions] that Roc Nation is going to bring more interest to. I’m in the last stage of my career. I need to have other things after my career.”
Until mid-January, Cotto was in talks for a showdown with Mexican junior middleweight star Canelo Alvarez for what would be boxing’s biggest fight other than Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao. However, Alvarez withdrew from the talks and took another fight because he was unhappy with the slow pace of Cotto’s team and didn’t want to lose out on fighting in May. DuBoef said he offered Cotto $10.5 million for the fight with a chance to make millions more from his lion’s share of the split with the Canelo camp.
“I don’t know what happened, but ever since I’ve been with Miguel [since signing him out of the 2000 Olympics], there has always been a force trying to pull us apart, to divide us,” duBoef told ESPN.com. “I can’t constantly fight those that are trying to manipulate him to pull us apart. He is responsible for his decisions, but he has always had people around him manipulating him. He has been corrupted by people who are disingenuous. His conduct shows he can be easily polluted.
“For the past few months, I’ve been calling Gaby to talk about this or that as it relates to Miguel’s next fight. He wouldn’t return calls or texts, kept putting me off. What’s there to hide? Don’t dodge. If he says they got a great offer, be transparent and open. Don’t hide. That is not in my DNA.”
The last time Cotto left Top Rank, it was in 2012 to take an eight-figure offer to face Mayweather. DuBoef said Cotto texted him ahead of time to let the promoter know and handled it “like a man.”
“This time they were playing games with me. They were devious and mischievous,” duBoef said. “They weren’t open and transparent. I’m disappointed in Cotto’s personal conduct. It’s not that he took another deal. But he said to me before the Martinez fight, ‘I’m a man of my word. We’re together. We’ll finish my career together.’ His words meant nothing.”
When told of duBoef’s pointed criticism, Cotto said, “He’s my friend. He’s always going to be. But I am going to do what is best for me. I understood what was best for Miguel Cotto was to go to Roc Nation, and if he is not OK with that, and against that, you can see what kind of friend he is of mine.”
Michael Yormark, president and chief of branding and strategy for parent company Roc Nation, said a major part of the deal for Cotto was Roc Nation’s ability to do more for Cotto than just promote his fights.
“Boxing is the core of what Miguel does, but he is also looking for other opportunities,” Yormark said. “For a fighter like Miguel, at this point in his career, those things become important — his company, his philanthropic initiatives with his foundation, building his brand beyond the core boxing fans and positioning it in the mainstream. Those are things we do at Roc Nation, and we will be aligning him with companies around the globe.
“Roc Nation is not just a boxing promoter. We have lots of different platforms to offer Miguel Cotto. We are going to help him with his foundation, which is very important to him. Our relationships extend beyond boxing. We will help him build Cotto Promotions into a more diversified company that will include music and entertainment.”
Penagaricano said they have discussed how Roc Nation can help Cotto Promotions branch out beyond boxing, such as the potential to promote concerts in Puerto Rico. On the boxing end of things, Cotto (39-4, 32 KOs) said he likely would defend his middleweight title in the June fight but would also consider moving back down to junior middleweight.
“It all depends on what’s the best for me,” Cotto said. “If it’s 160, I will stay at 160. If the best thing for me to do is to be at 154, I will do it.”
Since Cotto has signed with Roc Nation, Top Rank fighters Timothy Bradley Jr. and Brandon Rios are likely eliminated as potential opponents for a June fight. The pool of available fighters with recognizable names is limited.
Cotto’s television outlet is also not clear. He has fought primarily on HBO but is a television free agent.
“He’s not tied to any one network and we will seek the best deal,” Itskowitch said, acknowledging that an opponent such as Bundrage or somebody of that caliber would not be a pay-per-view fight.
Cotto, 34, said he signed with Roc Nation even though he has not met Jay Z, who had personal contact with Ward as they closed their deal.
“I never met him, but who doesn’t know about Jay Z,” Cotto said. “Working with his company is big for me. In this chapter of Miguel Cotto’s career, it will make a difference.”
Source – ESPN.com