NEW YORK – Bernard Hopkins called it a "tough, gritty New York type of a fight." Oscar De La Hoya simply termed it "an outstanding performance by an outstanding fighter."
Whatever superlatives you apply, it is clear that Miguel Cotto has arrived at the top of the boxing heap.
Cotto proved his worthiness to rank alongside boxing's greatest champions by besting Shane Mosley in a pitched battle before a raucous crowd of 17,135 at Madison Square Garden.
Judges Glenn Feldman and Peter Trematerra each had it 115-113, while Wynn Kintz saw it 116-113, all for Cotto. Yahoo! Sports favored Cotto, 115-113.
Mosley was a perfect measuring stick for Cotto, who entered the bout with a 30-0 record, 25 knockouts and the WBA welterweight title. But there were plenty of questions about the solidity of Cotto's chin, the quality of the competition he'd beaten on the way to the top and whether he'd be able to handle a fast and powerful welterweight like Mosley.
Those questions exist no longer, not after he found a way to get past a man who looked very much like the guy who briefly in 2001 and 2002 was widely regarded as the best pound-for-pound boxer in the world.
The result Saturday wasn't so much an old star fading off into obscurity as it was of a world-class fighter stepping up his game and toppling a still-formidable foe.
Mosley was fast, he hit hard and he boxed smart. But Cotto managed to find a way to neutralize Mosley's speed by consistently snapping a hard, punishing jab in the 36-year-old Californian's face.
It was so punishing that Mosley's eyes were swelling early and he was gasping for breath as early as the fourth round.
Cotto had spent hours in the gym honing that jab, knowing it would enable him to get to Mosley more easily.
"What was really surprising was the way that Cotto was able to box so well," said Hall of Fame trainer Emanuel Steward, who called the fight on HBO Pay-Per-View. "And who would have thought that Cotto would have outjabbed Shane? Cotto's jabs were hard, tough, but Shane was just flicking his without much on them a lot of the times."
Cotto outjabbed Mosley 98-71, but his connect percentage was far greater. Cotto connected on 34 percent of his, more than a 2-to-1 edge over the 16-percent rate with which Mosley landed.
Cotto pounded Mosley with the jab early, popping two hard lefts in his face right after the opening bell to set the tone for what was to come. Much of the bout then fell into a familiar pattern of them trading jabs and then getting to power shots on the inside. Because Cotto was able to land his jab more consistently, he was in position to get off his power shots first.
"He definitely caught me with some good lefts, but never enough that I was going to go down," said Mosley, who fell to 44-5. "But I definitely felt the buzz. I definitely hit him with some body shots and some other shots, but he's a tough, tough kid."
Cotto's style had largely been one where he hunted down his opponent and showed an almost indifference toward his defense.
The result was that many began to question whether his chin was his fatal flaw. He was badly hurt and on the verge of going out in fights against DeMarcus Corley and Ricardo Torres and was badly hurt early in his victory over Zab Judah in June.
He worked hard on his technique in the gym and was as multi-dimensional on Saturday as he's ever been as a professional. He slipped many of Mosley's powerful chopping right hands and managed to duck back inside and answer with a counter hook.
"I told you, when I go to the gym, I work to make myself a better fighter every day," Cotto said. "Speed, power, movement and defense, I had it all tonight. I think I showed everything, everything I had worked on."
He needed to be on top of his game Saturday because Mosley was so good. Mosley willingly stood in front of Cotto and traded on even terms for much of the night. But Cotto was a little better in pretty much every area.
Though Mosley said in the ring immediately after the fight that he felt he won, back in the locker room he conceded that Cotto deserved what he had gotten.
"Mosley is a classy guy and he showed that when I was talking to him back there," De La Hoya said. "He was man enough to admit when he lost. He knew Cotto fought a great fight. Mosley fought a great fight, too, but Cotto showed he's a tremendous, tremendous champion."
The win opens a number of interesting possibilities for Cotto, who has been mentioned as a possible De La Hoya opponent for May 3. De La Hoya said on Saturday that he knows who he's going to fight, but said he didn't want to reveal it because it would hurt his negotiating position.
He'll announce his decision after the Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Ricky Hatton fight in Las Vegas on Dec. 8. He clearly wants to see Hatton to win, because De La Hoya knows a fight with Hatton would provide him with the biggest payday at the smallest risk.
A Cotto fight would be exceptionally difficult for De La Hoya, who ruled out a bout against another Puerto Rican, Felix Trinidad. It's hard to fathom a part-time fighter – which De La Hoya is – beating someone as tough, as smart and as hungry as Cotto.
The fight to make for next spring would be one against Mayweather, who made the ridiculous prediction of an early Mosley knockout.
But Mayweather has never shown an inclination to face Cotto, so that will likely not happen.
Cotto, though, was hardly upset.
"I don't worry about those kinds of things," he said. "I just worry about the things I can control."
And these days, Cotto can control a lot.