NEW YORK In his first fight of the post-Felix Trinidad era, WBO junior welterweight champion Miguel Cotto made his Madison Square Garden
debut a successful one tonight, pounding out a decisive ninth-round stoppage of Muhammad Abdullaev before a crowd of 10,231 at the Mecca of Boxing.
For Cotto, it was not only an opportunity to avenge his last amateur loss, but to also improve his standing among the elite at 140 pounds, and start to
build his own legacy as Puerto Rico's next boxing superstar.
Cotto got a Trinidad-esque welcome before the bout, and once the bell rang he immediately went on the offensive with shots to the head and body.
Abdullaev marched forward with a tight defense, opening up only when he was able to catch Cotto on the ropes.
With the crowd chanting his name, Cotto varied his attack in the second, mixing in uppercuts and quick jabs with his trademark hooks. Abdullaev took
each shot in stride though, digging to the body in hopes of slowing down the Puerto Rican. In the final minute though, it was Cotto doing his own
bodywork as he backed up the Uzbekistan native for the first time in the fight.
Abdullaev ramped up his workrate in the third stanza, scoring effectively as Cotto laid back on the ropes and tried to bob and weave his way out of
trouble. And while Abdullaev did the lion¹s share of the work in the round, Cotto did try to steal the frame as he flurried in the final 10 seconds.
Cotto¹s big left hook hurt Abdullaev in midway through the fourth round, but the 2000 Olympic Gold Medallist quickly regained his bearings and went back
on the offensive, trading hard body shots with the man he beat at the Sydney Games.
Both fighters continued to trade in the fifth, and it was becoming obvious that both fighters were in the trenches for the long haul.
With Abdullaev still leading the action, Cotto was content to sit back and wait for the challenger to come to him before unleashing quick but hard
combinations in the sixth. And even though Abdullaev appeared to have Cotto on the defensive late in the round, Cotto slipped out of danger and was
firing back at the bell.
Cotto got on his toes and used more lateral movement and combinations to open the seventh, leaving Abdullaev befuddled for a moment. But when Cotto
would grab a breather on the ropes, Abdullaev would pounce. To his credit though, Cotto never stopped punching.
Again in the eighth, Abdullaev worked effectively as he had Cotto pinned on the ropes, but just when the finisher seemed to be a punch or two away,
Cotto would flurry back with hard shots that started to severely misshape the face of the Uzbekistani.
With his right eye almost shut, Abdullaev's steps forward seemed more urgent to open up the ninth, and Cotto¹s punches were getting more and more
accurate, prompting referee John Callas to halt the fight and bring the challenger to the doctor, and at 57 seconds of the round, Abdullaev
indicated that he could not see and that he had enough, giving Cotto suitable revenge for his last amateur loss.
With the victory, Cotto is 24-0 with 20 KOs; Abdullaev is now 15-2 with 12 KOs.
Casamayor-Raiymkulov duel to a draw
Hard luck Joel Casamayor's sharp counterpunching and a first round knockdown of unbeaten prospect Almazbek Raiymkulov wasn¹t enough to earn him a
decision in the HBO Boxing After Dark co-feature, as the two lightweights battled it out to a 12 round draw.
Scores were 116-111 Raiymkulov, 115-112 Casamayor, and 114-114 in the WBA lightweight elimination bout.
"I can't believe they called it a draw," said Casamayor. "I had him, the puncher, backing up."
Raiymkulov patiently followed Casamayor around the ring in the early going, only to get rocked by the stiff counterpunches of the veteran, one of which
a sharp right hand put him down for a short count late in the round. By the end of the round, Raiymkulov had a bruised right eye and a rude welcome
to the big time.
Undeterred by the rough going in the first round, Raiymkulov still trudged after the Cuban, scoring with a couple of good body shots as Casamayor
waited for an opening. Late in the round though, "Kid Diamond" finally struck gold, hurting Casamayor briefly with a right hand to the head that
earned him some much needed respect.
The action heated up in the third, with each fighter having their moments Casamayor with straight lefts to the body, and Raiymkulov upstairs with
straight right hands.
Casamayor's left hand continued to find its mark in the fourth round, this time to the body and head, where he jarred Raiymkulov on a couple of
occasions to put another round in the bank.
After a fairly even fifth round, Raiymkulov opened up a bit more aggressively in the sixth, only to get countered hard by the crafty
Little changed in the seventh frame, with the crowd starting to get restless as Casamayor played matador to Raiymkulov¹s bull, but the fighters finally
picked up the pace in the eighth with some heated exchanges at close range getting the crowd into the bout.
"Kid Diamond" continued to get closer to Casamayor in the ninth round, scoring well when the Cuban remained stationary. Unfortunately for
Raiymkulov, Casamayor didn't stay in one spot for too long, and when he did, a head butt or some other questionable tactic was sure to follow.
In the 10th, the roles reversed, as Casamayor chased Raiymkulov, who countered effectively in spots, and the 11th was just as tough to score as
both fighters had their moments.
Casamayor's pinpoint counters were rarely off the mark in the final round though, as he repeatedly tattooed Raiymkulov until a final 1-2 to the head
hurt "El Cepillo" with less than 10 seconds to go in the bout.
Casamayor's record now stands at 31-3-1 with 19 KOs; Raiymkulov is 20-0-1 with 12 KOs.
Other MSG undercard bouts
Highly regarded Irish middleweight prospect John Duddy (10-0, 9 KOs) went the distance for the first time in his young career, outpointing tough
Nebraskan Patrick Thompson (9-5-1, 4 KOs) over eight rounds. There were no knockdowns in the fast-paced bout, which was scored identically by all three
judges 80-72 for Duddy.
Teaneck, N.J.'s Danny McDermott survived a nasty gash over left eye in the first round to outpoint Rochester¹s Alex Matos unanimously over four
rounds. Scores in the action-packed bout were all 39-37 for McDermott, who improves to 2-0. Matos falls to 0-1.
In a heavyweight bout scheduled for four, Carolina, Puerto Rico's Victor Bisbal (3-0, 2 KOs) scored a second round stoppage of Victor James (1-2)
after James turned his back on the action at the 1:26 mark.
Poland's Agnieszka Rylik (17-1, 11 KOs) and her denim skirt won the best-dressed fighter of the night award en route to a six-round unanimous
decision over Tawnyah Freeman (4-2, 3 KOs) of Fort Smith, Ark. Scores were 59-55 and 60-54 twice.
Promising Puerto Rican super bantamweight Juan Manuel Lopez (4-0, 4 KOs) kept his unbeaten record intact with a third-round stoppage of game Eric
Nemo (5-1-1, 2 KOs). The end came at 2:17, shortly after Caguas' Lopez sent Nemo to the canvas with a hard right hand.
In the opener, New Jersey light heavyweight Wayne Johnsen improved to 8-0 (5KOs) with a shutout four round unanimous decision over Utah¹s James Sundin
(6-2, 3 KOs). Scores were 40-35 twice and 40-36.