TAMPA — Miguel Cotto is still looking for what he lost when Antonio Margarito administered a brutal beatdown that left the young welterweight bloodied and unable to continue midway through the 11th round.
He's hoping he found it in Tampa.
Tonight, Cotto takes on Joshua Clottey (34-2, 20 knockouts) in his first significant fight since suffering his first loss in July. The welterweight fight from Madison Square Garden airs live on HBO's Championship Boxing at 10:35.
Though he won the first fight after his first loss — an easy fifth-round knockout of lightly regarded Michael Jennings — it is tonight's expected row with Clottey that will show what the future holds.
Is he damaged goods or was the loss merely a speed bump on the road to greatness, with a win tonight potentially leading to a mega-showdown with Manny Pacquiao or Floyd Mayweather?
Cotto (32-1, 26 KOs) set up camp at the Fight Factory on Spruce Street, co-owned by local trainer Pete Fernandez of Starfight Productions. The decision to train in Tampa was opposed by trainer and uncle Evangelista Cotto, leading to a physical confrontation that has ended that relationship.
Cotto and new trainer Joe Santiago left Puerto Rico and prepared for Clottey here.
"The neighborhood here at Bayshore Boulevard is great, and we have nothing but good things to say about Tampa,'' Cotto said. "Everything is great here, and if we have the opportunity to come back and train here again, we are going to do it.''
But that is not the only controversy in play with Cotto. In January, in a prefight inspection, it was discovered that Margarito's hand wraps contained an illegal substance later shown to be sulfur and calcium, ingredients in plaster of paris. After having to rewrap his hands, Margarito was beaten badly by Shane Mosley, looking nothing like the fighter who had destroyed Cotto.
He and trainer Javier Capetillo were later suspended for one year.
Cotto said he prefers to think Margarito beat him fair and square. But the idea behind the plaster of paris wraps — that sweat will cause them to harden and form a cast around the hands after a few rounds — seems to fit with the nature of the fight, as Margarito broke Cotto's nose and left his face sliced up.
"We made the mistake of not sending anybody to check the way Capetillo was wrapping his hands. We didn't check,'' Cotto said. "Today we can't talk about it because we didn't know what happened.''
In Clottey, Cotto is fighting a Margarito-type fighter, said HBO's Larry Merchant on hbo.com. "People questioned Cotto's grit because of the way he lost to Margarito, so maybe beating Clottey is a way to prove himself in that regard. I think that all adds to the drama of the fight. If Cotto should win in a solid, clear and maybe even dominant way, then he still stands a chance of being the star that people thought he was becoming."