Miguel Cotto said this would be the final fight of his Hall of Fame career, win or lose.
Shockingly, and disappointingly to his legions of fans at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night, Cotto lost his farewell fight.
Former U.S. Olympian Sadam Ali, a huge underdog, came on strong in the second half of their 12-round title bout before 12,391 pro-Cotto fans at Madison Square Garden, not far from Ali’s Brooklyn home, and came away with a unanimous decision and, most important, Cotto’s WBO junior middleweight belt.
It was the biggest victory of Ali’s career by far as the 2008 Olympian improved to 26-1 with 14 KOs. It was his second title shot and first world championship.
Cotto, 37, from Caguas, Puerto Rico, whose family watched from ringside, finishes his career with a record of 41-6 with 33 KOs. He earned $750,000 for his final night’s work while Ali was guaranteed $600,000.
This was Cotto’s 10th career fight at the Garden, which he considers his second home, and only his second loss there. He lost to Austin Trout five years ago, almost to the day.
Ali, who won by scores of 115-113 twice and 116-112, looked to be the quicker and stronger fighter for much of the bout, and staggered and appeared to hurt Cotto several times. He landed 122 power punches to Cotto’s 108 overall, according to CompuBox statistics, and won the last four rounds on each of the judges’ scorecards.
He was overjoyed with the victory few thought could or would happen.
“I worked hard for it. I took advantage of a lot of my success in the past and this time I made sure I made it count,” an elated Ali said. “I want to thank Team Cotto for giving me this opportunity. They didn’t have to. They could have taken an easier fight. I’m really thankful right now.
By the seventh round, Ali said he knew he had to do something, “because I could have easily let it slip away. Cotto would have put the pressure on me and he would have dug in. So I had to stay strong mentally and physically.
“Good things happen to good people. I’ve been training since I was eight years old, this is my dream. I’m so happy to be here on HBO, and in my hometown, even though it didn’t feel like it because of the Cotto fans. But I’m just blessed.”
Cotto told HBO’s Max Kellerman afterwards that he injured, and possibly tore his left bicep in the seventh round. Ali took advantage of Cotto’s inability to consistently land his biggest weapon, his vaunted left hook, which has destroyed many fighters in past years.
“He has tremendous power and I just wanted to be smart,” Ali said. “At that time (seventh round) it was crunch time. It’s either I want it or I don’t want it.”
Cotto, who retires as the only four-division champion and six-time champion from Puerto Rico, felt good about his performance despite the loss.
“Something happened to my left bicep in the seventh round. I don’t want to make excuses, Sadam won the fight,” he said.
“It is my last fight. I am good, and I want to be happy in my home with my family. Thank you to all the fans. I am proud to call Madison Square Garden my second home. I had the opportunity to provide the best for my family because of the sport.”
In the co-main event, despite suffering nasty gashes over both eyes caused by accidental headbutts, WBC super bantamweight champion Rey Vargas (31-0, 22 KOs) defended his title a second time, rolling to a 12-round unanimous decision victory over a game Oscar Negrete (17-1, 7 KOs). The scores were 119-109 twice and 120-108.