Floyd Mayweather Jr. lands a blow around the raised hands of Miguel Cotto… (Eric Jamison / Associated…)
LAS VEGAS -- At the final bell , they hugged and patted each other on the sides of the same heads they had spent an hour beating on. They were two tough fighters, not even knowing what the judges would rule, but each satisfied with an incredible effort Saturday night.
This was the controversial Floyd Mayweather Jr. versus the resurgent and tough-as-nails Miguel Cotto.
And when the decision was announced, the boos rang down. Mayweather had been given a surprisingly one-sided unanimous decision. It wasn't that Mayweather hadn't fought well, and hadn't deserved the decision. It was just that Cotto had given him more, lots more, than perhaps anybody else in Mayweather's now 43-0 run.
It was a difficult fight to score, in many ways a difficult fight to comprehend. Cotto would get Mayweather in a corner and start pounding away, but often, from that apparent position of disadvantage, Mayweather would connect more often.
If anything, a startling flurry of punches that Mayweather landed in the final round, when many in the sold-out crowd at MGM's Grand Garden thought it might be closer than it turned out to be, should have been enough evidence for how good this boxer is, and continues to be.
Both Cotto and his manager, Cuban defector Pedro Diaz, talked much in the run-up to the fight about how no fighter is invincible. Diaz's exact words were, "The only man who is invincible is in the movies."
Cotto gave Mayweather's invincibility a great shot, made a fleet-of-foot Mayweather stand and deliver, and had nothing to be ashamed of. The Puerto Rican, who has rebounded so well from his beating at the allegedly cemented hands of Antonio Margarito, gave boxing fans more fodder for the ever-talked-about Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao fight. Pacquiao handled Cotto with much more ease than Mayweather.
But had he fought the same Cotto that Mayweather did Saturday night?
Cotto, 31, went to a 37-3 record, and appeared to have some left in the tank for a few more. Mayweather, at 35, appears to be ageless.
When they hugged at the end, Mayweather told Cotto, "You are a hell of a champion — the toughest guy I fought."
Another prefight quote Mayweather had used a lot was, "I've done this for 16 years, and I haven't taken a lot of punishment."
Saturday night, he did.
Said Cotto: "The judges said I lost the fight. I can't do anything else. I brought my best tonight. I am happy with my fight, and so is my family."
The exchanges in the corners were brutal, and for a couple of rounds in the middle of the fight — perhaps with direction from his corner and uncle Roger Mayweather — Floyd danced away from the pursuing Cotto and brought the action more toward the center of the ring, where he had more room to use his quickness. But then, he seemed to succumb to the lure of Cotto's mano a mano and the fight ended with one corner brawl after another.
The ever-present Mayweather-Pacquiao fight, clearly the Super Bowl of boxing right now, was addressed again in the ring afterward by Mayweather.
"I wanted to fight Manny Pacquiao this fight," he said, "but I couldn't get it done. He has to take the drug test first."
And so that brought the Super Bowl back to the reality it has endured for the last two years — a controversial boxing limbo.
More likely will be a match pitting Mayweather against the winner of the night's high-profile undercard. In that one, young "Canelo" Alvarez, a redheaded Mexican, overpowered the game but aging Shane Mosley. Alvarez is 21, the same age as 40-year-old Mosley's boxing son.
Alvarez's rugged display of hard punches that left many fearful of some collateral damage for Mosley certainly seemed to indicate that Alvarez is not only ready, but salable for a main event against Mayweather.
"I want to thank Shane for the experience," Alvarez said. "I tried to take him out, and he took a lot of shots, but I just couldn't."
Alvarez started his pro career at 15 and has a 40-0-1 record. Mosley's record, certainly Hall of Fame worthy, is 46-8-1.
Ideally, after the beating he took, it will end at that.