Miguel Cotto survived the toughest test of his young career Saturday, rebounding from a near-disastrous third round to register a controversial fifth round TKO of plucky contender DeMarcus “Chop Chop” Corley in Bayamon, Puerto Rico.

The southpaw Corley clipped Cotto on top of the head with a powerful right hook early in the third round, seriously hurting Cotto and sending his legs in different directions as the hometown favorite held on. Corley pursued Cotto, but failed to attack with the necessary ferocity – throwing one punch at a time instead of unleashing an all-out attack – and Cotto survived the round.

Cotto used his 17 pound weight advantage to punish Corley to the body and set him up for the final onslaught. Cotto put Corley down with a right to the head and a vicious left to the body in the fifth. The gutsy Corley got up, but was down seconds later without another punch landing. Referee Enrique Quinones Falu then shockingly stopped the fight with 15 seconds to go in the round, prompting HBO analyst Larry Merchant to call the TKO a “hometown stoppage” and “an absolute disgrace.”

Regardless, Cotto improved to 23-0 with 19 knockouts. Corley dropped to 29-4-1 (16 knockouts).

“It was difficult, more difficult than I planned,” a gracious Cotto said after the close call. “In that first round, he was shaky, but he was a solid fighter. I had never been hurt like that in a fight before. I respect Corley a great deal.”

It didn't appear as if Corley would have an opportunity to show his stuff in the first round, when Cotto had Corley reeling from his thunderous punching. Corley went down twice, though the slow-moving referee only called one an official knockdown.

Corley appeared ready to go.

But he showed the chin that allowed him to last the distance against Zab Judah and Floyd Mayweather, and provided an indication of things to come when he began to land with frequency in round two. A Cotto low blow prompted a point deduction by Quinones Falu, but Corley was giving a good account of himself on his own going into the third.

With the two 140-pounders trading, Corley finally hit pay dirt with a big right hook. Cotto stumbled as though drunk, but Corley didn't seem to realize how much damage he had inflicted. He landed some thudding body shots in his pursuit of Cotto, but, as HBO analyst Emanuel Steward said, “Corley should be going to the head instead of the body.”

When the round ended, the window slammed shut on Corley's chances.

Corley was deducted a point in round four, also for low blows, but he was being worn down by Cotto's constant assault. And though Quinones Falu's stoppage was mystifying, there was a feeling that Cotto's victory was a matter of time.

“The referee stopped the fight prematurely,” Corley said afterward. “He could've stopped the fight when he was hurt, too. When you're in danger, you're supposed to take a knee. I'm a smart fighter.”

Corley did acknowledge that he “missed an opportunity to knock him out.”

Corley also said Cotto wasn't ready for the Mayweathers or Judahs, but with the young Puerto Rican doing something the other two did not – stopping Corley inside the distance – Cotto now takes his place among the junior welterweight elite.

His next fight could be against WBA champ Vivian Harris in June.