By: Jake Donovan
The manner in which Miguel Cotto stormed out of the ring following his last ring appearance would leave one to believe that the Puerto Rican superstar would do anything possible to avoid once again leavings fate in the hands of the judges.
Photo Credit: Golden Boy Promotions
However, the 36-year old version of the Puerto Rican superstar coming off of a 21-month layoff will have to take a win any way he can get it. Tried as he might, Cotto was unable to put away a determined Yoshihiro Kamegai, instead settling for a landslide points win in their HBO headliner Saturday evening in front of a sold-out crowd of 7,689 at StubHub Center in Carson, California.
Scores were 120-108, 119-108 and 118-110 for Cotto, who returned for the first time since a World middleweight championship conceding defeat to Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez in Nov. ’15.
That he was extended the distance by Japan’s Kamegai certainly wasn’t for a lack of trying. Cotto wisely rode out the early bullrush from his 34-year old challenger, who did his best to back up the former four-division world champion in the early rounds but only able to land the occasional big blow.
Cotto enjoyed a huge momentum swing in round three and never really looked back. Kamegai—himself coming off of a near-year long layoff following a knockout win over Jesus Soto Karass in their rematch last September—would have to settle for being valiant in defeat, just as he famously offered in his 12-round war with Robert Guerrero in 2014, the first performance to put him on the stateside boxing map.
On this night, he’d just become known as the boxer who stood opposite corner the night Cotto became a six-time champion and claim his second super welterweight title. Kamegai was barely standing by the end of a vicious round seven that saw Puerto Rico’s only ever male four-division World champion offer shades of his former self—but in the end would turn out to be the only glimpse that boxing fans would get.
The final five rounds or so saw the future Hall of Famer box from the outside, no longer gung-ho on delivering a knockout win. Instead, he seemed content with going the distance and settling for his first decision victory since a June ‘09 split nod over Joshua Clottey. He’d scored six knockout wins mixed in with four losses over that stretch, but in the end saw his hand raised in what he insists is the second-to-last fight of his incredible career.
“I tried to do my best, and I think I did that tonight,” said Cotto, who improved to 41-5 (33KOs) with the win, his first since a 4th round knockout of Daniel Geale last June. “I am happy with my performance. Kamegai is a tough fighter and opponent. It was during round five or six that I knew he was going to make it to the 12 rounds.”
In hindsight, it probably shouldn’t have been much of a surprise that Kamegai saw the final bell. He’d never been stopped in 33 pro bouts. His loss to Guerrero was the most completive of his career defeats, dropping lopsided decisions to Johan Perez, Alfonso Gomez and now Cotto.
“I felt so much frustration not being able to land any of my punches,” said Kamegai, now 27-4-2 (24KOs). “I could not catch him at all. I couldn’t catch him at all. He is such a talented legend, and I am so glad I got the opportunity to fight him.”
With the farewell tour now halfway through, the burning question remains: who will man the opposite corner for last call?
“I will fight once more in December,” Cotto once again insisted, but—as he’s done through 17 years as a pro—left it in the hands of those who guides his career to decide his next opponent. “I’ll let Freddie [Roach] tell you who I want.”
To that, we turn to the Hall of Fame trainer who’s manned his corner for the past four years.
”We want the winner of Canelo-GGG (Gennady Golovkin),” said Roach.
Of course, with that particular fight not set to take place for another three weeks, it’s highly unlikely the winner turns around to fight in less than three months time for a targeted December 2 date. Even less likely is the scenario of either dropping down a full weight class to accommodate Cotto, who’s made it clear even after wresting the World middleweight crown from Sergio Martinez three years ago that 154 is in fact his preferred weight class.
Still, whether one final shot at a second middleweight crown or whomever else simply accepts his offer, this December will in fact mark the last time we see the proud boxer ply his trade.
“Come December 31, I will retire,” Cotto once again promised afterward. “I’ve done it all. I’m 36 going on 37, and I think I’ve come to the end of my career.”
In the HBO-televised co-feature, unbeaten Rey Vargas made the first successful defense of his suer bantamweight title with a 12-round win over local favorite Ronny Rios (28-2, 13KOs).
Scores were 118-110 (twice) and 115-113 in favor of Mexico’s Vargas (27-0, 22KOs), who won his portion of the 122-pound crown with a majority decision over Gavin McDonnell this past February on the road in Hull, England.
Rios, who hails from Santa Ana, Calif., had won five straight heading into the first world title fight of his career.