6:39 PM EDT, July 23, 2013
The last time Orlando played host to a big-time boxing event was in February of 1989, when over-the-hill and former heavyweight champion George Foreman fought Brazil's Manoel De Almeida in the Atlantis Theater at SeaWorld.
A bloated Foreman could have stumbled into the Shamu tank and no one would have noticed, which pretty much sums up the nonchalant evening before a ho-hum crowd of 1,700 fans or so.
Fast-forward to October 5, 2013, when Miguel Cotto will bring much more star power -- and quite a bit of Latin spice and salsa -- to the Amway Center.
Cotto, a former WBA Light Middleweight Champion will fight top-five contender Delvin Rodriguez in a 12-round super welterweight bout, marking Orlando's return to the boxing's center stage.
Let's be clear up front: This is likely an "event moment," much like Paul McCartney's weekend in Orlando last May, or Don Henley and his Eagles troubadours coming here in late November.
Orlando isn't going to become Vegas East, but for a few hours anyway, it becomes the epicenter of boxing. HBO will broadcast the fight to 180 countries. Paying customers can get in for $150, $100, $50 and $25.
It's great serendipity for all involved: Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer has touted the Amway Center in much broader terms than a playpen for the Orlando Magic, and this is his proof. Cotto could use a little home cooking to soothe his psyche, a bit shook up after consecutive losses.
Cotto, from Caguas, Puerto Rico, will feel the energy of thousands of transplanted Puerto Ricans who now call Central Florida home. He got a taste of it during a press conference at the Amway Center Tuesday afternoon, when about 100 fans cheered when his name was announced and booed Rodriguez just for showing up.
"Puerto Ricans, Latins, I've always felt their support," Cotto told me after signing a few gloves as parting gifts for the event. "I'm very happy coming here to fight."
Cynics will laugh it off. There is a bit of boxing truth that if it ain't Vegas, you're nowhere baby. But Cotto needs to find some direction -- preferably moving forward -- in his career. Now 32, Cotto is 37-4, with 30 Kos, and needs a positive vibe after losses to Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Austin Trout.
He's ditched trainer Pedro Diaz and going with Hall of Famer Freddie Roach in his corner for the first time in his career. Cotto told Roach that he has about three fights left before last call. He could not have found a better man to push him to the limit.
The other significant change comes with his promotional team. Out is Oscar De La Hoya and Golden Boy Promotions after a two-fight deal, and back in the mix is Top Rank, which has promoted all of Cotto's previous fights.
Cotto will bring all of that new drama to Orlando. The only downer for his legion of local fans is that Cotto will train with Roach in California, instead of his usual spot in south Orlando. Cotto had gotten so cozy here that he bought a second home that he used during his training stints.
Cotto is a great fighter, even if he may be on the downside of his career. It's the star-power Orlando craves after years of boxing insignificance. A number of quality world championship fights have been staged in Central Florida over the last decade or so, but that's been over in Kissimmee. Smaller venues, and niche crowds catering almost exclusively to Hispanic fighters and fans.
This is much bigger. It even promoted Dyer to roll out a decent imitation of Michael Buffer's signature ringside fighting words -- "Let's Get Ready to Rumble!" during the news conference.
No question boxing is huge again in Orlando, if only for a night, and without the Killer Whale props.
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