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September 17, 2004
Miguel Cotto finally has his title. With a sixth-round knockout of Brazilian Kelson Pinto Saturday night at the recently inaugurated Jose Miguel Agrelot Coliseum in San Juan, Cotto became Puerto Ricos 50th title-holder, earning the World Boxing Organization junior welterweight crown.
"We were always confident [of the victory]. I was a little nervous at the beginning of the fight, but the knockout punch has given me more confidence," said Cotto after the fight. "We never went out looking for the knockout. My instructions were to come out and put on pressure. The knockout came."
Cotto (21-0-0, 17 KO) dominated from the start of the fight, hitting Pinto with a left hook in the first round that shook the Brazilian, who stumbled. Cotto sent Pinto to the canvas in the second round with a straight right and a left hook. In the third, Cotto hooked Pinto on the chin, and the Brazilian once again looked wobbly, but did not fall until the fifth round, when Cotto knocked him down again with an uppercut. Cotto attacked with fury in the sixth and Pinto went down for good with 2:28 remaining when his manager, Ricardo Maldonado, called it quits.
Cotto said he knew the victory was his for the taking from the first round.
"When I hit him in the first, I knew I had hurt him, but I remained calm and didnt try to hurry the fight along. My instructions from my corner were to keep working at him," said Cotto. "I knew it was just a matter of time. I knew he was already hurting."
Cotto embraced both his mother and father in the ring after the victory. He added his name to a long list of champions, all 49 of whom were listed on Cottos trunks for this fight, the first boxing match in the newly inaugurated coliseum.
Cottos performance dispelled the rumors that he would be a weakened fighter after having had to lose nine pounds in five days to make the 140-pound limit at Fridays weigh-in. Following the weigh-in, he attacked the local media for doubting his abilities to reach fighting weight and promised his fans would see the strongest Miguel Cotto yet. He didnt disappoint in his first title shot.
"He [Pinto] knew that I had faced quality opponents since I turned pro," said Cotto in reference to having lost to Pinto twice as an amateur. "Now was different. I couldnt lose a fight in front of my people. This victory was the result of a lot of work over long months.
"Im overcome with emotion," continued Cotto. "This victory also belongs to my team, which has been working with me for much longer than the 3 1/2 years since I turned pro."
Even though Cotto looked more convincing in the ring than he has in his last few fights, he assured the media the win over Pinto was no cakewalk.
"You have to be up there in the ring to know whether it was an easy fight or not," said Cotto. "What determines whether you win or not is your courage and your desire to win."
Cottos trainer and uncle, Evangelista, said he had mapped out a plan of attack.
"We knew Pinto was a lanky fighter and we had to have a strategy to get inside, so we could connect," said the elder Cotto.
Having now made a name for himself on the 140-pound scene, Cotto said it is up to Top Rank promoter Bob Arum to determine the who, where and when of his next fight.
Puerto Rico Best Boxings Peter Rivera, who co-manages Cotto along with Evangelista Cotto, said the Caguas natives first mandatory defense against No. 1 challenger Ricky Hatton wont likely be for some time.
Cotto has 90 days before he is obligated to defend his belt against Hatton, and according to WBO president Francisco Valcarcel, Hatton isnt in any great hurry to fight Cotto.
"If he asks for an extension, the WBO is likely to give it to him and it will be up to their promoters to set a date and a place," said Valcarcel.
Hatton is managed by British promoter Frank Warren. Warren wants the two to fight in Great Britain, where Hatton can draw at least 20,000 fans by himself, said Valcarcel.
In the interim, Rivera said Top Rank is trying to line up a fight for Cotto on the Dec. 10 Vitaly Klitschko fight card (HBO pay-per-view) at New Yorks Madison Square Garden. Rivera is in Las Vegas this weekend for the Bernard Hopkins-Oscar De la Hoya match, where he said he will discuss Cottos future with Arum. Nor does Rivera have a rival in mind for Cotto, who would be making what Rivera calls his "East Coast debut as champion."
Dont expect a rival of great stature should Cotto fight again this year. Top Rank will be looking to showcase the young fighter and build up his popularity with Latin fans stateside.
Rivera also hopes to determine WBO minimum weight champ Ivan Calderons next rival for his Nov. 27 bout. He was scheduled to go against Colombian Daniel Reyes, but Reyes recently lost his IBF title to Indonesias Muhammad Rachman.
Finally, WBO president Valcarcel said he has not yet received a formal protest from Antonio Margarito, who lost a controversial split decision to WBO 154-pound champ Daniel Santos on the same fight card as Cotto.
"I was supposed to meet this weekend with Margaritos manager [Francisco Espinoza], but because I wont be able to make the trip to Las Vegas, well be speaking by telephone," said Valcarcel, who said Tropical Storm Jeanne foiled his plans to attend the Hopkins-De la Hoya fight. "I dont want to get ahead of myself, but if Margaritos group should protest, the WBO championship committee will evaluate the protest."
Valcarcel said he was not pleased by the judge Rocky Youngs 87-84 decision favoring Santos.
"That was really a shame," said Valcarcel.
Judge Samuel Conde had Santos winning, 86-85, while judge John Stewart gave Margarito the victory, 86-85.
"There are grounds for an appeal," said Valcarcel.
Margarito had vacated his WBO welterweight title to move up in weight class to challenge Santos. Valcarcel said hes also not sure whether or not Margarito will be permitted to stake his claim once more at welter.
Gabrielle Paese is a sports reporter in San Juan. She was the 2000 recipient of the Overseas Press Club's Rafael Pont Flores Award for excellence in sports reporting. Comments or suggestions? Contact Gabrielle at email@example.com.
Her Column, Puerto Rico Sports Beat, appears weekly in the Puerto Rico Herald.