This excerpt first appeared in this week's issue of the Fightful Boxing Newsletter, which releases each Thursday morning at Fightful.com.
Miguel Cotto Falls In Retirement Fight, What’s Next For Sadam Ali:
Perhaps the most shocking result of the weekend, and one of the most shocking results of the entire year, saw Miguel Cotto lose his retirement fight to Sadam Ali, losing the WBO junior middleweight championship to the 29-year-old New York native. Cotto lost a close, yet entertaining match via unanimous decision (116-112, 115-113, 115-113).
The feeling among most of the attendees and media inside Madison Square Garden believe that Cotto should have won the fight, but the simple matter of the fact is that Ali’s early dominance and winning the last four rounds got him the win.
There is also the issue of Cotto’s performance in the championship rounds of the fight. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who thinks Cotto won two of the last four rounds. Cotto wasn’t able to capitalize on the momentum he gained in the middle portion of the fight because he tore his left biceps in the seventh round according to Cotto in the post-fight interview. He did not appear in the post-fight press conference because he was being evaluated by a doctor and Oscar De La Hoya confirmed the news of the injury.
The fight drew an attendance of nearly 13,000, which fell within expectations. HBO, MSG and Golden Boy Promotions had hoped the attendance fell in the 12,000-14,000 range, making the MSG card one of the highest-attended boxing matches in New York in 2017. The fight averaged 944,000 viewers for the live HBO telecast, according to Nielsen Media Research. The fight peaked at 1.012 million viewers. Cotto-Ali is the second-best performing main event on premium cable in 2017, trailing only HBO’s telecast of then-junior welterweight champion Terence Crawford’s 10th-round stoppage of Felix Diaz from back in May, also at Madison Square Garden. That fight averaged 961,000 viewers. Saturday’s opening bout, junior featherweight world titleholder Rey Vargas’ one-sided unanimous decision win against Oscar Negrete, averaged 697,000 viewers and peaked at 788,000.
Despite the obviously-deflated crowd at Madison Square Garden, the event is considered a success in terms of attendance and ratings.
Cotto’s last hurrah was certainly a melancholic one. Cotto showed a lot of heart and desire to win, but just like with Pacquiao earlier this year against Jeff Horn, we saw a fighter past his prime against an opponent he could have knocked out had the fight taken place a couple of years ago. Cotto had the energy we saw in the fight against Yoshihiro Kamegai, but Ali had two things Kamegai didn’t possess: speed and a killer right hand.
From the beginning, it was apparent Ali was the faster fighter, which already spelled bad news for Cotto as he traditionally struggles against fast-paced fighters such as Floyd Mayweather, Canelo Alvarez, Manny Pacquiao and Austin Trout. Cotto looked unsteady early on in the fight. Every time Ali’s right hand landed cleanly on Cotto’s face, his legs would get wobbly if even just for a second.
This didn’t mean Cotto had no chance to win from that point. Cotto’s experience allowed him to exploit the fact that Ali gave Cotto space to throw jabs in the middle portion of the fight. Ali also did not follow-up on some of his punches when he had the chance to do so. It’s almost as if Ali was giving Cotto too much respect. Regardless, the torn biceps gave Ali the chance to win the fight in the championship rounds. Had Cotto even won just one of the last three rounds, he would have retained the title via majority decision. But that almost would be even less satisfying, as that would just leave questions and fans for both fighters would leave the arena feeling like they were cheated out of a winner. It happened with the Alvarez vs. Gennady Golovkin fight, with Golovkin fans feeling more outraged that their fighter did not get the win in the judges’ scorecards.
But now that the fight is done and over with, the biggest question moving forward is Sadam Ali’s future. One would think that Ali would simply continue to fight as the WBO champion, but that’s not a guarantee. Even Ali is unsure of his future as a 154-pounder, as mentioned in the post-fight press conference. Ali definitely has the size to stay as a viable champion at junior middleweight, but the main issue comes with the likelihood of Ali fighting some of the other world champions in the division. Ali doesn’t possess the power that fighters like Jermell Charlo and Jarrett Hurd possess, nor does he have the technical mastery that Erislandy Lara has.
Ali’s speed will make him a viable threat to most boxers at 154 pounds and if he decides to remain as the WBO champion, he wouldn’t have to worry about unification fights until the second half of 2018. Ali’s first title defense will likely be against Liam Smith, who won a title eliminator on November 11 against Liam Williams. It was a rematch from their April fight which was an interim WBO junior middleweight fight.
The Ali camp definitely has confidence in the young fighter that he can beat anyone at both welterweight and junior middleweight, but of all the champions in both weight classes, Ali would surely be the betting underdog in almost all of the fights, save for perhaps a fight against WBO welterweight champion Jeff Horn. Even if Ali were to go back down in weight, the division is so clogged up with other big fights that Ali wouldn’t sniff a world title fight at welterweight until late 2018 at the absolute earliest, with summer 2019 being a more reasonable time for Ali to get that welterweight world title fight. For better or worse, Ali staying put at 154 pounds makes more sense because Ali would get more high-profile fights in the short-term.
Ali vs. Smith in the United Kingdom would be a big-time event that could easily match the MSG attendance with the proper card. That fight would likely be on HBO as Smith’s promoter Frank Warren has multiple fighters competing on the network such as WBO middleweight champion Billy Joe Saunders. Of course, holding the fight in the United Kingdom would be the best move for Ali’s profile, but chances are Ali could be back in action on the March HBO card at Madison Square Garden, which currently has WBO light heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev scheduled to headline that card. Any fight Ali has on that card would get slotted into the co-main event spot unless WBA light heavyweight champion Dmitry Bivol, who was in attendance for Kovalev’s WBO title win on November 25, fights on that card and it isn’t a fight against Kovalev.
On the five-fight card at MSG, another boxer promoted by Miguel Cotto won a world title. Angel Acosta won the WBO junior flyweight title when he beat Juan Alejo inside 10 rounds. That fight was originally set to be an interim WBO title fight, but hours before the event took place, then-acting champion Kosei Tanaka, who had been out of action due to an injury, vacated the title to move up in weight.
In the co-main event, WBC super bantamweight champion Rey Vargas retained his title by beating Oscar Negrete via unanimous decision. The fight was entertaining and had a lot of action, but Vargas, who held a massive height and reach advantage, dominated the fight. Negrete held his own, especially in the early rounds, but Vargas was faster and hit harder throughout the duration of the fight. It was fairly competitive fight as far as 120-108 fights are concerned.
The interesting thing to note about Acosta in particular is what his fight future entails. Perhaps one of the most overlooked aspects of the Cotto-Golden Boy Promotions relationship is the impact it will have on Miguel Cotto Promotions fighters. Cotto’s fighters mainly consist of rising prospects from the island of Puerto Rico and mostly fight on Puerto Rican television cards. It’s not surprising to see that in the first few months after Cotto signed with Golden Boy, two of his fighters won world titles on HBO, a television network that has a longstanding relationship with Golden Boy.
This is what makes Cotto one of the smartest boxers out of the ring in the sport today. Part of the reason Cotto signed with Golden Boy was that it would allow Cotto’s fighters opportunities to fight on HBO and on ESPN, networks with a far-bigger television audience. This would only help Miguel Cotto Promotions’ mission to help groom the next generation of Puerto Rican boxing stars. With Cotto retiring, rising contender Felix Verdejo losing a lot of steam in the past year with injuries and Amanda Serrano potentially looking at a mixed martial arts or kickboxing career soon, there are no fighters that can carry the torch right now.
It’s too early to tell if either Acosta or Alberto Machado could be the next Puerto Rican superstar, but winning a world title at this point in their careers is a step in the right direction. It helps that those are being groomed by Cotto himself, who is smart enough to get his fighters to compete on major television fights.
While this may be the end of Miguel Cotto the boxer, Miguel Cotto the boxing ambassador for Puerto Rico still has a lot of work to do. Cotto will enjoy a nice retirement with his family, but will also be at working helping his fighters achieve a level success that only a select number of Puerto Ricans have been able to achieve. Cotto, alongside HBO and Golden Boy Promotions, will help create a new chapter for Puerto Rico boxing.