Cotto comfortable with corner change
Throughout his career, Miguel Cotto had always heard one voice in the corner during his fights. It was that of his uncle, Evangelista Cotto, the only trainer he ever knew.
But despite their family ties -- Evangelista is the younger brother of Miguel's father, Miguel Sr. -- their relationship has been a rocky one. Although neither Cotto ever would go into much detail about their frosty relationship, it was an open secret in boxing circles that they didn't exactly see eye to eye.
Finally, in April, the relationship boiled over. Now, Cotto will hear a different voice in his corner when he defends his welterweight title against Ghana native and Bronx resident Joshua Clottey, 32, at New York's Madison Square Garden on Saturday night in a much-anticipated fight (HBO, 10:35 p.m. ET, free preview weekend).
The Garden is expected to be jammed for another big Cotto fight on the eve of the annual National Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York. Cotto, despite the din of the crowd, will be listening to his new head trainer, Joe Santiago, who had served as Cotto's assistant trainer for many years.
"I know that it's a big responsibility, but I have been part of the team for a long time and know what it takes to get Miguel ready for a fight," Santiago said of his new role.
Cotto, 28, fired Evangelista after an April incident that turned physical. Cotto wanted to get away from Puerto Rico and train in Tampa for the Clottey fight, but Evangelista, with a stable of young fighters he trains on the island, wanted to stay there for the camp.
According to reports, the argument escalated and Evangelista allegedly punched his nephew, cutting his nose. Miguel left the gym, but Evangelista later showed up at his home, where the dispute continued. Eventually, Evangelista allegedly threw a cement block at his nephew but missed him, and instead it crashed through the window of Miguel's 2009 Jaguar. They came to blows again before family members separated them and Evangelista wound up in the hospital with minor injuries.
Neither man has gone into details about the incident, but Miguel moved on quickly, going to Tampa a few days later to conduct his training camp with Santiago in charge. Miguel Sr. was also there to keep an eye on things.
Cotto (33-1, 27 KOs) said he quickly put the incident behind him and settled into a quiet, drama-free training camp as he makes his way back from last summer's brutal TKO loss to Antonio Margarito. Cotto's first fight back came in February, when he stopped overmatched Michael Jennings of England in five lopsided rounds to claim a vacant welterweight belt. However, Clottey (35-2, 20 KOs) figures to be a much stiffer test. He won a vacant belt via ninth-round technical decision against former undisputed champion Zab Judah last summer, but never defended it before giving it up to facilitate the Cotto match.
Cotto's loss to Margarito has been tinged with controversy. Before Margarito's next fight, his January knockout loss to Shane Mosley, an illegal plaster-like substance was discovered by Mosley trainer Naazim Richardson in Margarito's hand wraps before the fight. That discovery led many to believe that Margarito cheated by using loaded gloves against Cotto, whom he stopped in the 11th round.
Cotto has not outright accused Margarito of cheating, but he's made some veiled remarks. He has not challenged the outcome, either.
"We made the mistake of not sending anybody to check the way [Margarito trainer Javier] Capetillo was wrapping his hands," Cotto said. "We didn't check. Today, we can't talk about it because we didn't know what happened."
State commissions oversee the hand wrapping of each fighter, but the opponent is allowed to have someone in the dressing room to observe. Usually that falls to the trainer, which in the case of the fight with Margarito would have been Evangelista or someone assigned by him.
Cotto is trying to put it all behind him and said he felt comfortable in his new camp with Santiago at the helm.
"Less pressure for me. Less pressure with everything," Cotto said. "I am happy with everybody. I am working happy."
One thing that is certainly different now is that he and Santiago talk. Cotto and his uncle often went through their sessions with very little conversation.
"The communication between all the members of the team makes things run better," Cotto said.
Santiago echoed Cotto's sentiment.
"This camp was different because it was out of Puerto Rico, but also because we had more communication between everyone in the team and everyone was on the same page from day one," he said. "There's no question that Miguel is a professional. And it made my job easier. We followed the same plan as always and everything that needed to be done got done."
Cotto, who will be headlining at Madison Square Garden for the sixth time, the fourth time on the eve of the Puerto Rican parade, is happy he left Puerto Rico to train in Florida, saying he was "pretty far away from any kind of distractions."
Top Rank promoter Bob Arum paid Cotto a visit in Tampa just to make sure everything was going well. Arum said the camp seemed to be running smoothly and efficiently when he was there a few weeks ago.
"I never saw him so relaxed before," said Arum, who has talked about possibly matching Cotto with another one of his star fighters, pound-for-pound king Manny Pacquiao, if he wins. "There was no controversy in camp. Everyone seemed happy."
Cotto found the gym in Tampa through a friend of a friend and is glad he did.
"We came to Tampa and checked the gym and saw that it was an excellent venue to come to train at," he said. "The neighborhood is great and we have nothing but good things to say about Tampa. If we have the opportunity to come back and train here again, we are going to do it. A person in my group has a good friend in Tampa and at the gym."
Being in Tampa also put him a long way from his uncle, whom he said he has not spoken to since their argument.
"Right after the thing between Evangelista and me, I had to move forward," Cotto said. "The press conference in New York, right after it, I moved to Tampa. I have not had the opportunity to talk to him. I don't want to talk about that situation. It was a family matter, you know. I tend to let things like that alone, OK?"
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.