Cotto finally puts ghosts behind him

6/17/2009 - Boxing

NEW YORK -- Only Miguel Cotto will know the psychological toll that his 11th-round knockout loss to Antonio Margarito took on him.

Of course, there must have been dark days and self-doubt that followed that July 2008 loss, the only one of Cotto's career.

But whatever damage was done, mentally at least, Cotto certainly appears to have gotten past it, or at least tucked it far enough into the back of his mind to carry on with business as usual.

When again faced with a rough, tough opponent, this time former titlist Joshua Clottey, Cotto didn't waver. Not even when he suffered a brutal cut over his left eye because of a third-round accidental head butt.

Cotto battled through the adversity and the blood streaming down his face to pull out a hard-fought split decision to retain his welterweight title at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night.

The outcome sent the vast majority of the crowd of 17,734 home with a smile. It was an overwhelmingly Puerto Rican crowd rooting for its favorite son, Cotto, on the eve of the National Puerto Rican Day Parade.

It was hard not to admire the determination that Cotto showed, especially when you think about the way he went out against Margarito -- taking a knee twice and resigning.

Not so against Clottey, who pressed him hard all night.

"Guts, guts, guts," Top Rank promoter Bob Arum said of Cotto. "I think that Clottey was very good, and remember, Cotto had to fight with adversity almost the entire fight because of the cut. He could have taken the easy way out because he was clearly ahead on points early on, but they worked hard to close the cut. I saw a lot of rounds he couldn't really collect himself because the blood was coming into his eye, but he proved his heart, at least to me. That was a gutty performance against a strong son of gun he couldn't really hurt."

Clottey was disgusted with the decision, threatening to retire and storming from the ring.

"I was robbed, and I want a rematch," said Clottey, who had given up an alphabet title to facilitate the fight. "They robbed me. He was running, and I was chasing him. I threw the hardest punches. People were saying I would lose a decision if it went to a decision, and I did."

Cotto (34-1, 27 KOs) is in for a megafight next. Arum has dreams of matching him in the fall with his other superstar, pound-for-pound king and junior welterweight champ Manny Pacquiao, who was ringside.

"This fight showed me that Cotto and Pacquiao is a dead-even fight," Arum said. "I think it's a very competitive fight. Cotto-Pacquiao is the fight I want to make. It's the fight I really want to make."

It certainly is possible, unless a Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather Jr. fight materializes for the fall.

But Cotto and Arum have their minds on another fight: a rematch with Margarito, who figures to eventually return from having his license revoked in the aftermath of being caught trying to fight Shane Mosley with loaded hand wraps in January. Mosley went on to knock out Margarito, but a revenge fight for Cotto still would be big.

"A Margarito-Cotto rematch would be a huge fight," Arum said.

Said Cotto, "The Margarito fight is a possibility when he comes back after his suspension. I will take him on. But, like always, I want to fight the best, so whoever is out there and willing, I am here."

Clottey (35-3, 21 KOs), a Ghana native who lives in the Bronx, sure was willing. Cotto scored a flash knockdown at the end of the first round with a left jab, but he was unhurt. However, it set the tone for a very good, physical fight.

There was the third round, when an accidental head butt tore open a brutal cut across Cotto's left eyebrow just before the end bell rang.

There was a bit of pro wrestling in the fifth, when Cotto was lucky that referee Arthur Mercante Jr. didn't disqualify him after he body slammed Clottey to the canvas. Clottey had moved inside for a clinch, but Cotto lifted him and threw him down virtually face-first.

Clottey appeared to be in pain and was slow to get up after Mercante called time. When Clottey made it to his feet, he was favoring his right knee.

"I think I have a nerve problem," Clottey said. "It bothered me for the rest of the fight."

Cotto had a massive sixth round, trapping Clottey in his own corner and teeing off for more than a minute. He unloaded punch after punch with both hands. Although Clottey blocked many shots with a tight guard, many of them landed. Cotto finished the round having landed 35 of 95 blows (37 percent).

Many of the remaining rounds were close, and when it was over, judge Don Trella (116-111) and John McKaie (115-112) scored the bout for Cotto, while Tom Miller had it for Clottey (114-113). ESPN.com had it 116-111 for Cotto.

Clottey was incensed with the scoring.

"They robbed me," he said. "116-111, who could watch that fight and say they scored it like that?"

Said Arum, "I told him, 'Josh, you fought a great fight. It doesn't help to be a sore loser. Be a good sportsman, and we'll bring you back in a big fight. You can't criticize the result.

"I would put Clottey in with Paul Williams any day. I think Clottey will run him out of the ring. He'd certainly beat [titleholder] Andre Berto. I'd put him in with Shane Mosley also, but that's a much more difficult fight because Shane is such a good boxer."

Arum will try to soothe Clottey and will make big plans for Cotto, who, regardless of what comes next, had to be satisfied with his gutsy performance.

"I had to box with all the stuff coming out of my eye," said Cotto, who had claimed a vacant belt against Michael Jennings, a low-level opponent, at the Garden in February. "I couldn't see very well the last few rounds. He did hit me with a lot of good punches. The cut made the fight more difficult, but I felt I was winning throughout the fight."

And somewhere inside his head, he laid a lot of demons to rest.

Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.