Miguel Cotto won the fight against welterweight contender Joshua Clottey on Saturday night to retain his WBO title, but the fight wasn’t easy and, in many minds, not even conclusive.
Once Cotto (34-1) and Joshua Clottey (35-3) stepped into the ring, some of the last things we expected to happen are precisely what took place. It turned out to be a very awkward fight—and a just as bizarre split-decision in Cotto’s favor.
We expected some gargantuan blows to the head and body to do damage, but got the main portion of damage coming from an accidental headbutt in the third round that cut Cotto’s left eyebrow.
After that, we expected the fight to be called. Instead, we got numerous big swings of momentum and a full 12 rounds of action.
We expected blow after blow from flinging gloves and arms, but got shown a very admirable defensive exhibition from both fighters.
We expected some of those power punches to shove the fighters onto the mat, but instead only seen one surprising knockdown—Clottey falling to the mat from a Cotto jab (yes, jab) in the first round.
In the end, Cotto had done just enough, overcoming the blood dripping into his left eye and a strong momentum shift to Clottey in the middle rounds, to win the judges over.
"The cut made me fight harder," Cotto said, "but I felt like I was winning all the way."
But some, including Clottey, do not agree with the outcome.
After dropping Clottey in the first with a quick right jab, the momentum was clearly in the Puerto Rican’s favor. But the headbutt changed everything.
With blood flowing down Cotto’s face from then on, Clottey found his opportunities, starting a very strategic attack in the fifth round.
Taking advantage of Cotto’s cut, Clottey caught Cotto with overhand rights to the head and uppercuts to Cotto’s jaw throughout the middle rounds, ultimately winning several of those rounds, especially the seventh and eighth quite convincingly.
Judges John McKaie had Cotto winning the fight, 115-112, while Tom Miller had it 114-113 for Clottey. But the most intriguing score was referee Don Trella’s, who had the fight going 116-111 for Cotto—a score many of the broadcasters and those within Clottey’s camp found miserably suspicious.
"I was robbed. I want a rematch. They robbed me,” he said. “The winner of the fight is supposed to be the one who is fighting hardest. He was running and I was chasing him. I threw the hardest punches."
HBO’s Harold Lederman had the score 114-113 also for Cotto.
Perhaps adding even more drama was Cotto’s camp choosing not to force the ringside physician, Anthony Curreri, to stop the fight.
It would have been strategically a smart move, considering that after the fourth round, the fight must go to the scorecards should it be stopped due to accidental injuries.
After the fourth and perhaps fifth rounds, Cotto was ahead in all scorecards. Still, Cotto’s camp admirably decided to use their energy towards maintaining the fight.
However, some viewed it as an immature decision—an effect of having new head trainer Joe Santiago rather than long-time trainer and uncle Evangelista Cotto.
Cotto and his uncle/trainer had a very public falling-out last April, forcing Cotto to make the switch to Santiago.
Though some viewed the decision as inexperienced, others viewed Cotto continuing to come out courageous—perhaps swaying those necessary rounds in the scorecard.
"Guts, just guts," Top Rank promoter Bob Arum said. "He could have taken the easy way out, because early on he was clearly ahead on points."
But Cotto came out at every bell to make it interesting, though thanks to a great effort by Joshua Clottey, not the way he would’ve wished.
Still, on the eve of New York’s annual Puerto Rican Day parade, Cotto gave the packed Madison Square Garden full of Puerto Ricans what they came to see.
"You have to use your skills and you have to use your mind," Cotto said. "I understood if I'm moving the last four or five rounds, I'm going to get the victory, because I'm in front of the fight. If I keep working, I'm going to get the win."