LAS VEGAS -- Miguel Cotto is no longer a welterweight titleholder.
Following the dominant fashion in which he was beaten by Manny Pacquiao on Saturday night, he may have also lost his status as one of the best fighters, pound for pound, in the sport.
However, the classy boxer-slugger from Caguas, Puerto Rico remains one of the true professionals of the sport.
Cotto’s professionalism was evident during the thrilling early rounds of the fight when he out-jabbed and counter punched Pacquiao better than any fighter since Juan Manuel Marquez.
It showed during the middle portion of the fight when Cotto switched to stick-and-move tactics in order to survive Pacquiao’s power after being dropped and badly hurt in the fourth round.
His professionalism was in his desire to continue fighting when it was clear, particularly after he barely made it out of a brutally one-sided ninth round, that he could not beat his stalking antagonist.
But it was never more evident than immediately after the fight, when Cotto respectfully acknowledged that he had been beaten by the better fighter.
“Miguel Cotto always fights the world’s best fighters and Manny is one of the world’s best,” Cotto told HBO’s Larry Merchant during his in-the-ring post-fight interview.
That’s Cotto. He’s as gracious in defeat as he was humble after his 34 pro victories. In the time he compiled what is arguably a hall-of-fame resume, Cotto proved to be the best Puerto Rican fighter of the decade.
He defeated 11 fighters who held world titles, including future hall of famer Shane Mosley, on his way to developing into one of the best welterweights in recent years.
He was the underdog in Saturday’s fight, but many trainers and elite fighters believed that Cotto had the ability to score the upset.
And why not? Cotto, the naturally bigger man, is a heavy handed, versatile boxer with underrated technique and counter-punching ability.
People who know boxing know that Cotto is a very good fighter. On Saturday night he lost to a great one, but only after electrifying the sellout crowd in the MGM Grand’s Garden Arena with his aggressively effective boxing in the early rounds.
Cotto had a brilliant first round, one of accurate jabs and body-head combinations that kept Pacquiao honest.
The second round is arguably the round of the year. The two welterweights traded hard, pin-point combinations for three blistering minutes.
Round three was another thrilling round. Cotto was dropped but two of the official judges scored it 10-9 for Pacquiao because the proud Puerto Rican dominated the rest of the round.
Three rounds into the fight, members of the ringside press wondered if they were witnessing a “great” fight.
After the fourth, when Cotto was floored by a monstrous left cross after working Pacquiao over for much of the round, members of the media were sure they were watching one for the ages.
However, Pacquiao took his foot off the gas pedal in the fifth round, stemming the momentum of the bout. And when the Filipino icon resumed his attack in the sixth, walking Cotto down and buckling the bigger man’s legs before the bell, the “fight” basically ended.
It became a rout as Pacquiao, confident in his ability to take Cotto’s best shots, found a home for his right hook and continued to rock the game titleholder, who got on his toes to avoid getting knocked out.
Cotto didn’t run. He was still able to score sporadically with his jab and with occasional single counter punches, but there was an ironic role reversal as Cotto assumed Pacquiao’s early rounds gameplan of moving to his left and avoiding getting caught along the ropes.
It wasn’t the most entertaining choice of tactics. Many fans and more than a few in the media would have liked to see Cotto make an all-or-nothing rush in the middle rounds of the fight and either blast out Pacquiao or go out on his shield trying.
But Cotto made the most-professional choice. He tried to create distance with his footwork, clear his head and hope that a frustrated Pacquiao would get sloppy in pursuit. The same tactics worked against Mosley when the dangerous veteran pressed him in the final rounds of their bout.
It didn’t work against Pacquiao, who kept his head and continued to punish Cotto. By the ninth round Cotto’s face looked almost as battered as it did at the same point of his fight with Antonio Margarito.
Cotto boxed as well as he could in the 10th and 11th rounds, losing those stanzas as referee Kenny Bayless watched closely.
Bayless stepped in and ended the fight 55 seconds into the 12th round, making for an anti-climatic ending to what started out as the fight of the year, but the referee did what Cotto’s corner probably should have done after the ninth round.
“Miguel looked good early on,” Cotto’s trainer Joe Santiago said after the fight. “Pacquiao took some good shots, which was a surprise.
“He hit a lot harder than we expected and he was a lot stronger than we thought.”
Cotto didn’t make any excuses.
“I always try to bring all I can to my fights,” he said. “It didn’t go my way tonight. The jabs I threw landed, but I didn’t not protect myself.”
The truth is that he couldn’t protect himself.
After two brutally late-round stoppage losses and a series of tough fights against the likes of Mosley, Joshua Clottey and Zab Judah, many question whether Cotto should continue to risk his health in this punishing sport.
Fans aren’t asking what’s next with Cotto; they’re asking what’s left.
They won’t find out the answer to that question any time soon. Cotto, who was admitted to the trauma unit of UMC hospital for a complete body scan immediately after the fight, will be taking a long and well deserved break from the sport.
He told Santiago that he wanted to “continue fighting.”
If Cotto returns, it’s doubtful he will be able to recapture the form he exhibited in his victories over Carlos Quintana, Judah and Mosley -- or in the early rounds of his losses to Margarito and Pacquiao -- but fans can be certain of two things when he steps into the ring:
He will give his all and he will conduct himself as a professional.