By: Kirk Jackson
Sadam Ali 26-1 (14 KO’s) secured victory as the underdog co-staring in Miguel Cotto’s farewell fight, capturing his first world title and scoring redemption after suffering defeat to Jessie Vargas 27-2 (10 KO’s)in an attempt for the vacant WBO welterweight title a year prior.
While the spotlight and the event belonged to the retiring Puerto Rican legend, Ali reminded the world why he was a highly touted amateur and prospect – now new world champion.
“With the decision, when it came my way, which I was praying and hoping for, it’s just a blessing,” said Ali. “I’m grateful and I’m happy. I was a big fan of Cotto’s, still am. He’s a great fighter.”
“I don’t have anything bad to say about him. He’s good inside and outside of the ring. In the ring, he didn’t do anything dirty to me. I appreciate that, and to me he’s a good man and I have respect for him.”
Much like Muhammad, Sadam danced around the ring and stung Cotto quite a few times, noticeably hurting Cotto in the second, fourth and sixth round.
“I had him hurt here or there in the first couple of rounds,” said Ali, who connected with 139 of 647 punches (21%) compared to 163 of 536 (30%) for Cotto. “I knew I had to do something, or he would have dug in. By the 11th, I thought the fight was close.”
The key to victory for Ali was his footwork. Because he was able to move around the ring and constantly change distance, not allowing Cotto to strike in combination because he could never set his feet and locate the target, Ali negated Cotto’s offensive assault.
As the younger man it was imperative for Ali to showcase that to the judges and to make the older veteran work and more his feet in effort to wear him down.
Cotto is known for his amazing left jab and vaunted body assault. Although spectators witnessed flashes of vintage Cotto as he landed jabs here and there to temporarily stagger Ali’s momentum, it was the counter right hand that occasionally stunned Cotto and shifted the fight back into Ali’s hands.
As this was the swan song for Cotto, what’s next for Ali?
While he achieved his lifelong dream of winning a world title, there are plenty of wolves waiting at junior middleweight – one of the hottest divisions in the sport.
It’s also clear Cotto’s best years are behind him and there are noticeable flaws younger, elite fighters may exploit against Ali.
He deserves credit for victory, but one of the things another fighter may exploit is Ali’s tendency to drop his left hand.
He’s open for a right hand lead or counter and an opponent with the awareness and proper timing can capitalize.
In rounds 5, 6 and 7 Ali was not as elusive as Cotto cut the ring off and applied consistent pressure appearing to bother Ali.
Another noticeable observation is Ali is a solid counter-puncher and defensive fighter possessing quick feet and great lateral movement. However he struggles to mount consistent offense.
Sometimes Ali over-extends and reaches while trying to find the proper punching range and his offense opens up while utilizing his defense and countering off an opening. His greatest offensive weapon is his defense.
Defeating a legend however should provide a boost of confidence to Ali, along with the invaluable experience gained fighting a highly skilled veteran in the main event at Madison Square Garden.
Who will be the first guy in line to challenge for Ali’s title?
Vargas may be one of those younger fighters aiming to dethrone Ali and he specifically would love to replicate the same success if granted the opportunity.
“If he wants a rematch and it is something that he desires I am ready for it, anytime, any day, any place. Last time we fought on his side of town in Washington DC so it shows that I wasn’t intimidated at all from fighting Sadam Ali. I said I was going to knock him out before the fight and I did what I said I was going to,” said Vargas.
“If he wants the rematch we can do it anytime – today, tomorrow or whenever – and the result will be the exact same thing. He got knocked out once and probably the only difference is that he would get knocked out sooner.”
The other champions in the division; Erislandy Lara 25-2-2 (14 KO’s), Jermell Charlo 30-0 (15 KO’s) and Jarred Hurd 21-0 (15 KO’s) would likely be favored against Ali.
Other notable contenders include Julian Williams 24-1-1 (15 KO’s) and Tony Harrison 25-2 (20 KO’s).
While a mix of talented challengers and seasoned veterans consisting of Erickson Lubin 18-1 (13 KO’s), Charles Hatley 26-2-1 (18 KO’s), Austin Trout 30-4 (17 KO’s) and Ishe Smith 29-9 (12 KO’s) aim to rebound from respective recent defeats.
The no.1 contender for the WBO junior middleweight title is Liam Smith 26-1-1 (14 KO’s), so there’s a great chance we may witness a bout between he and Ali – a fight Ali should be favored.
A dark horse in the bid to face Ali for the WBO junior middleweight title is Kell Brook 36-2 (25 KO’s) and recently discussed moving up weight after spending his entire career at welterweight.
Brook intends to return to the ring this upcoming March against an opponent yet to be determined.
“I think I’ll have a meaningful fight, a comeback fight, a warm-up fight, and then we’ll be looking at jumping back on the high horse for a world title,” said Brook.
We may even see Brook and Smith fight in a battle of the Brits for the right to fight Ali.
Thank you to all the love and support i have been receiving. Last night i accomplished one of the biggest goals in my life. My time is now. #WorldChampion
— Sadam Ali (@realworldkidali) December 4, 2017
One has to wonder what Ali’s progression as world champion will be.