In what was unquestionably the fight of the year in this reporter's eyes, Antonio Margarito stopped Miguel Cotto in the 11th round tonight at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas when Cotto's corner threw in the towel, saving their very injured fighter from absorbing any more of the cruel and unusual punishment that Margarito was dishing out. With the victory, the Mexican star claimed the WBA 147-pound title.
It was a tremendous turn-around in a fight that essentially had two chapters. For the first five rounds of the contest, Cotto looked untouchable, boxing effortlessly from the outside and dominating Margarito with breakneck combinations and creative mobility. At the end of the fifth, Cotto went all Willie Pep on Margo, landing a furious series of blows and then evading maybe five straight shots in the corner with head-bobbing and upper-body movement.
But it must be said here and forever that Tony Margarito has one of the most rock-solid chins the fight game has ever seen. Though Cotto landed head-snapping shot after head-snapping shot, Margarito walked through them as if he was being gently slapped in a light sparring session. In the sixth round, the toll of Margarito’s constant, unflappable pressure began to tell upon Cotto. On my scorecard, it was the first round that Margarito won in the fight, but it was also a visible turning point, the moment at which it became clear that Cotto’s inability to hurt Margarito could ultimately turn out to be the story of the fight.
And so it was. In the seventh round, Margarito hurt a clearly exhausted Cotto for the first time and the Puerto Rican had to hold on for dear life in the final seconds of the round. Cotto was able to seize back the upper hand in the eighth with a brilliant boxing performance, but even then a lot of the starch had gone out of his shots and it was only a matter of time before Margarito hunted him down. At that point it seemed like Cotto’s only chance to win out on points was to get on his bicycle and box his way around the perimeter of the ring.
Margarito, however, did not give him an inch to breathe, and at the end of the ninth, he found the mark with a brutal uppercut that sent Cotto reeling across the ring. Cotto barely made it out of the round, and staggered to his corner swollen, bloodied, very near finished. In the tenth, he came out boxing, but as soon as Margarito connected with a few body shots, Cotto wilted. He took a knee in the corner under the force of a Margarito onslaught, and seconds later, as he stumbled to the opposite corner with referee Kenny Bayless watching closely, Cotto’s corner mercifully stopped the fight.
It was an unbelievable sporting spectacle, a fighter who seemed completely outclassed in the beginning of a fight biding his time and eating untold number of clean, sweat-spraying shots before turning everything around and knocking his man out on pure determination. I’ve never seen a fight before in my life that was so completely won by one man’s chin. Cotto hit Margarito with thirty, forty punches in this fight that would have knocked down any other man in his division. Margarito, however, seemed to not even feel them. In the end, it was Cotto who felt Margo’s power. Now, well, what else is there to do but to wait for the inevitable rematch? It simply has to happen, because this was a fight that truly hearkened to the very best that boxing can be.â†µ
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