Miguel Cotto, looking to make a statement a week after Ricky Hatton's takeover of the junior welterweight division, put on perhaps his most impressive performance as a pro Saturday in New York City.
The slick Puerto Rican boxed circles around Olympic rival Muhammad Abdullaev before making him quit 57 seconds into the ninth round – when Abdullaev's left eye was roughly the size of a watermelon.
It was sweet revenge for Cotto, who lost a decision to Abdullaev in the 2000 Sydney Olympics. In the process, Cotto improved to 24-0 (20 knockouts).
Abdullaev fell to 15-2 (12 KOs).
“Obviously he couldn't see,” Cotto told HBO's Larry Merchant. “We knew he had issues to overcome.”
The issues became more and more plentiful as the fight progressed. Early, though, it looked like Cotto may be in for the fight of his life.
Abdullaev pressured Cotto from the outset, focusing on the body and firing the left in particular with abandon. Cotto, meanwhile, tried to establish distance and used his legs to bounce out of danger.
Through the first three rounds it was nip-and-tuck. Abdullaev fired a right through Cotto's guard in the third and Cotto appeared to be momentarily stunned, but the Puerto Rican star showed guile in easily surviving the scare.
In rounds four and five, Cotto began mixing body work into his attack, while gliding out of Abdullaev's range. He won the rounds, but Abdullaev showed he was still around with a strong sixth round.
That's when Cotto took over.
Cotto would move in, fire punches, and move out. Move in, fire punches, and move out. First to the left, then to the right. Meanwhile, his flurries began taking their toll on Abdullaev's features.
A right hand in the eighth round staggered Abdullaev, whose attack began to fade. It was the beginning of the end for him.
Abdullaev came out strong in the ninth, apparently knowing that his only chance was a knockout. But, after another typical Cotto combination, Abdullaev threw up his hands in resignation.
His left eye had swollen shut and he couldn't see Cotto's punches coming anymore. The fight was immediately stopped.
Next for Cotto isn't Hatton, but possibly Oscar De La Hoya.
“He's talking about coming down to (147 pounds), and I may move up,” Cotto told Merchant. “That would be a great fight.”
The proposed Cotto-De La Hoya fight is just one more mouthwatering possibility in a division that is ripe with talent.
“I'm excited as a fan and a broadcaster (about the 140-pound division),” said HBO expert analyst Emanuel Steward.
In the main support, former 130-pound champion Joel Casamayor and newcomer Almazbek “Kid Diamond” Raisymkulov fought to a 12-round draw.
Judge Bill Costello, the former WBC junior welterweight champ, had Raisymkulov winning 116-111, while Judge Tom Schreck scored for Casamayor 115-112. Judge Luis Rivera tabbed it a 114-114 draw.
At the end of it, though, it appeared the old veteran Casamayor got away with one.
After getting rocked by a left hook in the first round and knocked/thrown down. Raisymkulov dominated the first half of the fight with steady aggression.
It was wild at times, but Casamayor didn't have an answer.
Casamayor, though, turned flatfooted and began to slug with Kid Diamond in the ninth, and the fight turned exciting. The last round was particularly brutal, as both fighters swung with abandon and desperation.
Still, it didn't appear Casamayor's late rally would be enough. It was – but just barely.
Casamayor now stands at 31-3-1 (19 KOs); Raiymkulov is 20-0-1 (12 KOs).