Miguel Cotto Proves He Belongs In With The Best; But So Does Joshua Clottey

By Tim Donaldson
Photos: "Sugar" Ray Bailey

Saturday night at Madison Square Garden might not have been exactly what Miguel Cotto’s fans had been hoping for. They had come to see Miguel Cotto defeat Joshua Clottey. Although Cotto won the split decision, it would be hard to call Clottey’s loss a defeat. Both fighters battled beyond what many fighters would have, Cotto with the cut over his left eye and Clottey with his knee after being thrown to the canvas. If the test of a truly great fighter is never quitting, then these two have passed that test.

The garden was packed with mostly the supporters of Miguel Cotto. Everywhere one looked, the Puerto Rican flag could be seen being displayed proudly. And the noise from Cotto’s fans was quite deafening. The noise only increased every time that Cotto threw a punch. Not that Clottey did not have his fans in attendance. The flag of Ghana could be seen throughout the arena also, just not as many. But as the fight progressed, Cotto’s fans seemed to lose some of their enthusiasm. And then, Clottey’s fans could be heard, shouting to their fighter and hoping to spur him on to victory.

But the real story was in the ring. There are fights, and then there are FIGHTS. This seems to be in the latter category. And what makes a great fight? Possibly, it is the fact that both fighters have something to prove. Miguel Cotto had to prove that he had gotten over his loss to Antonio Margarito. Joshua Clottey had to prove that he belonged in the ring with Miguel Cotto. Clottey had stated that he wanted this fight because beating Cotto would prove that he belonged at the top.

From the beginning, it was an all out battle. The judges in the fight did not have an easy job, but isn’t that what they get paid for anyway. The first round would have been very difficult to score except for the fact that Cotto knocked Clottey down. Now maybe Cotto caught Clottey off balance, and maybe it was only a flash knock down, but nonetheless, Cotto knocked Clottey down. Clottey seemed to have learned from this, not allowing anything like this to happen again. Clottey fought a very defensive fight throughout, keeping his hands up tight and leaving only a small space for Cotto to slip in his jab.

With lesser fighters, the third round might have been a deciding round. Clottey opened up a good size cut above the left eye of Cotto after an accidental head butt. The blood became a problem throughout the rest of the fight, and Cotto could be seen throughout the fight trying to wipe the blood away. And that cut gave Clottey a definite advantage because Cotto was having trouble seeing Clottey’s right hand. Now Cotto could have said that he could not continue. If he did that before the end of the fourth round, there would have been no decision rendered. Or he could have said that he could not continue after the sixth round. He seemed to have the advantage in the fight up until that point, and he would have had a good chance winning the decision. But Cotto chose to fight on.

The pivotal point for Clottey came in the fifth round. Clottey was in control of the round. He landed several good shots to Cotto’s head, and Cotto could be seen shaking it off. But then, they tangled in the corner. Cotto, wanting to continue to fight and not wait for the referee to break them up, tried to push Clottey off but ended up tossing him to the ground. It looked like something more from the MMA than professional boxing. It was obvious from the beginning that Clottey was hurt. He took his time getting up. The referee had Clottey walk it off, and the fight was allowed to continue.

This accident seemed to give momentum to Cotto. In the sixth round, Cotto clearly dominated. He backed Clottey around the ring until he trapped him in the corner. Clottey went into a defensive stance, arms up and covering his face. He stayed like that for most of the round. Clottey was hurt, and Cotto knew it. Again, this was something that could have changed the whole dynamic of the fight. But Clottey battled back. And the next four rounds, Clottey was fighting more like he was in the beginning of the fight. The seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth rounds were all rounds dominated by Clottey.

During all of those rounds, Cotto continued to battle not only Clottey but also the blood dripping down from his eye. The end of the tenth round saw another shift in the momentum of the fight. Clottey spent most of the round chasing Cotto around the ring, but at the end of the round, Cotto landed two powerful left hooks in response to punches thrown by Clottey. Cotto in the eleventh began to control the pace of the fight. He would move in, throw a combination, and then move out. He was taking away Clottey’s ability to score against him. The twelfth round saw much of the same thing, with the exception of Cotto hitting Clottey in the back of the head and landing a low blow. By this time the fight was basically over. And although Clottey complained to the ref, no point was taken from Cotto. Not that it would have mattered, as the judges scoring would show.

It was a tense few moments until the decision was read. Clottey was celebrating in the ring; Cotto, as well, raised his hands in victory. Cotto’s fans were asking who won, trying to get a glimpse as to what the outcome would be. It came down to a split decision. In a fight this close, you can expect that sort of thing. Judge Don Trella scored the fight 116-111 for Cotto. Judge Tom Miller scored the fight 114-113 for Clottey. And Judge John McKaie scored the fight 115-112. Cotto narrowly won the fight.

Clottey called for a rematch almost as soon as the decision was read. Does he deserve the rematch? Maybe. He fought a hard fight and kept the pressure on Cotto. Does Cotto deserve the victory? Yes. He fought a tough fight, a fight that he was handicapped in early by a head butt.