Cotto keeps crown on 11th-round knockout of Judah

NEW YORK -- A packed Madison Square Garden.

A major title bout.

Both men bleeding.

And the possible fight of the year.

Miguel Cotto and Zab Judah delivered an all-action brawl Saturday night, but it was the stronger Cotto who retained his welterweight title when he stopped a dazed and bleeding Judah 49 seconds into the 11th round.

With music pumping from a deejay brought in by promoter Top Rank to energize the crowd -- as if it needed to be energized -- the sold-out crowd of 20,658, mostly Puerto Ricans, wildly celebrated Cotto's victory on the eve of the Puerto Rican Day parade.

It was a scene reminiscent of the Garden following big wins by Felix Trinidad, Puerto Rico's last star fighter. And why not?

Cotto (30-0, 25 KOs) and Judah (34-5) turned in a tremendous fight to cap an action-packed show that lived up to its title, "X-Plosive!"

"I expected a tough fight and that's what I got, a tough fight," said Cotto, who retained his 147-pound title for the second time. "He did land some great punches on me but I was very well prepared. I could tell and I could feel I was taking the fight over round by round."

For Cotto, it was his biggest win in front of his biggest audience and paved the way for even bigger fights. There's a possible showdown with welterweight titlist Antonio Margarito in the fall if Margarito beats Paul Williams on July 14, and Top Rank would love to match him with pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather Jr.

"Miguel has always wanted to fight Mayweather," Top Rank president Todd duBoef said. "The Cotto family wants the fight. I think it's doable from our perspective. It depends on what Floyd's expectations are after a big win against Oscar [De La Hoya]."

Said Cotto: "I'm ready for anyone. Just line 'em up."

After weathering some difficult early rounds as he figured out Judah's southpaw style and adjusted to his speed, Cotto methodically took over the hard-hitting, grueling confrontation.

Judah was warned for hitting on the break during the fourth round and Cotto emerged with a cut over his right eye.

They went toe-to-toe, especially in the seventh round, which featured furious two-way action. Cotto had a big eighth, during which he looked like he might stop Judah. He hurt Judah several times, including with an uppercut and left hand. Judah appeared off balance after absorbing the blows and began sticking his tongue out at Cotto, a sure sign that he was hurt.

Judah took a knee in the ninth round to gain a breather from Cotto's relentless attack. With the crowd going crazy, Judah rose at eight and Cotto cracked him with two more left hooks. Judah managed to get in a shot that buzzed Cotto in the final seconds, but the round ended before he could land another blow.

By the 10th round, Judah was bleeding from a cut over his right eye and being wobbled regularly. Cotto hurt him with an uppercut that sent him retreating to the ropes. But Judah stayed upright and pounded his chest at Cotto.

Early in the 11th, Cotto nailed him with a combination and Judah went down again. He managed to get to his feet, but Cotto could sense the end. He attacked Judah, turning him sideways along the ropes as he continued to fire. That forced referee Arthur Mercante Jr. to stop the fight, sending the crowd -- the Garden's largest for a fight since the 1999 Lennox Lewis-Evander Holyfield heavyweight championship -- into bedlam.

"I felt Zab could go more, but the referee stopped the fight," said Cotto, who like Judah needed stitches for his cut. "The referee, we have to respect him."

Judah, who trailed 97-91 on all three scorecards, claimed he had been weakened by two clear low blows. Cotto landed one in the first round and another in the third, the latter resulting in Mercante docking a point from Cotto.

"The first low blow was very hard," Judah said. "The second one took a lot out of me. The low blows affected me from the time they hit me. No excuses, though. I would love to get a rematch in Puerto Rico. It would be beautiful."

Said Cotto: "They weren't on purpose, they were accidental."

Cotto, 26, earned $2.5 million plus a piece of the pay-per-view profits. Judah earned $1 million plus a percentage of the profits. HBO will replay the bout next Saturday (9:30 p.m. ET/PT) along with live coverage of Lovemore N'dou's junior welterweight title defense against Paulie Malignaggi.

Even though he lost, Judah, a former undisputed champion, fought gallantly. Yet he dropped to 0-3 with a no contest in his last four bouts. Judah had a first-round no contest with Ruben Galvan in April in his first fight after serving a one-year suspension for his part in a 10th-round melee during his fight with Mayweather. In the fight before facing Mayweather, Judah lost the undisputed title to Carlos Baldomir in the year's biggest upset.

Judah, however, had no reason to hang his head after losing to Cotto.

"Miguel Cotto is a great young fighter. Miguel Cotto and Zab Judah are two of the greatest fighters of today," said Judah, 29. "Every time Zab Judah steps in the ring, it's an action-packed fight. I showed that tonight."

Said Cotto: "I don't speak bad of Zab. I know the kind of fighter Zab is. That's the reason I worked so hard in the gym."

Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.