Following what has become a near-annual tradition, the pride of Caguas fought at Madison Square Garden the night before the parade and won, beating Joshua Clottey in a narrow split decision to the delight of thousands of flag-waving Puerto Rican fans.
The win was hard earned, however, and left many, including a disappointed Clottey, who seemed to dominate the fight, wondering if Cotto didn’t win on home-field advantage alone.
With the victory Cotto (34-1), retained his WBO welterweight title and, perhaps most importantly, a shot at facing pound-for-pound king Manny Pacquiao, who watched the fight alongside promoter Bob Arum, who promotes both boxers. Arum said afterwards he hopes to have them fight soon.
Amped by the crowd, Cotto came out strong, knocking Clottey (35-3) to the floor with a hard right hook in the closing seconds of the first round. But Clottey, who hails from Ghana, controlled the fight the rest of the way.
Exhibiting a stubborn aggressiveness, and surprisingly strong defensive skills, Clottey set the tempo after the first round, cutting the ring off and driving the champion to the ropes, where he stayed for much of the fight.
At the end of the third the two head butted inadvertently and a gash was opened over Cotton’s left eye, a cut that continued to bleed as the fight wore on. Showing signs of wear, and in desperate need of winning a round, the gutsy Cotto responded in the fifth and again in the eighth by trapping Clottey in a neutral corner, but was unable both times to finish the challenger.
By the later rounds Clottey emerged as the dominant fighter, to the surprise of the 17,000-plus fans who packed the world’s most famous arena. The Ghana native landed more than twice as many impact punches, but still couldn’t take Cotto down, though he gave him a beating.
After the fight Cotto appeared swollen-faced and exhausted, while an unmarked, furious Clottey fumed that he had been robbed.
"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,” Clottey said. “They robbed me."