By Benjamin Block
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Sadam Ali’s unexpected unanimous decision victory over Miguel Cotto on Saturday night was met with zero controversy. Ali was quicker, stronger and more accurate. He was the superior fighter. Yet while Ali put the boxing world on notice with the biggest win of his career, on this particular night, it didn’t matter.
Part of him knew it, too.
“I’m so happy to be here … in my hometown, even though it didn’t feel like it because of the Cotto fans,” Ali told HBO’s Max Kellerman in his postfight interview at Madison Square Garden.
The more than 12,000 fans in attendance listened patiently and respectfully to the newly minted junior middleweight world champion, but they lingered so they could hear from Cotto one last time.
And for most Cotto fans — in the arena and everywhere around the world — that was the closure that they sought.
Usurped of his WBO championship belt, with only a visibly mangled left biceps to show for his effort, an injury Cotto said he suffered in the seventh round, the defeated champion addressed the crowd.
“To all of you guys, thank you for supporting me at every moment, at every opportunity,” Cotto said, acknowledging the Garden as “my home.”
He looked tired, but sounded content.
The loss, albeit surprising, didn’t appear to weigh too heavily on the four-division champion, his family or his loyal fans.
It was just the sixth defeat of a Hall of Fame-worthy 16-year career, which spawned 41 wins.
Cotto (41-6, 33 KOs) fought in the Garden 10 times, winning eight. Yet the man who outboxed Shane Mosley in 2007 and beat down Antonio Margarito in 2011 to avenge the crooked loss to him in 2008, didn’t enter the ring Saturday night.
However, those hallmark victories will live on forever in the rafters of Madison Square Garden. They’ll serve as a benchmark for every future Puerto Rican fighter who steps onto the canvas inside the “World’s Most Famous Arena.”
Conversely, Cotto’s losses to Floyd Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao and Canelo Alvarez equally helped endear him to boxing fans, as beating Cotto was arguably the toughest-earned win for each of those three champions.
Cotto always gave max effort, and he likely gifted boxing with one of the best left hooks to the body that the sport has ever seen.
Even though it became apparent early on in Saturday’s fight that it would not be the walk-through bout that he or his fans anticipated, the 37-year-old champion fought hard, and with virtually one arm for the second half of the fight.
Ali (26-1, 14 KOs) wobbled Cotto in the second round with a pair of overhand rights, but Cotto countered in the middle rounds with a couple mean left hooks to Ali’s body, and was even able to expose Ali a few times when he caught him standing straight up. Ultimately, Cotto didn’t have the foot and hand speed to hurt Ali.
Astonishingly, Ali never backed up any of his initial shots that stung Cotto, yet he got away with not taking advantage of those opportunities. The 29-year-old held a 122-108 edge over Cotto in power punches landed, which proved to be a big difference in the outcome.
And credit the judges that levied the 115-113, 115-113, 116-112 unanimous decision in favor of Ali, because they easily could have succumbed to outside pressures and given Cotto the decision in his retirement fight.
Cotto may not have won his last fight on his terms, but he leaves a sport that helped him provide for his family, on his own terms.
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