Without a title around his waist, Miguel Cotto is still the undisputed champion of Madison Square Garden.
Cotto, a Puerto Rico native, has seen his fights morph into giant fiestas the previous seven times he fought at the Garden. Against Antonio Margarito last year, a sellout of crowd of 21,239 honked horns, waved the Puerto Rico flag and absolutely went wild for all things Cotto — starting with his entrance to the opening strains of The White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army."
Cotto (37-3, 30 KOs) has held up his end of the deal in front of the zealous faithful. Seven fights at MSG. Seven victories.
That's even better than the New York Knicks (5-0 at home) this season.
Cotto's fights have sold more than 100,000 tickets over the course of his career at MSG and he's ready to make it 8 for 8 when he attempts to dethrone undefeated WBA Super Welterweight champion Austin Trout on Saturday night.
Cotto, the four-time world champion, is ready to win that 154-pound title inside his true boxing home.
"They are there for me, I'm there for them," Cotto said, "and I'm going to make them proud and they're going to help me whatever happen during the fight."
He fights for the first time since dropping a piece of the 154-pound title to Floyd Mayweather Jr. in May. Mayweather took a unanimous decision over Cotto. Cotto also has lost to Manny Pacquiao as well as his first bout against Margarito.
Even in defeat, Cotto called the loss against Mayweather one of the best fights of his career. Cotto was never down against Mayweather, landed some hard punches and kept attacking all the way to the final bell. It's another reason why he's confident he can rebound against Trout.
"I watched the Mayweather fight a couple of times since we fought," Cotto said. "I thought it was a good fight, a close fight. The judges gave it to him on the scorecards, but after watching it, I feel like I gave him a good fight and I am proud of my performance."
He's not interested in close at MSG.
Cotto should be in for his toughest fight yet at the Garden against Trout. Trout has held his share of the 154-pound title for nearly two years since winning a unanimous decision against Rigoberto Álvarez in Mexico.
Trout beat Alvarez in his hometown of Guadalajara and understands the daunting task of trying to stave off not only his opponent — but a 12th man and a huge home ring advantage. Trout, who has dreamed of knocking out Cotto, said he knows a fast start is the perfect way to drain the atmosphere out of the building, and perhaps even things up in the ring.
"I just have to make sure I don't give the crowd anything to cheer about," he said. "I'll be pretty comfortable being in the hostile territory. Really, the crowd can only do one thing, and that's to make noise; they can't help him get up, they can't help him punch harder, they can't help him punch faster."
Cotto does that pretty well on his own. Five years older than Trout, Cotto, 32, started his run of dominance at MSG with a TKO victory over Muhammad Abdullaev in 2005. He claimed a unanimous decision against Paulie Malignaggi in 2006; and won bouts in 2007 against Zab Judah and Shane Mosley. He fought twice there in 2008, defeating Michael Jennings and Joshua Clottey. He battered Margarito over nine lopsided rounds before winning a TKO decision last December. Throw in a TKO win against Yuri Foreman in 2010 at Yankee Stadium and it's clear he's become synonymous with Big Apple boxing.
"I didn't think that this arena was going to be so special for me in my entire career," Cotto said. "But I'm happy, I'm thankful, and I'm just grateful for having such a wonderful career, such wonderful performances here in Madison Square Garden."
Trout, a 2004 U.S. Olympic alternate, has been as wowed at Cotto's career as much as the fans who flock from New York's Puerto Rican communities to cheer him on. After a press conference in October, Trout approached Cotto and requested an autograph — which was captured on Showtime's All-Access show.
"There's Austin Trout the fan of boxing," Trout said, "and Austin Trout the fighter."
Forget the autograph on Saturday. Trout (25-0, 14 KOs) is aiming for a true signature win. Trout, a southpaw, grinded out a championship career far removed from the spotlight of boxing meccas like Las Vegas and New York. He's mostly fought in Texas and New Mexico and is still a relative unknown on the national scene.
Spoiling Cotto's perfect New York mark in a breakthrough performance is one way to get noticed.
"I plan on making history," Trout said. "Not because I made Miguel Cotto a five-time world champion, but because I will be the only person to beat Miguel Cotto in New York."