LAS VEGAS -- Canelo Alvarez is the new middleweight champion of the world after pounding his way to a unanimous decision victory against Miguel Cotto in a hard-fought battle Saturday night at the Mandalay Bay Events Center.
Alvarez and Cotto delivered an entertaining fight that had the crowd cheering throughout as Alvarez stalked Cotto, who knew his best chance to win was to box, box and box.
Cotto, 35, gave it a tremendous effort, staying on his toes and moving nicely throughout the fight, but the judges clearly liked Alvarez's brute strength more, awarding him the fight on surprisingly wide scores of 119-109, 118-110 and 117-111.
ESPN.com had the fight 115-113 for Alvarez, a former unified junior middleweight titleholder who won a world title in his second weight class.
"It's an emotion I can't put into words," Alvarez said through a translator as the sold-out crowd of 11,274 cheered. "I'm very happy, and much respect to Miguel Cotto. I will always respect him and he's a great champion, but now it's my era.
"I was fully prepared for what Cotto was going to do in the ring, whether that was take a defense stance or be the aggressor."
The victory will go down as one of the best for Mexico in its rich and legendary boxing rivalry with Puerto Rico and should launch Alvarez -- at 25 already Mexico's most popular fighter -- to even greater stardom.
"It's a great victory for me; not just for me, but for all of my country, for all my people, and especially for my team," Alvarez said. "I have a great trainer [Eddy Reynoso]. He brought me here from nothing. I didn't even know what a jab was. That I'm at this level shows the quality of my trainer."
Said Reynoso, whose father, Chepo, serves as Alvarez's manager and assistant trainer: "We are very proud of Canelo today. As we all know, he started from the bottom and now he is the champion. I was never worried about him from the first round through to the 12th round. He has great defense strategy, but I was hoping that he would have finished Cotto sooner.
"I know that he was looking for the knockout and as a result didn't throw as much as he should have to put Miguel on the canvas. We have a lot of respect for Miguel; he is a great fighter, and we have tremendous respect for Freddie Roach as a trainer."
Saturday's fight was contracted at a catchweight of 155 pounds, five less than the division limit.
Alvarez not only claimed the WBC belt but also the lineal world championship, which Cotto was defending for the second time. However, on Tuesday the WBC stripped Cotto of his belt because of a dispute over the sanctioning fee. The WBC demanded $300,000, which Alvarez agreed to pay. Cotto offered to pay $125,000. The WBC refused to negotiate the fee, contrary to what it has typically done for major fights.
Cotto was shocked by the decision and did not do a postfight interview, nor did he appear at the postfight news conference. He immediately retreated to his dressing room, where his promoter, Jay Z of Roc Nation Sports, told him, "You had a great fight."
"We thought it was much closer than the scorecards showed," said Roach. "It was a competitive fight. Miguel's defense was unbelievable all night long."
The fight began with the crowd immediately breaking into chants of "Mexico! Mexico," but it was Cotto who moved well and outboxed Alvarez. That was clearly Roach's game plan as he entered his fourth fight since remolding Cotto in the wake of back-to-back decision losses to Mayweather and Austin Trout. Alvarez began to land a bit more in the second round, but Cotto's speed was still giving him problems.
Alvarez landed a solid right hand late in the third round that did not appear to faze Cotto, but Alvarez landed several more in the fourth that did seem to bother Cotto more.
The action finally began to heat up in the fifth round. As the two exchanged powerful shots, Alvarez landed an uppercut, and Cotto responded with a left hook during an exchange.
Alvarez, who had slight swelling under his left eye, had a big eighth round, landing a powerful right hand that finally seemed to stun Cotto. But Cotto stood in, and they had a long exchange in the first minute that had the crowd going wild. Alvarez continued to impose his will on Cotto, who backed away and looked a bit tired at the end of the round. Alvarez's power advantage was evident again in the ninth round, when he landed several heavy shots that stopped Cotto in his tracks.
Cotto's stamina was impressive. Just as he seemed to be fading in the later rounds, he was back on his toes in the 11th and landed a right hand that rocked Alvarez's head back. He was moving side to side and rarely staying in front of Alvarez, allowing him to land his right hand cleanly.
Alvarez opened the 12th round going after Cotto, and he landed a solid right hand and continued to land, but Cotto sneaked in an uppercut as the crowd was on its feet. It seemed as though the fight was still on the table, and they were fighting like it.
Alvarez backed Cotto up with a left hook with a minute left but took a right hand moments later. Alvarez got Cotto on the ropes, a rarity, and pounded away in the final 30 seconds before Cotto spun away. But they closed by trading shots to end an excellent fight, which HBO will replay Saturday night at 10:15 ET/PT.
According to CompuBox punch statistics, Alvarez landed 155 of 484 punches (32 percent), and Cotto landed 129 of 629 (21 percent). But Alvarez's heavier blows seemed to inflict more damage.
"We knew going into this fight that it would be a difficult journey, but I feel that I was the faster and stronger fighter tonight," Alvarez said. "I wasn't hurt by his punches."
Alvarez said he knew he was the more powerful hitter and that his aim was to make sure Cotto knew it.
"It didn't matter if I landed 10 punches as long as they were 10 well-connected punches and not get hit by his punches," Alvarez said.
Alvarez made at least $5 million for the fight and probably much more via Mexican television rights. Cotto earned at least $15 million.
After he left the ring, Alvarez visited Cotto in the dressing room, where he paid his respects to Cotto's family and team and told Cotto, "I admire you."
By capturing the WBC belt, Alvarez must face interim titleholder Gennady Golovkin, who holds two other organization full titles and was ringside, in his next fight. However, Alvarez and Cotto have mutual rematch clauses in their contracts, so Alvarez (46-1-1, 32 KOs) very well could dump the belt -- but not the lineage -- and meet Cotto (40-5, 33 KOs) in a rematch that would surely be another fan-friendly fight.
Alvarez still said he was interested in a showdown with Golovkin (34-0, 31 KOs), one of boxing's most fearsome punchers and best fighters pound for pound.
"I'm not afraid of any fighter. GGG is a great fighter, and he is my friend," Alvarez said. "I have respect for him, but if we do fight, it's going to be at my [natural] weight class [of 155 pounds]. I'm the champion. I don't have to do what he wants.
"With all due respect, if he wants to fight right now, I'll put the gloves on and fight him."
Fight fans around the world can only hope he is serious.