There is every chance that the latest ring sabbatical of Floyd Mayweather's career will end in the hardest fight of his life when he meets Miguel Cotto at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas tonight.
Mayweather walked off into the Nevada sunset in 2008 just as Cotto was his clear and present danger; Mayweather was, like Cotto, undefeated at the time and, unlike Cotto, he had fallen out of love with the business that made him rich and famous.
When Mayweather was cultivating his brand and enjoying the first of his lengthy absences – he was gone from boxing for 22 months –Cotto was fighting the men that most in the boxing business wanted Mayweather to face.
In July 2008, Cotto turned away from trying to get Mayweather out of retirement and lost for the first time when he was stopped by Antonio Margarito in a shock; the fallout had a twist when, moments before his next fight, Margarito was discovered to have an illegal concrete-like substance in his bandages. "I don't consider that a defeat," claimed Cotto. "We all know what happened and we all have our thoughts."
However, it was never proved that Cotto was the victim of Margarito's cheating and, after a ban, Margarito met Cotto last December and was savagely beaten. The victory made tonight's fight inevitable from a financial perspective, with fantastic pay-per-view sales predicted. It is also a great fight from a boxing point of view.
Mayweather has fought only five times since 2006 and, having overlooked Cotto in 2008, he has been picking his fights with sense and caution and at the same time petitioning non-stop for a meeting with Manny Pacquiao. The presence of Mayweather's big foe provides a slightly unsavoury agenda to tonight's boxing because Cotto accepted Pacquiao's terms, lost some weight and was beaten by the maverick Filipino in the last round of their 2009 fight. Whether Mayweather can do a better job is not a pleasant question but it remains relevant. It was just one of far too many fights that Cotto, who delights in being known as a warrior, has emerged from with his face a mess of cuts and deep bruises.
Cotto, who will be defending his WBA light-middleweight title, has been cast in the role of loser by more than the Vegas bookies. Thankfully, Mayweather, who at 35 is four years older, appears to have taken the Puerto Rican icon seriously and knows that he will need to take risks to win the fight.
There is every chance that Mayweather's speed will drain the fight from Cotto early on and put him in a position of comfort before the halfway stage. However, it is far more likely that Mayweather has to fight with the type of intensity he last displayed when he stopped Ricky Hatton in 2007, three bouts ago. Hatton made Mayweather stand and fight at times, and Cotto has such superior power and movement to Hatton that it is surely inevitable that the unbeaten Mayweather will have to battle for his reputation.
There is the chance that life, natural ageing and the problems that stalk Mayweather's controversial domestic reality – he is bound for prison on 1 June to serve 87 days for assault – will combine to ruin him one night. It could happen, but not yet.
Cotto will hope that the risks he needs to take, getting closer before letting his punches flow, will not leave him exposed to Mayweather's devastating counter-punches. It could be a fight of tiny fractions, with moments of explosive exchanges, and will end with Mayweather's hand raised, most probably late in a fight of mixed heroics that will secure both of their legacies.
TV: Cotto v Mayweather, BoxNation