After more than three years, and a litany of conjecture, Miguel Cotto evened the score with Antonio Margarito at Madison Square Garden in New York. The fight, slightly anti-climactic when compared to the circus like lead-in that dominated boxing headlines for months, ended after nine rounds, stopped on the insistence of the ringside physician, with Margarito’s much discussed right eye swollen tightly shut.
The raucous, sell-out crowd, was heavily behind the Puerto Rican star,who countered and cleverly moved his way through the tense contest. At times, it looked easy; at other moments, it appeared that Margarito’s pressure might be shifting the battle, though at no point did the Mexican brawler gain the upper hand, and had the bout been allowed to continue, it appeared Cotto was well on his way towards a hard-earned decision victory.
The tone was set right from the start, with Cotto turning on his heels after the final instructions, unwilling to acknowledge his previous conqueror with the customary touching of gloves. Determined as he was defiant, Cotto started fast and confidently. Before the fight was a minute old, he had established a sharp left jab, while bringing his hook and right hand into play, peppering Margarito’s vulnerable visage with several clean blows, while successfully dancing away from his slower opponent.
In the second round, Cotto, moving steadily to his left, as he did for much of the night, continued to have his way, stopping and blasting forth with authority, rocking his pursuer repeatedly with both hands, while turning nicely away from pressure. Hammered with heavy leather during the frenetic following session, a grinning Margarito, playing the villain to full effect with mocking facial gestures, was able to break through at times, landing hooks to the body and cuffing right hands. The successes, however, were tempered by a cut suffered early in the round, opened by a glancing Cotto jab. The wound, just above the Mexican’s surgically repaired right eye, would ultimately play a key role in bringing about the contest’s conclusion.
Margarito, now 38-8-0-1 (27), pressed hard in the fourth, and there were times when the battle was starting to look like the first meeting, with body shots and right hands landing, but Cotto took the bruising well. Rather than beat a steady retreat under the duress, Cotto, 37-2 (30), picked his spots to stand his ground and fired back strongly, even pushing Margarito, 152 1/2, backward, while honing in on the damaged eye with hooks.
Back on his toes for the relatively quiet fifth session, Cotto limited exchanges by moving along the perimeter, turning away from trouble, and occasionally tying Margarito up. The battle heated up over the next three minutes, with both fighters having their moments in a fierce sixth session. During that stanza, Cotto, 152 1/4, scored early, though gave ground late, when the bigger man started to close the gap once more, hooking to the body, and catching Cotto with occasional right hands and short uppercuts.
The seventh and eighth rounds, so crucial in the first bout, when the scales tipped firmly in Margarito’s favor, were a different story on this night. Remaining composed, Cotto used lateral movement to good effect, but also confidently held his own on the inside, where he tied up Margarito, 33, and smothered his forward march. He also took some solid shots well, eating a hard right hand, and left uppercut, early in the seventh, only to respond by walking Margarito backward to the center of the ring, and blasting back with a combination.
By the end of the eighth in Las Vegas, Cotto’s body, his face, his energy, were starting to betray him, but on this night at the Garden, Cotto, 31, remained strong, light on his feet, and forceful with his return fire. Margarito, impervious to damage three years earlier, now sported an eye, once battered at the hands of Manny Pacquiao, almost swollen shut by Cotto’s blows.
Before the ninth had started, a check was made of the troublesome optic, with Margarito getting the go-ahead to keep fighting. But after another three minutes, a further inspection by the ringside physician ended the battle amid much protest, with Margarito desperately wanting the opportunity to continue. There were no handshakes, or conciliatory words spoken in the post-fight interviews. Each man remained defiant. Cotto, stoic, proud and unforgiving; Margarito, dismissive of the result and his opponent, believing another three rounds would have changed his destiny.