By Jason Gonzalez
And that’s all she wrote folks…After 17 years as a professional, Miguel Cotto has completed his final lap in the squared circle. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a happy ending in the concluding chapter of his glorious career, which will surely be recognized and honored five years from now at the International Boxing Hall-of-Fame.
Last Saturday night, Cotto held his farewell fight at his home away from home, Madison Square Garden in front of a crowd of 12,391. Cotto was headlining his 10th main event at the ‘Boxing Mecca’ in what should have been an easy win for the Puerto Rican boxing icon. But instead, Cotto was upended by the heavy underdog Sadam Ali of Brooklyn, New York. Ali won a 12 round unanimous decision by scores of 116-112, and 115-113 twice. Maxboxing.com had it 116-112 for Ali. With the victory, Ali captured the WBO junior middleweight title.
Cotto’s skillset, athleticism, and courage kept him in the fight. However, it was evident that the 37-year-old’s reflexes had eroded significantly. His ability to deflect the punches coming at him had diminished. Cotto’s endurance levels appeared to have worked against him too. Cotto was up by four points heading into the 9th round on all three of the official scorecards. But then his stamina betrayed him. Ali won the final four rounds on the judges’ cards to seal the win.
"Feeling good. Feeling good with the performance," said Cotto, who now leaves the sport with a record of 41-6, (33). "Something happened to my left bicep, seventh round. I don’t want to make excuses. Sadam won the fight. It is my last fight. I am good, and I want to be happy in my home with my family."
Cotto, who was coming off of a win against Yoshihiro Kamegai back in August, sustained a torn bicep in the scrap with Ali. As a result, Cotto had to skip the post-fight press conference in order to be seen at a local hospital.
Ali, a welterweight for most of his career moved up one weight class to fight Puerto Rico’s first four division champion. Ali appeared bigger and stronger than Cotto. He was definitely faster. He wasn’t the same fighter who was stopped by Jesse Vargas a year ago.
"I worked hard for it." said Ali, who now joins Austin Trout as being the only fighters to beat Cotto at the Garden. "I took advantage of this fight, and I made sure to make it count. I want to thank God and also thank Team Cotto. They could have taken an easier fight if they wanted to."
The pro-Puerto Rican crowd was firmly in Cotto’s corner. In a show of support and solidarity, the loud chants of “Cotto! Cotto,” and “Yo soy Boricua, pa que tu lo sepa,” cascaded throughout the venue.
Ali wasn’t affected in the least bit. In the second round, he hurt Cotto with a straight right hand to the temple. A minute later, Ali stunned Cotto again with a left hook.
"I had him hurt here or there in the first couple of rounds. I knew I had to do something or he would have dug in," Ali said, now 26-1, (14). "By the 11th round, I thought the fight was close."
Like the consummate professional that Cotto has always shown to be, he never appeared flustered. He worked the jab and applied intelligent pressure, often backing Ali up against the ropes.
In the middle rounds there was visibly swelling around Ali’s right eye. Although Brooklynites may have a reputation for going hard, it’s not like Cotto was being shut out. He hurt Ali with a straight right hand of his own.
Ali would come on strong in the home stretch, eventually winning rounds 9, 10, 11, and 12 with grit, determination, and ring intelligence. As Cotto faded, Ali got stronger. It was evident that Cotto was tired; he fought a lot off of the ropes. Had Cotto won just 1 of the rounds on two of the judges ‘scorecards, Cotto would have left the ‘Big Apple’ with a majority draw.
With the momentum having clearly shifted in his favor, and leaving nothing to chance, Ali closed the show by throwing punches in bunches in the 12th and final round.
Considering that the other three belt holders in the division [Erislandy Lara, Jarret Hurd, and Jermell Charlo] are with the PBC [Premier Boxing Champions] it’s unclear what Ali’s next move will be. First and foremost, is Ali going to stay at 154 pounds? Secondly, what’s the likelihood that Golden Boy Promotions will do business with Al Haymon? Lastly, any of the previous three fighters mentioned, would be heavily favored to beat Ali. It will be interesting to see what his next move will be.
"Whatever Golden Boy Promotions has next, I’ll take it. Good things happen to good people," Ali would say. "I have been training since I was 8 years old, and I am glad I got this win at MSG, in my hometown."
As expected, Cotto was gracious in defeat. He was very complimentary of his opponent, and he thanked his fan base for all of their support.
"Thank you for all the fans," said Cotto. "I am proud to call MSG my second home. I had the opportunity to provide the best for my family because of the sport."
Before the crowd vacated the premises, a video presentation of Cotto’s career highlights played on the titantron located in the center of the arena. The video ended with the words of "Thank you for the memories 2001-2017."
Cotto walked away with a purse of $750,000.00, considerably less than what he used to make. As for Ali, he made $600,000.00 for the fight. As it stands now, this is Ali’s biggest payday.
Cotto will most likely remain in retirement due to his in ring physical deterioration, not to mention that the big paydays are a thing of the past.
In the co-feature bout of the evening, 122 pound champion Rey Vargas gave a good showing of himself, establishing that he is a major player in the division. Vargas is considerably tall for a junior featherweight, and he doesn’t appear to be draining himself to make weight either.
Vargas overcame a major obstacle that manifested itself in the form of two bad cuts over both eyes, to cruise to a dominant win, via a 12 round unanimous decision over Oscar Negrete of Colombia. The lacerations were caused by an accidental head-butt during one of the many exchanges throughout the contest. Negrete, who dropped to 17-1, (7) would often initiate the exchanges to get underneath Vargas’s long reach.
The scorecards read 120-108, and 119-109 twice for Vargas, who improved to 31-0, (22) with the victory.
The 26-year-old native of Mexico, who is trained by Ignacio “Nacho” Beristain chimed in with his two cents.
"He was a very dirty fighter," Vargas said. "It was really hard to find my rhythm in the first couple of rounds. He’s not a very good fighter.”