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Cotto retains WBO title with win over Clottey

MIGUEL Cotto overcame a cut from an accidental headbutt and several brutal rounds to edge Joshua Clottey on a split decision yesterday, retaining his WBO welterweight title.

With blood pouring down his face from the third round on, the Puerto Rican threw his arms up at the end of a close and exhilarating bout that left both fighters battered at Madison Square Garden.

Referee Don Trella scored the fight 116-111 and John McKaie 115-112, both for Cotto, while Tom Miller had it 114-113 for Clottey. The Associated Press scored it 116-112 for Cotto.

"The cut made me fight harder," Cotto said, "but I felt like I was winning all the way."

Ghanaian Clottey was devastated by the narrow loss.

"Oh no! This can't happen," Clottey shouted. Then he went to promoter Bob Arum and said, "That's it, I quit, I'm done with boxing. I can't take it anymore."

Arum told him that he fought "a magnificent fight and you have to continue."

"Clottey was very good and remember, Cotto had to fight with adversity the entire fight because of that cut eye," Arum said. "He could have taken the easy way out, because early on he was clearly ahead on points."

The 28-year Cotto previously held the WBO's light welterweight title before moving up in weight to take the WBA's world welterweight crown, which he lost in an 11th round TKO by Antonio Margarito in July last year. He claimed the WBO title with a TKO win over Michael Jennings in February, and this was his first defense.

This was 32-year-old Clottey's second attempt at the WBO welterweight belt, having lost a unanimous decision to Margarito in Dec. 2006. He won the IBF welterweight title with a technical decision victory over Zab Judah in August last year.

Cotto got the fight going at his pace early, keeping his distance and trying to stay away from Clottey's signature body shots. Near the end of the first round, the champion landed a quick right hook that sent Clottey to the floor.

The Ghanaian never appeared hurt, and the two spent most of the next two rounds jabbing at each other. With seconds to go in the third, though, Clottey trapped Cotto against the ropes and they clashed heads, opening a deep gash along the champion's left brow. Blood dripped immediately, and referee Arthur Mercante Jr. gave the ringside physician extra time to examine the cut before the two came out for the fourth round.

"It got worse in the ninth and 10th rounds," physician Anthony Curreri said. "It started bleeding a lot more, but at the beginning of the round he'd go out every time and it'd be dry. But I'd tell him, 'We'll see how it goes.'"

In the fifth, Cotto spun Clottey in a clinch. Clottey fell face-first to the canvas, where he writhed for several minutes as Cotto stood calmly in a neutral corner.

The ringside doctor said Clottey hurt his right knee, and he seemed to be favoring it as he walked around. But after jogging and bouncing in place, Clottey elected to continue.

Clottey stopped pressing the action in the ninth round. Whether it was the injury to his knee or a reluctance to go after a Cotto, who spent several rounds backing up, Clottey seemingly refused to attack, allowing the Puerto Rican to assert his will during the closing rounds.

"They robbed me," Clottey said. "The winner of the fight is the one who's supposed to be fighting hardest. He was running and I was chasing. I threw the hardest punches. People said I'd lose the decision if it went to a decision, and it did. They robbed me."

Manny Pacquiao was at ringside. Arum wants to put the fiery Filipino champion, who is coming off a devastating knockout of Ricky Hatton, into the ring with Cotto next.

"It showed me that he and Pacquiao is a dead-even fight," Arum said.


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