It was the hardest fight of his career, and when it was over a blood-stained Floyd Mayweather finally looked like a normal boxer does at the end of 12 torrid rounds.
Mayweather remains unbeaten in 43 fights after something resembling a masterclass reduced the brilliant Miguel Cotto, who entered the ring with a world title belt, to challenger status at the MGM in Las Vegas on Saturday night. The judges' scores of 117-111 twice and 118-110 truly reflect the action but fail to convey the moments of raw drama and physical jeopardy that May-weather was forced to endure for the first time in boxing.
"You have got to suck it up in fights and that is what I had to do," said Mayweather, who is 35. "The blood was there and I just had to ignore it and bite down and fight. That is what I do." Cotto made Mayweather fight like no other boxer has managed in a professional career that started after the Atlanta Olympics in 1996.
The fight's outcome was ultimately decided after round nine when Mayweather, his nose and mouth smeared with blood, took advantage of a drop in pace to move and counter, as he has done so many times in his career. Mayweather's 2007 fight with Oscar de la Hoya was closer at the end, but it was certainly not as physically draining.
It is possible that part of the fight's attraction was created by the inevitable diminishing of Mayweather's speed and timing, partly due to his age and his constant breaks from the ring. However, it would also be wise to reject any bar-room claims that if the fight had happened when it should, in 2008, it would have had a different ending.
Mayweather has just one obstacle to overcome in the ring and no doubt during his impending incarceration – he goes to prison for 87 days on an assault charge on 1 June – he will have a lot of solitary time to consider his hated rival, Manny Pacquiao.
"I want to give the fans what they want and that is a fight with Pacquiao," insisted Mayweather. "It's not my fault that this fight is not happening, you all need to blame his promoter, Bob Arum." Sadly, if the obstacle was simply a veteran promoter the fight, even in the ridiculous realm of modern boxing, would be made; the problem is far more serious, with debates over drug testing, the venue and inevitably the split of the money remaining unresolved.
Mayweather and Pacquiao are reputedly closer than they have ever been over the issue of drug testing – this follows five years of abuse from Mayweather and his uncle and father, who insist that the Filipino legend has used performance-enhancing drugs. Pacquiao has denied this again and again but he does have a phobia of needles and has been reluctant to take a blood test close to a fight, believing it drains him of his power.
However, the split of the spoils remains the major problem and it has been that way for important fights since bare-knuckle heroes gathered in the mist on cold Victorian Tuesday mornings. Mayweather now wants a split of 60-40 in his favour to accurately reflect his power as the all-important king of American pay-per-view. The figures are not yet in but it seems that Saturday night is likely to have been the second-highest grossing fight in history, just behind Mayweather's "passing of the torch" encounter with De La Hoya.
The danger with this familiar and annoying impasse is that time is working against both men. Pacquiao was lucky to get a gift decision the last time he fought and Mayweather has just had to fight like he has never done before. The signs are clearly visible that their superbout could evaporate because of natural decline and not because of wretched intransigence from a few men over the slicing of an obscene cash pie. Mayweather here walked away with boxing's highest ever guaranteed purse, $32m (£20m), and, with the upside of the PPV sales, could make over $50m.
Mayweather's starting price for a guarantee against Pacquiao is likely to top $50m and it is hard to see how a fight with Pacquiao would not satisfy the desires of all involved. Cotto's beating should serve as the endgame to this, and should lead to boxing's richest fight.
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