Cotto conquers Margarito in TKO

NEW YORK -- Miguel Cotto, with three years of anger built up, took it all out on Antonio Margarito and his bad right eye.

Cotto beat on his rival and turned his eye into a swollen, bloody, closed mass to stop him three seconds into the 10th round in what many equated with a triumph of good over evil on Saturday night in front of a rocking, sold-out crowd of 21,239 at Madison Square Garden.

The overwhelmingly Puerto Rican pro-Cotto crowd came to see their hero gain revenge for his controversial 11th-round knockout loss to Margarito in Las Vegas in 2008.

Not only did Cotto deliver in emphatic fashion, but he looked sharp and fast in the process of making his second junior middleweight title defense to culminate a highly charged and emotional buildup.

"He's still a very strong fighter, but I am way better than he is," said Cotto, who led 89-82 on all three scorecards at the time of the stoppage. "I am very happy to finally get it over with. I did my work. I won the fight. Thanks to the crowd here. I love you."

Like many, Cotto strongly believes that Margarito cheated his way to a win the first time around. In Margarito's next fight in January 2009, he was caught trying to enter the ring with Shane Mosley with loaded hand wraps coated in a plaster-like substance. Obviously, there is strong speculation that Margarito got away with wearing loaded wraps in the first fight with Cotto, which he won after coming on strong in the second half of the bout.

But with unprecedented attention paid to Margarito's hand wraps in the dressing room Saturday night, he fought clean and showed very little. That could also be the product of the long layoffs he has had since the Mosley fight because of his license revocation and a serious right eye injury that he suffered in a one-sided beating from Manny Pacquiao 13 months ago.

The eye damaged by Pacquiao was one of the focal points of the prefight buildup, as Margarito required surgery to remove a cataract and have an artificial lens placed in his eye. It almost caused the New York commission to deny Margarito a license, until it finally relented after an additional eye exam less than two weeks before the fight.

Cotto said he would target the eye -- and he did, in what had to be a cathartic experience as he gave Puerto Rico one of its greatest victories in its boxing rivalry with Mexico, Margarito's home country.

Cotto started much like he did in the first fight -- jabbing, moving, landing shots and avoiding what little was coming back from the slower Margarito.
He was in complete control, and in the toe-to-toe third round, he cut Margarito on his surgically repaired eye.

Round after round, multiple doctors were in Margarito's corner to check the most famous right eye in boxing. Margarito, showing nothing but bravado, repeatedly pointed to his eye as if to taunt Cotto. Cotto's response was simply to punch him in the face, often on the eye.

The eye looked very bad by the sixth round and it was being closely checked. After the eighth, it was closed and the fight was nearly stopped.

After the ninth round, there was another lengthy discussion in the corner and when the bell rang to start the 10th round, referee Steve Smoger called timeout. Moments later, on the advice of ringside physician Dr. Anthony Curreri, Smoger stopped the fight, sending the crowd into raucous celebration.

"His eye was gradually closing throughout the fight, to the point where there was no vision," said Curreri of Margarito, whose eye required 12 stitches after the bout. "Between the vision and the lid closing, I felt it was best to stop the fight. He had no vision in the right eye, meaning he had no peripheral vision. The fight did go on for quite a bit with the eye impaired."

Cotto (37-2, 30 KOs) and his fans had gotten their revenge against enemy No. 1.

After the fight was stopped, Cotto stared Margarito down, soaking in his victory.

"I wanted to taste my victory," said Cotto, who implemented new trainer Pedro Diaz's game plan perfectly.

And now Cotto can move on, having conquered his hated rival.

"He means nothing to me," Cotto said. "I'm here with all my people, and he means nothing to me."

"I thought Cotto fought a brilliant fight," said Top Rank promoter Bob Arum, who upset Cotto by standing up for Margarito during the hand-wrap scandal. "He won the fight and he won the fight clearly. For them, it was revenge. For me, it was just the making of a good fight with all the backstory to help sell it."

Margarito, playing his villain role to the hilt, would not give Cotto any credit for his dominant performance.

"I thought I threw the harder punches. I was doing fine," he said. "But I needed more rounds to beat him.

"We were in the corner and they asked about my eye, and I told them how many numbers they were holding [up with their fingers]. But I knew they were out to protect Cotto. I was coming on."

Margarito (38-8, 27 KOs) wasn't coming on, though, and he really wasn't doing much of anything. Still, he apparently was seeing a different fight.

"I hurt him; look at his face," Margarito said. "I keep saying it: He hits like a girl. I never felt the punches. I never pulled back. He was the one pulling back."

Cotto -- in the last fight of his Top Rank contract -- was in fact the one turning Margarito's face into a pulp.

Meanwhile, Cotto, who earned $5 million plus a share of the pay-per-view profits, took all of Margarito's punches with little issue. Many will speculate that it was a lack of plaster, but maybe it's just that Margarito -- who made $2.5 million plus a smaller share of the PPV upside -- is a shot fighter after the beatings from Mosley and Pacquiao.

Asked about Margarito's punching power, Cotto was dismissive.

"I'm still awake, that's my answer," he said. "After nine, 10 rounds, I was on my feet."

On his feet and on his way to celebrate. Mission accomplished.

Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter @danrafaelespn.