Undeterred Alvarez cuts down Cotto

5/2/2010 - Boxing

LAS VEGAS -- Golden Boy Promotions president Oscar De La Hoya went to Mexico to personally sign 19-year-old Saul Alvarez in January, believing that he had a chance to become a major star. After the signing, De La Hoya hailed the move as "a historical day for Golden Boy."

Alvarez's popularity was growing steadily in Mexico, where he will continue to fight, but De La Hoya's vision was to also increase his profile in the United States.

So what better way to do that than by putting him in the co-feature on the year's biggest fight so far -- the Shane Mosley-Floyd Mayweather Jr. main event on Saturday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena?

It almost backfired.

Although Alvarez stopped Jose Miguel Cotto in the ninth round of a junior middleweight bout, it didn't look good early.

Cotto, the older brother of former two-division titleholder Miguel Cotto, badly rocked Alvarez in the opening round, staggering him with a left hook that sent him falling into the ropes, which held him up. It could have been ruled a knockdown by referee Tony Weeks.

Cotto hurt Alvarez again with several follow-up shots, including a flush right hand.

The Golden Boy brass must have had lumps in their throats at ringside.

But Alvarez, who turned pro at 15 with no amateur experience, rebounded to score a knockdown in the second round, nailing Cotto with a right hand. Cotto didn't go all the way down, but he spun around and touched his gloves to the mat to keep himself up.

From there, Alvarez (32-0-1, 24 KOs) remained in control thanks to his heavier punching and strong right hand. Alvarez finished a fading Cotto (31-2-1, 23 KOs) with an avalanche of hard right hands, forcing Weeks to step in and stop the fight at 2 minutes, 51 seconds.

Cotto, a 1996 Puerto Rican Olympian who twice fought for lightweight titles (drawing with Prawet Singwancha for a vacant belt and dropping a decision to Juan Diaz in 2006), showed a lot of heart, never going down during the finishing sequence.

"It was only a matter of time," Alvarez said. "I know the first round was a little scary but I gained my confidence as the rounds went on. Fighting in Vegas was a great atmosphere. I want to come here again. This is the first time Cotto has been stopped but it's because he's never fought anyone as tough as me."

• Former junior featherweight Daniel Ponce De Leon (39-2, 32 KOs) of Mexico turned back a stiff challenge from Detroit's Cornelius Lock (19-5-1, 12 KOs) to win a unanimous decision in a featherweight bout.

Ponce De Leon won his fifth consecutive fight since losing his 122-pound title to Juan Manuel Lopez via first-round knockout in June 2008 and later moving up in weight.

Ponce De Leon, a southpaw, shook off a cut over his left eye, which Lock opened with a series of left hands in the fourth round.

Lock had success in the middle rounds, but Ponce De Leon kept swinging and won 97-93 and 96-94 (twice). Lock made a spirited attempt for the knockout in the 10th round, rocking Ponce De Leon, but he couldn't get him off his feet.

• In a wild shootout, Las Vegas resident Said Ouali (27-3, 19 KOs), who is originally from Morocco, survived a quick, hard knockdown and withstood a rough follow-up attack to knock out Argentina's Hector Saldivia (31-1, 24 KOs) in the first round.

Saldivia rushed toward Ouali at the outset and knocked him down almost immediately with a chopping right hand. Ouali survived and was taking punishment when he landed a surprising left hand and dropped Saldivia.

Saldivia, making his U.S. debut, was hurt and couldn't survive. Ouali, who is with Mayweather Promotions, landed a right hand to knock him down again and when Saldivia got up, he was in bad shape. He wobbled across the ring to a corner and referee Russell Mora called it off at 1 minute, 47 seconds.

Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.