The scorecards were closer than the fight was -- which is too often the case in boxing these days -- but Miguel Cotto achieved what he'd hoped for at Madison Square Garden Saturday night regardless. He separated himself from the rest.
Certainly Floyd Mayweather is still out there, just as undefeated as Cotto is, but Mayweather first has to face down equally undefeated Ricky Hatton next month before he can even begin to think about Cotto and, frankly, it's a thought he'd probably just as soon ignore for as long as possible.
So where does that leave Cotto after pounding out a unanimous 12-round decision over former three-time world champion Shane Mosley? Probably not with the kind of multi-million dollar, pay-per-view spectacular he'd like but with a future that seems bright and unlikely to dim any time soon.
While his business meeting with Mosley was competitive throughout, it didn't seem as close as two of the three judges scored it. Glenn Feldman and Peter Trematerra had Cotto winning 115-113, while the third, Wynn Kurtz, had it a more reasonable 116-113 but in any case there was never really a moment where it seemed Mosley was taking over, despite his best efforts.
Cotto was often brilliant and at times dominating. He always seemed to have the ready answer to whatever the clever Mosley was about, many of those answers delivered early as a result of a body attack that had Mosley choosing to hold and wrestle for much of the fight to avoid the kind of kidney-denting blows Cotto favors. Just as significantly and despite his shorter arms, Cotto's jab was superior all night long, time after time slapping Mosley in the face until the challenger's right cheek began to swell and his face turned red.
Nothing would dissuade Mosley from trying however, and he rallied in the final four rounds but even that was unconvincing enough that while one of the judges had Mosley winning the last three rounds, another had Cotto winning three of the last four and a third had them splitting those rounds. Regardless, it was far too little and far too late to surmount the lead Cotto had built up.
After the issue had been settled, Cotto made clear he feared none of the names being mentioned as possible future opponents saying, "I'll fight whoever my company [Bob Arum's Top Rank promotions] tells me. Oscar [De La Hoya]. Mayweather. All the big names."
Regardless of his willingness to face the two biggest names in his weight class -- De La Hoya and Mayweather -- the one name he seemed least inclined to square off against any time soon (for personal rather than professional reasons), former WBO champion Antonio Margarito, may well end up being his most viable option because of the latter's availability, his promotional connections to Arum and the spectacular first round knockout of Golden Johnson he delivered on the undercard of Cotto-Mosley.
That fight was there to serve not only as a warm-up for the main event but also as a calling card for Margarito (35-5, 25 KO), who lost his WBO welterweight title to lanky Paul Williams last July. As expected, Johnson (25-9-3) proved the perfect foil.
Margarito knocked him to the floor early in the first round with a sizzling uppercut followed by a stinging right hand behind it. Johnson barely, and reluctantly, beat the count but it didn't matter because he was in trouble more often than Dennis the Menace before he went down a second time less than a minute later and was counted out at 2:38 of the first round.
That quick ending provided Margarito just the kind of flamboyantly dominating victory he and Arum had hoped for, even though Cotto seemed unimpressed and hinted he might prefer a unification fight with Williams, who at 6-foot-1 would not seem to be the ideal opponent for a shorter-armed, 5-foot-8 fighter like Cotto.
Cotto was not thinking about Williams' advantages however. He was instead thinking first of De La Hoya (which, frankly, he can forget about for the foreseeable future) and then of Mayweather because they bring the most important thing to the table -- a potentially huge payday next spring. After that he spoke of Williams with Margarito only coming up when the discussion turned to what Cotto wanted least.
The problem is De La Hoya has already said he plans to fight outdoors next May 3 at Dodger Stadium if the arrangements can be made and claims he promised his wife Millie, a Puerto Rican-born pop singer, that he would not fight a Puerto Rican if he could avoid it.
If your name is De La Hoya you can pretty much avoid whatever, and whomever, you'd like in boxing because no name is bigger than his, nor does any other bring anywhere near the attention and guaranteed pay-per-view buys he carries with him. Considering that, as well as Cotto's youth, relentless style and penchant for body punching, it would seem unlikely in the extreme that De La Hoya would take on the risk Cotto poses in his hometown in front of what could well be a record crowd for a California fight.
As for Mayweather, who knows what he might do after Hatton? He might indeed agree to fight Cotto but he might just as easily A) retire; B) join the ballroom dancing circuit; C) move up in weight to challenge for the middleweight title; D) move further up to challenge for the light heavyweight title; E) ask Wladimir Klitschko if he'd like to put his heavyweight title on the line the way Jack Johnson once did against tiny Stanley Ketchel; or F) none of the above.
So that would seem to leave Cotto most likely next facing either Williams or Margarito next spring with Arum leaning heavily toward the latter because he promotes them both and hence cannot lose, nor is he likely to face any major negotiating stumbling blocks since he'd only be negotiating with himself.
This seems true even despite Cotto's post-fight declaration that Margarito might have to wait a while for an opportunity Cotto feels he should have already availed himself of.
"Margarito had his chance," Cotto said. "He could have fought me in June. He could have fought me tonight. He preferred Williams. Now he can wait his turn."
While that may be Cotto's wish, a match with Margarito remains Arum's first choice and the option he was discussing openly even before the young champion disposed of Mosley. That doesn't mean it'll work out that way but one would be unwise to bet against it, just as one would be unwise to bet against Cotto's post-fight assessment of his present place in the welterweight division.
"Thanks to Mosley for giving me the opportunity to show to the people that they are going to have Miguel Cotto [around] for a long time," the WBA champion said.
Neither Margarito nor De La Hoya were inclined to dispute that.
Ron Borges, who has won numerous Boxing Writers Association of America awards, covers boxing for HBO.com and for Boxing Monthly.