There was a lot of speculation from ring observers that Miguel Cotto might never regain the form, momentum and confidence he had established before that crushing 11th round TKO loss to Antonio Margarito last summer . Though Cotto asserted last week that, with his new training regimen from Tampa, Florida, he felt better and stronger and more focused then he did two years ago, it wasn’t easy to believe him. So memorable was the haunting Las Vegas night of July 26, 2008.
But all questions about the long-term effects from Margarito were answered last night as the WBO Welterweight champion from Caguas, Puerto Rico put on one of the finest performances of his career and defeated the very formidable Joshua Clottey by split decision before 17,734 at Madison Square Garden.
Cotto has never been in a boring fight and his 34th career win at age 28 electrified and satisfied each and every one of his spirited backers all night long. The Cotto style is unique in it’s diversity as the Puerto powerhouse can not only fight like a charging bull but he can also box smartly and defensively, like a veteran matador. Clottey had his moments, but he never was able to put Cotto in peril.
The grand night began when the crowd was buzzing in those thrilling moments when the ring is empty and you know both gladiators will soon emerge. A mixture of celebrity colorized the atmosphere, with Liam Neeson, Brandon Jacobs, Antonio Pierce, Carlos Beltran, Iran Barkley, all in attendance. When Clottey entered the ring with a happy and confident demeanor, there was not a single boo heard from the Puerto Rican crowd who clearly admired him as a sportsman and the classy way he conducted his pre-fight media obligations, where he said he loved Cotto for how he conducts his career and talks about his opponents. The Puerto Rican fans earned a lot of respect last night, in my book, for how they treated Clottey.
Cotto, such a soft-spoken gentleman outside the ring, came to the ring seemingly oblivious to his supporters. He had his hood on, and was so deeply focused, unlike Tito Trinidad who smiled and celebrated along with this same MSG crowd and seemed to feed off their love. All business, Cotto bent down and said a prayer in one of the neutral corners. Clottey landed the first shot – a jab – but this important fight started cautiously, until Cotto stunned the arena by dropping the granite-jawed Clottey with a short jab near the end of round one.
An angry Clottey recovered from that embarrassment and looked himself in round two, as the contrasting styles battled and tested each other to establish authority. Clottey was sharp with his accurate strikes and tight defense, though Cotto has the more variety in his output. It was very hard to tell who was in charge, both were impressive. Then very late in the third round, an accidental clash of heads opened a horrible gash over Cotto’s eye, on the brow and left him bloodied. It looked grim for Cotto. A stoppage and technical decision looked imminent.
Amazingly, new trainer Joe Santiago was able to contain the cut, though it continued to bleed most of the fight. Somehow, the laceration never got much worse, even though Clottey landed a ton of slashing blows to the region. To his enormous credit, Cotto never once resembled Zab Judah or Hasim Rahman, who looked to immediately get out of recent fights because of head butt cuts. Cotto just dug down and fought harder for the rest of the fight. “Every time the doctor asked me if I want to keep fighting I answer, Yeah,” Cotto said later. “I didn’t lose any sight with the blood.”
It was an amazing performance from Cotto, when you know if Mayweather suffered the same kind of wound, he would have been looking to get out as soon as he could, so as to protect his future business plans and money-making capacity. But then again, Mayweather would never ever even consider signing a contract to fight a fearsome opponent such as Joshua Clottey. Cotto, is a true warrior from head to toe, a throwback gladiator who loves to fight and will fight his hardest, no matter what the circumstances are. This is why he has a legion of devoted and loyal fans who easily sell out Madison Square Garden, even during a recession, and I predict one day will fill Yankee Stadium for a Cotto title fight.
Clottey was magnificent too, more than a few media members had him winning on points. Most impressive about Clottey was the way he fought, despite the fact that just about the entire arena was against him. All the crowd energy was for Cotto and that has to have an influence, even though Clottey denied it after. Consider how George Foreman was affected by the African crowd in Zaire against Ali…the energy of over 17,000 screaming and passionate supporters had to help Cotto in this fight. Just like if they had a hypothetical rematch in Ghana later this year, the crowd support there would definitely help Clottey and would have some kind of subconscious effect on Cotto. Home field advantage can be a huge edge, especially in one on one sports.
Clottey fell down in round five after an awkward tangle and appeared to be in agony for a short moment as he lay on his front on the canvas, with some kind of knee or ankle injury. But after a couple minutes he resumed fighting and there never was any signs of the injury for the rest of the fight. From there the fight was back and forth with both warriors having their shining moments. Clottey and Cotto both performed like winners on this night and in a way, though Cotto earned the narrow decision (115-112, 116-111, and 113-114), they both were victorious. Cotto is still champ after defeating a man who most of the top welterweights have avoided. And 31-year-old Clottey, finally got his big opportunity on the big stage and competed in a manner that he deserves to be there again.
After the fight, Cotto would not commit to anything or any opponents except “vacation.” Clearly Cotto was very happy to win this fight and with his effort. I never saw him so happy or smile so much at a post-fight press conference. His entire family was there, including mom and dad. This was an extremely important match at a key point in Cotto’s career, against an opponent many thought he would be wise to skip over. But Cotto is about total confidence in himself and he is truly fearless and will fight Godzilla and Klitschko if that’s what the sport and the fans wanted to see next.
Cotto again asserted – and you can be quite certain he is telling the truth and this is not any lip service – that he wants “to fight the best. My division is the best in boxing. I want to fight the best. And I’m not going to change my mind.”
Clottey was gracious in defeat and said he wanted the rematch. Clottey defended his lack of punch output. “I have to take my time going in, he’s trying to move so I don’t want to miss the punches. I want a rematch of course.”