This was not the way Miguel Cotto's legendary career was supposed to end. The 37-year-old Puerto Rican was supposed to go out victorious after 16 years of trading punches with the very best his generation had to offer, but in the end, the night belonged to his challenger.
Sadam Ali (26-1, 14 KOs) showed great speed, determination and skill in defeating Cotto (41-6, 33 KOs) by unanimous decision at Madison Square Garden in New York City on Saturday night.
The biggest win of his career by far, Ali earned the WBO world super welterweight title by playing spoiler and has certainly opened up great opportunities for himself going forward.
ESPN's Dan Rafael provided the cards from the upset:
Dan Rafael @danrafaelespn
We go to the scorecards: 115-113, 115-113, 116-112 all for Sadam Ali, who win a junior middleweight title and sends Cotto into retirement on a loss. https://t.co/VtfF4XcQjZ2017-12-3 05:10:33
Boxing Monthly's Graham Houston felt it was a fitting result:
Graham Houston @fightwriterone
Really good, smart, gutsy display from Ali. Deserved the win. I hope Cotto sticks with the decision to retire. He doesn't need any more of the Marquess of Queensberry (as Budd Schulberg might have said).2017-12-3 05:14:08
Cotto said he hurt his left biceps in the seventh round, per the HBO broadcast. Cotto also confirmed that it would be his last fight, and thanked the fans for supporting him, per Bad Left Hook:
Bad Left Hook @badlefthook
Cotto: “Thank you for supporting me at every moment. I’m so glad to call Madison Square Garden my home.”2017-12-3 05:15:56
Cotto, who won six titles in four different weight classes in his career, didn't make excuses for the outcome. He may have been on the wrong end of the scorecard, but his fans could hardly feel cheated. He treated them to yet another thrilling fight.
Ali looked confident and loose from the opening bell, showing quick hands and constantly bouncing around the ring. Cotto looked a bit awkward trying to corral Ali, and the latter made him pay in the second round with a crushing right to the jaw that clearly hurt Cotto.
Ali fell to the canvas not long after he staggered Cotto, but the referee rightly ruled it a slip.
Rappler.com's Ryan Songalia noted stopping right hands has been a problem for Cotto throughout his career:
Ryan Songalia @ryansongalia
Cotto has a lot of experience in these kinds of fights, and he isn't the kind of guy you can knock out with just one right hand. But just as he's been for much of his career, he's having trouble with stopping right hands.2017-12-3 04:25:10
HBO Boxing had a look at the key hit:
.@RealWorldKidAli's power surprises @RealMiguelCotto in Round 2. #CottoAli https://t.co/mjn2QftgNP2017-12-3 04:29:12
Ali's hand speed proved troublesome for Cotto. The 29-year-old Brooklynite proved his worth again in the fourth, slipping in a left hook and then later another right that each time had Cotto pausing to regain his senses.
Despite the night being built up as a chance for Cotto to ride into the sunset with a win, BoxingScene.com's Cliff Rold was OK with the emerging narrative:
Ali is busting Cotto hard. Be better for boxing if he wins tonight. Always better when what’s next is the question at the end.2017-12-3 04:33:50
After four brilliant rounds, Ali curiously took his foot off the gas, allowing Cotto to climb back into the fight. Cotto controlled the pace in the fifth round and then landed a crisp straight right hand in the sixth that sent Ali stumbling into the ropes.
Here's a look at the punch, per HBO Boxing:
REPLAY: @RealMiguelCotto lands a big shot in Round 6. #CottoAli https://t.co/AFGlaJmyUN2017-12-3 04:44:39
The sixth round shifted the momentum into Cotto's favor for the first time in the fight, but he didn't get to enjoy it for long. Ali stemmed the tide in the eighth round, finding the bounce in his legs again and not hesitating to let his hands go and trade punches with the fighter eight years his senior.
With Ali fighting on his own terms in the latter rounds, commentator Roy Jones Jr. noted that Cotto needed to earn the win in his farewell, rather than have it gifted to him, per Bad Left Hook:
Bad Left Hook @badlefthook
Cotto should have to actually win the fight to be called the winner of the fight, according to expert commentator Roy Jones. In boxing you have to have an expert explain that.2017-12-3 04:57:02
Perhaps sensing that the judges might gift Cotto a couple of rounds, Ali went for broke in the final two frames. He attacked Cotto from multiple angles and used his speed to throw multi-punch combos that left the aging prizefighter with little chance to retaliate.
In the end, Ali's performance was undeniable. Now that he's a world titleholder, Ali will surely get some high-profile opportunities in the near future.
As for Cotto, he went out with his head held up high and appeared content with everything he's done in the ring. Had he dominated Ali, one could imagine him perhaps getting the itch to take on a Canelo Alvarez or Gennady Golovkin, which was the initial plan.
However, this result showed that it might be better for him to hang up the gloves, with a great, entertaining Hall of Fame-worthy career to show for his efforts.