Sunday, July 27, 2008 | 1:01 a.m.
- Take Five: Cotto vs. Margarito, ‘The Battle’ (7-26-2008)
- Ron Kantowski ﬁnds 32 reasons to watch Saturday’s fight (7-26-2008)
- Boxing: Cotto vs. Margarito
As the sea of people clad in green, red and white flooded the MGM Grand casino Saturday night – waving flags from their homeland and filling the already electric air with chants of ME-XI-C-O — one thing was crystal clear: There’s a new champ in town.
Antonio Margarito handed Miguel Cotto the first loss of his career by stopping the World Boxing Association’s welterweight champ in 11 rounds behind a flurry of punches in a battle that lived up to its promotion as the "fight of the year."
“I told my corner I would wear him down and then knock him out,” said Margarito, the Mexican star who dropped Cotto twice in the 11th round before Cotto’s corner threw in the towel in front of a frenzied crowd of 10,477.
“The game plan was to come out strong and to wear him down and knock him out. I got him with body shots, and then I hit him in the head, and then knocked him out,” said Margarito (37-5, 27 KOs), who claimed his third welterweight championship.
Cotto (32-1) — who did not talk at the post-fight media session, but instead headed to the hospital to get several stitches — praised Margarito immediately after the fight.
“This night was Margarito’s night,” said Cotto, who failed for the first time in five title defenses. “He did his job better than I did.
“Life continues. It’s not over for me. I am very proud and very happy I was able to give the fans a great fight.”
So too was promoter Bob Arum, whose company, Top Rank, represents both fighters.
“Finally, we had a fight that lived up to the billing … it doesn’t get better than that,” he said.
“I just thought he (Margarito) became like an express train that couldn’t be stopped,” Arum said. “Cotto was hitting him with tremendous punches and they were having no effect at all. Finally, the express train ran him over.”
But that wasn’t the case in the early rounds. To the dismay of the partisan crowd, Cotto won four of the first five rounds on two of the three judges’ scorecards, thanks to the Puerto Rican’s precision timing and confident punch combinations.
The storyline that everyone hoped would continue in the long line of epic Mexican-Puerto Rican battles exploded in the second round to the delight of fans on each side, as both fighters landed several big blows.
Cotto took control of the middle rounds, jabbing through Margarito’s defense and often repositioning himself.
Margarito said he saw the fight changing in the sixth round -– but the momentum really twisted in the seventh when the taller Margarito landed a series of combinations that bloodied Cotto’s lip and sent him against the ropes.
“At about the sixth round I felt my pressure and punches were doing some injury to Cotto,” Margarito said. “I always said that Cotto was tough and he did hit hard, but he never hurt me.”
Cotto won the eighth round on judge Dave Moretti’s card, but the adrenaline of a crowd that began a Spanish cheer of “Yes you can!” started to carry Margarito.
His constant charges caught Cotto off guard several times over the next three rounds.
Margarito, who threw 987 punches to Cotto’s 655, dropped Cotto to the canvas 80 seconds into the 11th round, and actually caught him with a violent punch when he was down. A wobbly Cotto got back to his feet, but Margarito chased him down and unloaded another shower of punches that ended the prizefighter’s perfect record.
“Slowly, the tornado rumbled and I told my corner that the knockout would come, and the knockout came,” said Margarito, nicknamed the “Tijuana Tornado.”
Arum said there were plenty of possible future matchups for his two top-notched welterweights –- including a possible rematch.
But Margarito, who has longed been ducked by same of the big-name welterweights, said he has his eyes on another Mexican fighter in particular -- Oscar De La Hoya.
“Oscar De La Hoya is one of the best,” Margarito said. “If he comes through with his promise, we can give Mexicans a true battle.”
But on this night, Margarito showed his country that he was the man of the hour.
“I did say I would take this back to Mexico,” said a smiling Margarito, peeking out to the media behind his dark, post-fight shades.