Cotto proves, emphatically, he's not done

LAS VEGAS -- A single night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on June 26, 2008, nearly ruined the boxing career of Miguel Cotto.

Nearly four years later, he proved to everyone it didn't take the best of him.

Cotto has rarely looked the same since suffering the worst loss of his career at the (perhaps loaded) hands of Antonio Margarito in that welterweight title bout, the first meeting between the fighters.

Cotto, 31, holds a strong belief that Margarito used illegal hand wraps during that fight, and he finally exacted his revenge late last year in the form of a stoppage win in the 10th round of their rematch. He then swore he would perform better after having closed the emotional chapter on Margarito.

Few believed him. Heading into Saturday's light middleweight fight against Floyd Mayweather Jr., Cotto was listed as more than a 4-to-1 underdog and was generally given no shot against his faster, more technical opponent.

Eventually, Cotto did succumb to Mayweather's speed and defensive skills. The result was familiar, with Mayweather claiming a decision win via fairly lopsided scores.

Those who witnessed the fight, however, saw the details not recorded in the scores. Cotto pushed Mayweather, more so than perhaps any of the 42 who came before him. He cut off the ring and bloodied Mayweather's nose with punches in the sixth.

He appeared the strongest, mentally, that he has since the Margarito loss. Although he still faded a bit late, as he has been known to do, that was more attributed to Mayweather's resiliency than any break in Cotto.

"I'm happy with my fight and with my performance," Cotto said. "So is my family. I can't ask for anything else."

The Las Vegas crowd went wild after the eighth round, when Cotto forced a few exchanges out of Mayweather in the corner of the ring.

The greatest surprise, though, occurred in the moments when Cotto had success in the middle of the ring. He was still at a disadvantage in that type of fight against the quicker, more mobile Mayweather, but he wasn't thoroughly dominated, as many would have expected him to be.

Defensively, Cotto seems to be improving under head trainer Pedro Diaz. He refused to be dictated by Mayweather's jab and effectively controlled the range at which the fight took place throughout.

"Cotto shocked me," Mayweather said. "He was slow, but he was awkward. Anybody who goes in with Cotto, you better be ready. His record reflects where he's at, and he deserved to fight me."

In a way, Cotto's record does reflect where he's at -- and then it doesn't.

A 5-3 showing over the course of his past eight bouts isn't typically the result associated with a boxing superstar. Cotto was beaten badly by Manny Pacquiao over the course of 12 rounds in 2009, and his latest wins have come against inferior competition.

Saturday, however, might be the best reflection of where Cotto truly is: a fighter still improving, finally over the heartache of the worst loss of his career and still capable of competing at the highest level.