By Michael Rosenthal
Miguel Cotto: Excellent boxer. Even better attraction.
Cotto’s unanimous-decision loss to Sadam Ali on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden – in effect, his home arena – will become a footnote in due course. The Puerto Rican star’s legacy had already been etched in stone.
Consider Cotto’s resume: six world titles in four divisions and victories over Zab Judah, Shane Mosley, Antonio Margarito and Sergio Martinez. He was arguably the best all-around fighter from his island nation since Wilfredo Benitez, even better than the less-versatile Felix Trinidad.
That said, I think his success was limited in some respects.
Cotto peaked more than a decade ago, when a close, but unanimous decision over a still-formidable Shane Mosley on November 5, 2007, capped a torrid run at 140 and then 147 pounds.
Two fights after Mosley, on July 26, 2008, he tasted defeat for the first time. Margarito beat him silly en route to an 11th-round technical knockout. (Margarito was later caught using doctored gloves before his fight with Mosley, raising speculation that he’d done the same against Cotto.)
Including that setback, Cotto (41-6, 33 knockouts) was only 9-6 in his final 15 fights. His losses: Margarito, Manny Pacquiao, Floyd Mayweather Jr., Austin Trout, Canelo Alvarez and Ali. And two of those victories – over Margarito in their rematch and Martinez – were over damaged opponents.
Outstanding career? Definitely. Great career? Debatable.
None of that is meant to disparage Cotto, who without question was one of the better fighters of his era and an obvious first-ballot choice for the International Boxing Hall of Fame. It simply helps illustrate the impact he made as an attraction: He remained a fan favorite in spite of his ups and downs and less-than-charismatic personality.
Why? He feared no one, facing at least five future Hall of Famers and one of the most-intimidating fighters of his generation (Margarito) twice. It seemed Cotto was in one big fight after another for almost 15 years.
And he seemingly always delivered an entertaining show, which is the most direct route into the hearts of boxing fans. Can you think of a boring Cotto fight?
That and that fact it was billed as his final fight are why 12,391 attended the fight at the Garden even though Ali, who had lost his only other major fight, was perceived as a relatively easy mark for a fighter of Cotto’s ability.
Cotto should be proud of his accomplishments, which – once again – rival those of all but a few of his contemporaries. He should be at least as proud of how he was perceived. The fans loved him.
BIGGEST WINNER II
Sadam Ali: Funny how boxing works.
Ali (26-1, 14 KOs) was a rising contender when he was outboxed and then stopped by Jessie Vargas on March 5, 2016. At that point, many dismissed the 2008 U.S. Olympian as just another amateur standout who would never excel as a pro.
Less than two years later Ali received a golden opportunity – and maybe a final chance – to change his life: A matchup with future Hall of Famer Miguel Cotto for Cotto’s WBO junior middleweight title, Ali’s first fight as a full-fledged 154-pounder.
And to the surprise of those doubters, he took advantage by winning on all three cards – 116-112, 115-113 and 115-113.
In retrospect, no one should’ve been shocked. Cotto is 37 and was fighting for the last time for a reason; he had slowed down to some degree. Just as important, Ali, 29, had the ability and quickness to exploit his elder’s vulnerabilities.
In short, the Brooklyn product is good fighter. And now he’ll have more opportunities to demonstrate on a big stage just how good he is.
Cotto’s age shouldn’t detract from Ali’s victory; he was a capable fighter until the end. Neither should the Puerto Rican’s injured biceps, which he says he suffered in the seventh round of the fight.
I always hope those who lose will keep quiet if they’re injured during the action. When an injury is mentioned publicly – as Cotto did – it puts at least somewhat of a damper on the winner’s night.
Ali didn’t deserve that. The bottom line is that he took full advantage of a great opportunity. He earned an important victory and everything it brings him.
Ali would have his hands full with the other three junior middleweight titleholders – Jarret Hurd (IBF), Erislandy Lara (WBA/IBO) and Jermell Charlo (WBC) – but would be competitive against any of them, particularly with his confidence soaring. A better immediate option for him might be Vargas if that fight can be made. Ali said post-fight on Saturday that he would’ve beaten Vargas had he met him in a rematch instead of Cotto. I’d like to see it. … David Price is determined if nothing else. The 6-foot-8 heavyweight was in intriguing prospect before he met Tony Thompson in 2013. However, after five knockout losses – including a seventh-round stoppage against Christian Hammer in February – the Liverpudlian ceased to be taken seriously. Price (22-4, 18 KOs) is still at it at 34, though. He outpointed someone named Kamil Sokolowski (4-12-2, 1 KO) over six rounds in yet another comeback fight Saturday near London. We’ll see if it leads to anything. … Boxing can be brutal even when you win easily. Ask Rey Vargas. The unbeaten WBC junior featherweight titleholder nearly pitched a shutout against Oscar Negrete (17-1, 7 KOs) on the Ali-Cotto card but had to battle through bad cuts over both eyes to do it. The taller Vargas (31-0, 22 KOs) gave a strong performance in spite of the blood and Negrete’s rough tactics but we won’t know how good Vargas is until he faces the next tier of opposition.