ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- Miguel Cotto had been rocked, dropped in the second round and badly hurt several times. But he never stopped swinging.
He dropped Ricardo Torres four times, the last time for good in the seventh round with a flush left uppercut to retain his junior welterweight title in a sensational brawl Saturday night at Boardwalk Hall.
The fight was the main undercard bout on the card headlined by the Wladimir Klitschko-Samuel Peter heavyweight eliminator. But Cotto (25-0, 21 KOs) and Torres (28-1) gave the crowd plenty to cheer about, exchanging heavy punches and sizzling exchanges.
Cotto started fast, dropping Torres with a counter left hook midway through the opening round. But perhaps thinking he had Torres ready to go, Cotto got careless and left himself wide open for a Torres left that wobbled him.
That was just the start of a wild fight.
Torres, of Colombia, battered Cotto around the ring for the first half of the second round, finally knocking him down after landing at least a dozen punches, including a flush left uppercut that sent Cotto sagging into the ropes. Although Cotto was hurt badly and staggering around the ring, he got in a left hand that hurt Torres as the explosive round came to an end.
It was the first time as a professional or amateur that Cotto had been knocked down.
"I didn't expect it to be so tough and to go back and forth like it did," Cotto said.
"I'm glad people saw that I can take a punch and fight back. All the time I was thinking I had to win the fight no matter how. I didn't care how I won, I had to win."
Said Torres: "I had him hurt and I couldn't put him away."
In the third, Cotto was warned twice for borderline low blows as he continued to invest in body punching. It paid off in the fourth as he landed to the pit of Torres' belly, dropping him to all fours with about a minute remaining in the round.
Just when it appeared that Cotto was beginning to wear Torres down, the Colombian roared back in the fifth. He wobbled Cotto with a right uppercut. But Cotto still had enough of his senses that he was able to hold and move the rest of the round to stay away from Torres' big shots.
"Later in the fight he appeared very tired and he got me again," said Cotto, a 2000 Puerto Rican Olympian.
Cotto rebounded again in the sixth. After a slow round compared to the wild action of the previous rounds, Cotto landed a right hand that dumped Torres to his knees in the middle of the ring. He got up quickly but the round ended.
That set the stage for the seventh when a Cotto left uppercut felled Torres in the corner on all fours, and referee Dave Fields counted him out at 1:52.
Cotto fell to his knees and looked skyward after the toughest fight of his career. He had been hurt and nearly knocked down before, but this was by far his roughest night.
"Now I've been through all that a great fighter must go through," Cotto said. "All the adversity inside the ring, and I still won the fight."
Cotto was familiar with Torres, too. He defeated him in a 2000 amateur bout and sparred three rounds with him 16 months ago.
He hadn't anticipated facing his mandatory challenger until December, but the fight was pushed up a few months when original opponent Gianluca Branco suffered a hand injury and Torres replaced him on about three weeks' notice.
Cotto still is expected to fight again in December, hoping to set up a big 2006, when he hopes to face the other stars of the 140-pound division, recognized champ Kostya Tszyu and title holder Floyd Mayweather, the pound-for-pound king.
In other undercard fights:
" Junior welterweight Kendall Holt (20-1), from nearby Patterson, N.J., easily outpointed Vladimir Khodokovski (12-8-2) of Ukraine. Although the judges scored it 99-92, 98-92 and 97-93 for Holt, he seemed to have some trouble with Khodokovski's southpaw style.
Holt essentially was auditioning for an eventual shot against Cotto. Holt had been considered as a potential opponent for Cotto on Saturday night after Branco fell out, but Torres got the fight instead.
Promoter Bob Arum said he would consider Holt for Cotto in a December fight in Puerto Rico.
" Former heavyweight contender Henry Akinwande (47-2-1, 30 KOs), best known the excessive clutching that led to a disqualification loss in a title fight to Lennox Lewis in 1997, still is plugging away. He blew out journeyman Tipton Walker (13-12-1) in the second round.
Akinwande scored two knockdowns and cut Walker over the left eye before the referee finally halted the overwhelming mismatch.
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com