Under normal circumstances, the brutal fight that Miguel Cotto and Josh Clottey waged on the eve of the national Puerto Rican Day parade might have left fans clamoring for a rematch. Then again, with Manny Pacquiao sitting ringside, economics might prevail.
Overcoming a grisly early cut from an accidental headbutt and several ferocious rounds from Clottey, the gutsy Cotto fought to a narrow split decision Saturday night. He not only retained his WBO title inside a packed Madison Square Garden, he may have earned a big-money shot at Pacquiao, the reigning pound-for-pound king.
"The people have to wait until I rest a little bit," Cotto said, smiling through a face that was little more than a swollen mess.
"I think it's just rest now," Cotto said, "and after that I'll talk to the company."
With blood pouring down it from the fourth round on, the pride of Caguas and the roughly 800,000 New Yorkers who trace their roots to his island nation threw his arms up at the end of a close and exhilarating bout that left both fighters battered.
Referee Don Trella scored the fight 116-111 and John McKaie 115-112, both for Cotto, while Tom Miller had it 114-113 for Clottey. The Associated Press scored it 116-112 for Cotto.
"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."
Clottey was so devastated by the narrow loss that he screamed after the decision, "Oh no! This can't happen." Then he went to Top Rank promoter Bob Arum and said, "That's it, I quit, I'm done with boxing. I can't take it anymore."
Arum told Clottey that he fought "a magnificent fight and you have to continue."
Cotto doesn't exude the same kind of charisma of the great Puerto Rican fighters who came before him, champions such as Wilfredo Gomez and Felix Trinidad. But the soft-spoken Cotto still has a certain charm that seems to endear him to the 17,734 who poured out Saturday night in support.
The Garden was filled more than two hours before his fight went off, the red, white and blue flags flying above the multicolored seats of this mecca of boxing.
Cotto (34-1) got the fight going at his pace early, keeping his distance and trying to stay away from Clottey's signature body shots. Near the end of the first round, the champion landed a quick right hook that sent Clottey to the floor — a rare occurrence, if it's ever happened at all.
The Ghana native never appeared hurt, and the two spent most of the next two rounds jabbing at each other. With seconds to go in the third, though, Clottey trapped Cotto against the ropes and they clashed heads, opening a deep gash along the champion's left brow line. Referee Arthur Mercante Jr. gave the ringside physician extra time to examine it between rounds before allowing Cotto to continue.
"It got worse in the ninth and 10th rounds," physician Anthony Curreri said. "It started bleeding a lot more, but at the beginning of the round he'd go out every time and it'd be dry. But I'd tell him, 'We'll see how it goes.'"
With chants of "Cotto, Cotto" reverberating through the Garden, the gritty Puerto Rican wiped the blood from his eye and summoned the courage to keep on the attack.
"Guts, just guts" Arum said. "He could have taken the easy way out, because early on he was clearly ahead on points."
Cotto came out strong in the fifth round, and the two wound up boxing into the corner. When Cotto dove in to wrap his arms around Clottey (35-3), he spun him around and Clottey ended up falling face-first on the canvas, where he lay for several moments as Cotto stood calmly in a neutral corner.
The ringside doctor said Clottey hurt his right knee, and he seemed to be favoring it as he walked around. But after jogging and bouncing in place, Clottey elected to continue.
Turned out to be a poor choice.
Cotto had a big sixth round, trapping the challenger in the corner and forcing Mercante to yell "Josh, defend yourself!" And although Clottey had a few good moments, especially in the ninth round, Cotto asserted his immeasurable will during the championship rounds to seal the victory.
"They robbed me," Clottey said. "The winner of the fight is the one who's supposed to be fighting hardest. He was running and I was chasing. I threw the hardest punches. People said I'd lose the decision if it went to a decision, and it did. They robbed me."