(Miguel Cotto revels in his hard fought win over Ricardo Torres; photo credit: AP)
When Bernard Hopkins effectively ended Felix Trinidad’s run as a world class fighter with an emphatic stoppage in 2001, a sort of vacuum of power was created in Puerto Rican boxing. Era after era, Puerto Rico essentially overachieved in the sport despite simply not being home to that many people.
Carlos Ortiz and “Chegui” Torres paved the way for Wilfred Benitez, Esteban de Jesus and Wilfredo Gomez, who in turn saw Edwin Rosario and Hector Camacho climb the tangled vines of contender-ship and beyond. Felix Trinidad was the first Puerto Rican to demand the eyes, ears and respect of his people so completely in years, a fame cemented by defeating Camacho himself. And Bernard Hopkins took that away.
After a fighter named Alex Trujillo faltered on his way into the “next Felix Trinidad” position, Top Rank Promotions appeared to put more eggs in the Miguel Cotto basket. A potent body attack and destructive style at junior welterweight quickly made him a favorite among expensive, television-friendly prospects despite a few spotty showings; a dismantling of character Carlos Maussa was followed by getting rocked in wins over Lovemore N’dou and Victoriano Sosa, then wins over Kelson Pinto and Randall Bailey led to getting chin checked again, this time by DeMarcus Corley.
Somewhere along the way, Cotto had picked up the WBO belt at 140 pounds, which despite the nonsensical rubbish belts often come with, also meant getting paired up with dangerous unknown quantities like Colombian Ricardo Torres. A record of 28-0 (26 KO) was about all anyone knew of Torres going into the Sept., 2005 bout, and records can be deceiving. Torres’ mitts spoke the truth, however, and Cotto was forced to listen for a few rounds.
The opening bout for Wladimir Klitschko vs. Samuel Peter I, a show dubbed “Boardwalk Brawls” in Atlantic City, had its share of surprises, the first of which was the slugger, Torres, firmly backpedaling in round 1. A left hook from Cotto put him down and woke him up, as he rose to wobble Cotto significantly with his right hand sooner after. Cotto slugged his way to safety, however, but round 2 was not his friend. Torres hurt Cotto with another right before downing him with a few shots and a trip maneuver. No longer using his legs quite as much, Cotto asserted himself more in the 3rd and 4th rounds, reestablishing his body work — even if some was plain low. A borderline belt shot had Torres down in round 4, in fact.
Some type of magnetic force attracted Cotto’s chin to Torres’ right hand once more in round 5, and Cotto spent the round skipping and again trying to punch his way out. But after taking the majority of the 6th round off, Torres caught some fistic karma toward the end, going down on a Cotto right hand.
A visibly disintegrating Torres took one last stab in round 7, again affecting Cotto’s legs with a few flurries before shutting down entirely. Cotto backed Torres to the ropes with a right hand shortly thereafter, then a combination punctuated by an uppercut downstairs left Torres on the canvas, unable to beat the count.
Through six completed rounds, unofficial HBO judge Harold Lederman had only scored one round 10-9 — every other round was a 10-8. Though official judges all had Miguel Cotto winning, there was no doubt that his ability to absorb punishment and win could no longer be questioned.
In a year that saw other fights like Diego Corrales vs. Jose Luis Castillo I and II, Jorge Arce vs. Hussein Hussein I and Erik Morales vs. Manny Pacquiao I, clinching a “Fight of the Year” award was an uphill battle. But Cotto’s two-way skirmish helped push his career forward to where it continues to be now.