LAS VEGAS — Miguel Cotto is only 30 but after a series of grueling, punishing fights against Antonio Margarito, Joshua Clottey and Manny Pacquiao, fans weren’t sure what the Puerto Rican star had left.
Cotto’s ninth-round TKO of light-punching Yuri Foreman last June, which made him a three-division titleholder, let us know that he still had his legs, reflexes and can still outbox a worldclass fighter.
However, the Foreman fight did not let us know whether Cotto could still take a hard shot while rumbling with a bigger, stronger opponent.
Against Ricardo Mayorga, who Cotto stopped 53 seconds into the 12th round of their junior middleweight fight at the MGM Grand on Saturday, he proved he could — to an extent.
Cotto (36-2, 29 knockouts), who led 107-102 on all three official scorecards going into the final round, controlled the bout from start to finish and consistently landed the harder and more-accurate punches. However, the fight, which was fought in front of 7,247 fans and the main event of a Showtime PPV, did not develop into the high-octane shootout that fans hoped it would.
Even the ending was a little anti-climatic. Mayorga wasn’t knocked out decisively as he was in his high-profile losses to Felix Trinidad, Oscar De La Hoya and Shane Mosley.
Mayorga (29-8-1, 23 KOs) was dropped by a hook half a minute into the 12th round and then succumbed to an injury to his left thumb. The wild-swinging Nicaraguan says it was injured during the exchange that caused his knockdown and he believes that it is dislocated or broken.
It’s not the way the veteran wanted to go out.
“I hate the way this fight ended,” said Mayorga, who did not attend the post-fight press conference. “I tried hard. I did my best. I tried to finish the final round but the pain in my hand was too much.”
Cotto, on the other hand, was quite satisfied with how the fight transpired and ended.
“I told myself to be calm and to be myself coming out for the final round,” Cotto said. “(The fight) was great, but the finish was amazing.”
That’s a matter of opinion, of course.
Cotto looked technically sharp for most of the fight, but Mayorga simply isn’t in his class. The 37-year-old former welterweight champ was a 7-to-1 underdog for good reason.
The Nicaraguan was picked for this first title defense because he can sell a fight. And he did his part to hype the Bob Arum-Don King co-promoted event with his usual irreverent pre-fight bluster.
Cotto ignored Mayorga‘s taunts before and during the fight.
“He didn’t take me off of my calm,” Cotto said. “All through the promotion he never got me off my calm. I just kept to myself.”
Except for when Cotto lit into Mayorga with crisp one-two combinations followed by hooks to the body.
However, there weren’t enough of those moments to remind fans of Cotto’s offense-minded days at junior welterweight and welterweight.
This isn’t to say that Cotto fought a poor fight. He clearly out-boxed an awkward, experienced fighter against whom it’s hard to look good. He almost closed Mayorga’s left eye with his well-timed counter left hooks. And he closed the show in the final round.
However, we have to keep in mind who he was fighting. Mayorga had gone 4-4 in his previous eight bouts. He’s a fighter who is clearly at the end of a career that could have been much better had he taken the sport more seriously.
Cotto’s critics will point out that that he did a little too much backpedaling in the late rounds of the bout, which might explain why Mayorga won two of the last three completed rounds on two of the official scorecards.
Some of those critics will say that Cotto is about a year away from being a big-name opponent for young up-and-comer Saul Alvarez.
Others will point to his improved technique and defensive ability under new trainer Emanuel Steward’s guidance, and declare that the best is yet to come.
Cotto’s next fight could be a rematch with Margarito, who some believe loaded his handwraps to help win an extremely punishing 11th-round TKO in 2008. If Cotto has indeed lost his form or lost years off of his career, most fans believe it is due to the beating he took against Margarito, who was caught with illegal hand wraps in his very next fight, against Mosley.
The proposed rematch is slated to land in either Las Vegas or the Meadowlands in New Jersey sometime in July, but Cotto was non-committal about the bout when asked about it.
“Bob (Arum, Cotto‘s promoter) is in charge but I always want to fight the big names, and Margarito is definitely one of them,” he said.
Despite Cotto‘s politically correct answer, it’s clear that there is bad blood between the two. When Arum introduced Margarito at the post-fight press conference and the disgraced Mexican walked to the dais to offer Cotto his hand, the proud Puerto Rican refused to shake it. When Maragrito began talking to the media, Cotto abruptly left the press conference.
A Cotto-Margarito rematch has the kind of controversy and back story that a hall-of-fame promoter such as Arum can exploit.
And who knows? Perhaps the new, more-patient version of Cotto can outbox his Mexican rival the way he controlled the Mayorga bout, working a hard constant jab, blocking punches and by occasionally utilizing lateral movement.
Perhaps a revenge victory will convince fans that Cotto is back. One informed observer says he’s already back.
“As a man, I have to admit when I do well and when I do not,” Mayroga said after the fight. “Give Cotto credit. He hits hard and is a great champion.”
Mayorga added that his fighting days are probably finished.
“I have to go find a job,” he said. “It’s time to retire.”
It’s not yet Cotto’s time.
Photos / Naoki Fukuda