Cotto Wins Close One Over Clottey

In a fight that featured high drama from the opening bell to the judges’ verdict, WBO Welterweight Champion Miguel Cotto weathered a badly cut left eye to win a close and competitive split decision over durable challenger Joshua Clottey.

The showdown was originally to be a unification bout, but the IBF stripped Clottey for not fighting his mandatory challenger. Clottey had planned on facing Antonio Margarito last November, but that fell through when Margarito chose to wait for Shane Mosley instead. Then, he thought he had a date with Kermit Cintron in February, but Cintron passed to fight Sergio Martinez, leaving Clottey out of time to defend the title. Unification bout or not, the fight with Cotto was significant in that it pitted two of the top four welterweights against each other.

Cotto came into the bout from a camp entrenched in turmoil after a nasty split with his uncle and trainer Evangelista Cotto when the two argued about moving Cotto’s training camp from Puerto Rico to the United States. A physical confrontation ensued, with Evangelista launching a cement block through the window of Miguel’s car. Miguel Cotto wasted little time in moving on, promoting his nutritionist Joe Santiago to head trainer, at least for one fight.

Madison Square Garden was jam-packed with Cotto fans, many of Puerto Rican heritage and preparing for the Puerto Rican Day Parade the following day. The Clottey fight marked the fourth time Cotto had competed on the eve of the parade, and he had come out victorious every time. Though Clottey had fought out of the Bronx since coming to the United States, the crowd was firmly against him. Even before the opening bell, the atmosphere was electric, with Clottey nodding energetically during Referee Arthur Mercante Jr.’s instructions, a big smile on his face, while Cotto soaked in the support of his vocal fan base.

At the end of an extremely close first round in which both men displayed terrific defense, Clottey stepped into a stiff jab from Cotto that knocked him off balance and onto the seat of his trunks. Surprised – not hurt – by the punch, Clottey was up by the count of three and visibly upset as he berated himself for the slip-up all the way back to his corner. It was the first knockdown of the durable Ghanaian’s career.

The knockdown lit a fire under Clottey, who hit Cotto with three uppercuts to begin the second round. Cotto caught Clottey with a left hook but absorbed another uppercut in return. While he hit mostly gloves, Cotto did land a left hook and a straight right hand to the head of Clottey. In a round that could have gone either way, Cotto was busier, but Clottey landed the more effective punches, often snapping Cotto’s head up. Again, in round three, Clottey’s punches were better, but Cotto simply outworked him by fighting the entire three minutes. In the final seconds, Cotto missed a jab and banged heads with Clottey, and the champion got the worst of it, suffering a deep cut over his left eye. At the bell, Mercante called it an accidental clash of heads.

Between rounds, the blood began to pour from over Cotto’s eye. The ringside doctor took a look and stalled the beginning of the fourth round, though Cotto was willing to continue. After instructions from Mercante for both fighters to keep it clean, Cotto began banging away at the body of Clottey. Undeterred by the burst, Clottey continued to walk in and sting Cotto with shots of his own, and a war broke out in the Garden. Cotto wiped at his eye and kept firing, only to be hit by a right from Clottey directly on the cut. Clottey added a left hook to the head, followed by one to the body and an uppercut that lifted Cotto’s head. Two more left hooks upstairs moved Cotto back. With blood running down his face, Cotto landed a short right and turned Clottey’s head with a left hook, then blinked several times. Cotto followed up by slapping four unanswered left hooks to the side of a covering Clottey’s head. Clottey dropped his gloves, danced around and grinned at the bloodied but still stalking Cotto. The crowd started buzzing as Clottey’s inactivity allowed Cotto to get off increasingly more punches – most to the gloves but enough of them getting through to again take a round on activity. At the bell, Mercante followed Cotto to his corner, but Cotto winked through the blood to signal that he was fine.

Cotto started round five by scoring with a left hook and a right-left combination around Clottey’s guard. Clottey answered back, jolting Cotto’s head with two sharp jabs before drilling the champion with a beautiful straight right to the head. Cotto shook his head in response and ate another one-two from Clottey. Another straight right scored for the challenger, followed by one that drove Cotto into the ropes, but Cotto quickly spun away and put Clottey in the corner instead. When Clottey attempted to escape by leaping forward, Cotto turned his man around and dumped him onto the canvas on his stomach, Clottey landing on his knees as he did so. Cotto moved back, stepping on Clottey’s foot in the process, as the crowd cheered in approval.

Clottey remained on the canvas, raising his head to look about, while Mercante surveyed the situation. Rolling over onto his back, Clottey appeared to be in great pain as he gestured to his right knee. Mercante urged him to walk it off, but Clottey writhed on the canvas, refusing. With Mercante’s help, Clottey eventually got back to his feet and hobbled about as the crowd booed him. Clottey walked around a moment and agreed to continue, despite clearly only having one good leg to work with. Both men finished the round slugging it out, though Clottey had done more than enough to bank the round before the injury occurred.

Between rounds, Clottey informed his corner that his knee was bothering him, and it showed in the sixth, which turned out to be Cotto’s best round of the fight. Rather than move as he had done in the previous rounds, Clottey stood in front of Cotto and covered up. He rattled off four quick shots to Cotto’s head in the center of the ring. From there, however, it was all Cotto, who started his assault with a body shot and a left hook that slammed Clottey’s head aside. Two more left hooks and a straight right put Clottey on the ropes and covering up. Cotto pounded Clottey’s guard, getting through with his left hook more often than before. Clottey snapped off two left hooks and an uppercut but couldn’t get Cotto off of him. A left hook around the glove knocked Clottey’s head aside, and a straight right followed through the guard that slammed Clottey’s head back into the ropes. Cotto banged through an uppercut and a straight right-left combination to the head. In all, Cotto kept Clottey on the ropes for nearly two entire minutes. Never had Clottey been so dominated in a round in his career.

Whereas the sixth round had been all Cotto, the seventh was one of Clottey’s best. Cotto did well for the first minute until Clottey caught him with an uppercut, after which Clottey started reaching in and scoring with long straight rights. He caught Cotto pulling away at one point with a big left hook that turned the champion’s head. Clottey then moved in behind the jab and smacked the constantly retreating Cotto with a hard straight right across the face. Clottey landed another right across Cotto’s mouth against the ropes, and Cotto began wiping at his cut again for the first time in several rounds. Clottey scored with a huge uppercut through the guard that lifted Cotto’s head and finished the round with one more right, before he pumped his fist after the bell.

Clottey shot a straight right on Cotto to start the eighth and followed with a chopping right and uppercut. Cotto tried to get Clottey against the ropes but caught a left hook to the head and wiped his eye as the blood began to flow again. Clottey scored with two uppercuts and may have done more had he not almost slipped on the canvas. He did land a left-right combination that slammed Cotto’s head aside and got the attention of the crowd. Clottey continued to land combinations, and HBO commentator Jim Lampley suddenly wanted the fight stopped on account of the cut before Cotto fell too far behind on the scorecards. Cotto fought back with some body shots and a left hook that knocked Clottey away but failed to faze him. Cotto landed a right but ate a left-right combination from Clottey that knocked him into the ropes. Cotto again got Clottey against the ropes where he proceeded to bang power shots from both hands into and through the gloves in an attempt to rally. But Clottey walked off the ropes, dropped his gloves and shook his head at Cotto before pounding his chest to signal that he felt none of them. Clottey landed two left hooks before the bell to make sure the round hadn’t slipped to Cotto.

After the doctor took another look at Cotto, the fight continued likely even in rounds. Getting beat whenever he engaged Clottey, Cotto decided to box in the ninth, which quickly degraded into running. But Clottey eventually caught up to him with a straight right that knocked Cotto’s head back into the ropes. Cotto missed with a jab and ate a four-punch combination instead. Clottey then stepped in and landed an uppercut and a left hook before nearly slipping over himself yet again. Cotto tried a body shot but walked into a left hook as he tried to rally down the stretch. Clottey won his third round in a row and appeared to have evened up the fight on points.

Clottey noticeably slowed in round ten, allowing Cotto to get in some good body shots. Clottey managed to land a left hook with only seconds remaining, but Cotto answered with a better one. Clottey scored with a right-left combination to the head, only to have Cotto fire back with a left hook to the jaw that moved Clottey back at the bell, ending a close round that appeared to be won by the champion, though neither man reached out and took it decisively.

Clottey started round eleven with a jab that made Cotto shake his head and blink. Clottey capitalized by shooting a straight right into Cotto’s face. Rather than follow up, though, Clottey played defense and took a right-left combination around the gloves, followed by a straight right through them. Clottey inexplicably went thirty seconds without throwing a punch and paid the price by walking into an uppercut from Cotto. When he attempted one of his own, Clottey walked into a strong right from Cotto. Clottey did land a right on Cotto against the ropes, but Cotto nailed him with a jab through the gloves and a combination to the body before moving away, winning a brilliant tactical round that put him in position to retain his title.

Depending on how rounds two and ten were scored, the fight appeared to be on the table for either man going into the twelfth. But it was Cotto who fought like he needed it more, letting the punches fly. Clottey connected with a straight right to the face but walked into a hard jab from Cotto and almost slipped backward again as he had done in round one. The crowd thundered with chants of “Cotto” as their hero blatantly danced around the ring and even told Mercante to fix some lose tape on Clottey’s glove to buy some time, which Mercante quickly cut. Cotto turned southpaw and landed a hard left hand to Clottey. Clottey answered with a right-left, but Cotto reacted by hooking Clottey around the waist, spinning and landing a left hand to the back of Clottey’s head, which sent Clottey down to the canvas on a knee. Clottey played up the accidental foul by holding his head, but Mercante again urged him to continue and finish like a champion. Clottey obliged, and a body punch exchange ensued in which Clottey got hit low. The Ghanaian again complained, focusing more on trying to get Mercante to take a point away than trying to win the round. Cotto landed a left hook, and a hard exchange wooed the crowd in which Clottey landed a left-right combination, only to be hit by a big left hook in return. With only seconds remaining, Clottey finally started letting his hands go until the bell rang.

Clottey instantly celebrated as though he was a clear winner, throwing his hands up at the bell, but the crowd let him hear it with boos. Cotto received a raucous ovation when he celebrated similarly. Cotto embraced Clottey and leaned through the ropes to converse with the HBO announce team as everyone waited in suspense for what was sure to be a tense decision. Ultimately, it was tight, but Cotto escaped Madison Square Garden with a split decision, thanks to scores of 116-111 and 115-112, while the remaining judge scored it 114-113 for Clottey.

In the end, Cotto nipped a tough, hard fight by winning the championship rounds when Clottey let up. Clottey left the ring outraged at the decision and threatening to give up boxing, coming back into the ring only to complain more, but he has no one to blame but himself for how he fought the last three rounds of the biggest fight of his career, especially after dominating the middle rounds. He has talked about giving up boxing for a while now, mostly out of frustration for not getting big fights, and, considering he probably won’t get a rematch with Cotto, he may just go through with it. It would be a shame to see him hang the gloves up, though, especially when he has the tools to get right back in the mix.

Cotto is being geared by promoter Bob Arum to face Manny Pacquiao this fall. That would likely make for a good fight, maybe even a great fight, but it just isn’t the right fight to make. Arum wants it because he promotes both Pacquiao and Cotto, and Pacquiao has stated that he only wants one more fight before retiring. But if Pacquiao really plans on fighting only once more, there is only one opponent that matters, and that is the winner of the bout between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Juan Manuel Marquez, who will fight later this year after a Mayweather injury postponed their July date.

Cotto, on the other hand, may be the best welterweight in the world, but Shane Mosley is recognized as such by most in boxing, even though Cotto edged him with a unanimous decision in 2007 in a great fight. The reason most rankings have Mosley ahead of Cotto is that whereas Antonio Margarito stopped Cotto last summer, Mosley destroyed Margarito in January. But Margarito was caught attempting to load his gloves with plaster prior to the fight with Mosley, which most have taken as an indication that Margarito had cheated in previous fights, including the fight with Cotto. Without Margarito’s loaded gloves, Cotto is likely undefeated, his place as the best welterweight not in question. But only a second fight with Mosley will convince all parties that this is the case. That is the fight to make for Cotto and no other.

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