Effectively peppering his opponents with body shots, Miguel Cotto made a triumphant return to the ring after nearly a year of inactivity.
To the cheers of a near-sellout crowd screaming his name at the Amway Center Saturday night, Cotto scored a third-round TKO against Delvin Rodriguez. It took Cotto only 18 seconds into the round to finish Rodriguez, who had been dazed with a left hook at the end of the second round as Rodriguez shook his head to shake off the side effects.
The one-minute break only provided a momentary reprieve from his misery.
"It was a great punch," Cotto said. "I felt the power right through my arm."
Cotto's trainer, Freddie Roach, concurred.
"Anyone who lays against the ropes against the Cotto is a dead fighter," he said. "We knew we had to go to the body to wear him down. I knew Cotto would finish him off."
Thousands among the 11,912 in attendance literally had Cotto's back at the Amway Center, cheering on the native of Caguas, Puerto Rico. They came in waving Puerto Rican flags, a red-white-and-blue army of fans embracing the big-fight buzz of the Las Vegas strip.
"It's a bunch of emotions," City of Orlando Commissioner Tony Ortiz said from his view in a city suite, "seeing that now we're participating at the same level as the other venues. For the first time, we have a fight like this in Orlando. It's exciting.
"This is what we've always dreamed about."
Cotto (38-4, 31 KOs) made a triumphant return to relevance in the ring after losing his last two fights, most recently to Austin Trout in December of 2012. Rodriguez,( 28-5-3, 16 KOs) and a top-5 contender in the super welterweight division, had aspirations of becoming a marquee name in the boxing market.
The last time Orlando played host to a big-time boxing event was in February 1989 when over-the-hill and former heavyweight champion George Foreman fought Brazil's Manoel De Almeida in the Atlantis Theater at SeaWorld.
Foreman, bloated and making a comeback after stepping away from the ring in 1977, scored a third-round TKO before a ho-hum crowd of 1,700 fans or so.
Fast-forward to late Saturday night when Cotto brought much more star power --and quite a bit of Latin spice and salsa -- to the Amway Center.
Cotto, having lost to Trout and Floyd Mayweather Jr., created some concern that he is on the downside of a brilliant career. Looking to mix things up, Cotto severed ties with Pedro Diaz, who had trained Cotto for his last three fights, and went to work with Roach, one of the best in the business.
"Thank you Freddie Roach," Cotto said. "This all started my first day of training camp with Freddie Roach."
Said Roach: "To see where he came from, where he is today is unbelievable. He had the best camp of any fighter I ever trained."
In one of the early undercard bouts, Orlando's Moises Carrasquillo Jr. (4-0, 3 KOs) scored a unanimous decision over Steven Chadwick.
Cotto, keeping with his usual ritual of coming out to watch some undercard bouts before prepping for a fight to get the feel of the venue, watched from the front row as the crowd trickled into the Amway Center.
Cotto got a rousing ovation as he returned to his dressing room before Carrasquillo's victory was announced.
Read George Diaz's blog at OrlandoSentinel.com/enfuego or e-mail him at email@example.com ___