- Dan Rafael, Boxing
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LAS VEGAS -- Well, it lived up to its billing, didn't it? Boxing fans, with sky-high expectations for the fight between Antonio Margarito and Miguel Cotto, appropriately named "The Battle" by promoter Top Rank, got exactly what they asked for: A riveting slugfest with a dramatic ending that left the throbbing crowd of 10,477 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in ecstasy.
And when it was over, it was Margarito, the underdog, who was the new welterweight champion after knocking Cotto down twice in the 11th round before his trainer and uncle, Evangelista Cotto, climbed the steps and waived a white towel in resignation to end a sensational fight Saturday night.
Moments after the fight had ended, Mexican television broadcasters interviewed Margarito in the ring in a scene that said it all: The Tijuana Tornado was smiling ear to ear with his arms draped over his country's greatest champion, Julio Cesar Chavez.
Margarito, 30, had idolized Chavez since meeting him at a boxing match in Mexico when he was a youth. Now, he can stand by his side and belong there.
Margarito won a welterweight title for the third time and validated his claims, as well as those of his team and Top Rank's Bob Arum. For years, they had pounded home the same message: Margarito was the most-avoided fighter in boxing.
Even Floyd Mayweather Jr. once turned down $8 million to fight him. Now, we can see why.
The stars in the loaded 147-pound division will need to see him if they want to be called the best.
"He's a guy everyone has ducked for years, and now he's here saying, 'Come and get me,'" Arum said.
Cotto was one of the few fighters willing to face Margarito, and it looked like a smart move early in the fight. Cotto was faster and busier, and was tagging Margarito with relative ease. But Margarito kept on trucking, never giving up, never giving in.
He was a relentless force, one Arum described perfectly.
"I really thought the way Miguel was beating him to the punch early, he was going to slow him down and take him out," Arum said. "It didn't work out that way for him. Margarito was like a freight train going downhill until it finally ran him over."
Patience eventually brought victory for the Mexican. "In training camp, we worked on pressure and working behind the jab," said Sergio Diaz, Margarito's co-manager. "We knew Cotto was a better boxer and we knew we were the better puncher, so our goal was to break him down."
With the strong Mexican contingent cheering his every move, Margarito said the fight went the way he figured it would go.
"I trusted my preparation," he said. "Obviously, Cotto is a very strong fighter. Slowly, the tornado rumbled. I told my corner I would wear him down and then knock him out. He never hurt me. That was the game plan: to come out early, be strong and wear him down. I hit him with body shots, I hit him in the head and then I knocked him out."
Cotto, 27, who was making his fifth title defense, had been in control early with his deft counterpunching and fast combinations, but Margarito kept stalking forward.
"In the sixth round, I could feel him getting weaker and I was getting stronger, and I knew it was my time," he said.
Sure enough, Margarito dominated the scorecards of the final six rounds. He led 96-94 on two cards and it was 95-95 on the third when he made the judges irrelevant.
It was obvious that Margarito was coming on when he landed an uppercut in the seventh round and Cotto staggered and had to hold on. As the crowd went wild, Margarito was landing right hands. Cotto, when he finally got away from him, began spitting blood onto the canvas.
Finally, in the 11th round, Margarito's freight train arrived at the station. He rocked Cotto with a combination, forcing him to smartly take a knee.
Cotto was in bad shape, and Margarito knocked him down again on the other side of the ring. When he rose to take referee Kenny Bayless' count, Evangelista Cotto climbed up onto the ring apron.
The fight of the year candidate certainly put itself into the pantheon of memorable matches between Puerto Rican and Mexican fighters.
You surely can add it to the list of such fights as Wilfredo Gomez-Carlos Zarate, Salvador Sanchez-Gomez, Gomez-Lupe Pintor and Chavez-Edwin "Chapo" Rosario. Margarito-Cotto did the rivalry proud.
It did boxing proud.
How good was it? Bayless said it was the best fight he'd ever been in the ring for, that it surpassed Manny Pacquiao-Erik Morales II.
"Margarito was just a strong and determined fighter tonight," Bayless said. "It's the best fight I've ever done. They started out throwing power punches and they never stopped. They were throwing bombs and they never stopped."
Right after the fight, Arum said Margarito (37-5, 27 KOs) had come a long way. "Now, he is in a position where he has come this far, so determined, and now is his time to shine and make some money," Arum said. "We'll see what the best options are out there."
Arum had been negotiating a Dec. 6 fight between Cotto (32-1, 26 KOs) and Oscar De La Hoya, who plans to retire after his next fight.
That's out the window now, but Margarito has a good idea.
"Oscar De La Hoya is one of the best," he said. "We can give Mexicans a true battle."
Margarito and Cotto gave all boxing fans a true battle.
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.
Antonio Margarito and Miguel Cotto gave fight fans what they wanted -- a riveting slugfest with a dramatic ending, writes Dan Rafael.