On Saturday, December 2, 2017, Miguel Cotto (41-6, 33 KOs) stepped into the ring for one last time as he took on hand-picked opponent (and career Welterweight) Sadam Ali (26-1, 14 KOs).

The bout, which was scheduled for 12 rounds and was contested for Cotto’s WBO world Junior Middleweight championship, was presented by Golden Boy Promotions and Miguel Cotto Promotions.

Going into the bout, many people–including this writer–felt that Ali would play the part of skilled and tough opponent, but fall short of making any major noise and certainly would not alter the ending that saw Cotto walking out on top with career win number 42.

But boxing is funny, and especially when it comes to well thought out farewell fights, things never go as planned (just ask Bernard Hopkins).

Fighting in front of a pro-Cotto crowd of 12,371 at Madison Square Garden, Ali was able to edge Cotto by a hard-fought 12-round unanimous decision with scores of 115-113, 115-113 and 116-112.

Many people were surprised early on when in Round 2, Ali–who is not known for having a big punch even at Welterweight–was able to hurt Cotto who seemed to lose all ability to take a solid punch.

“I worked hard for it,” said Ali after the bout. “I took advantage of this fight, and I made sure to make it count. I want to thank God, and also thank team Cotto, they could have taken an easier fight if they wanted too.”

Ali was able to rock Cotto again with a solid hook in Round 4 as the Caguas, Puerto Rico legend didn’t seem to have sturdy legs.

Although his trainer Andre Rozier would have liked Ali to pick up the pace and take advantage of Cotto being hurt, Ali decided to stay patient, which ultimately paid off.

“I had him hurt here or there in the first couple of rounds. I knew I had to do something, or he would have dug in,” said Ali.

After being hurt a couple of times early on, Cotto was able to compose himself in the middle rounds and even gained control of the fight. By Rounds 6 and 7 it looked like Ali was being overwhelmed as Cotto was able to land solid shots that backed the Brooklyn fighter up–including a solid straight right hand which drove Ali back.

But things changed in Round 8 when Ali landed a solid uppercut that got Cotto’s attention. Also, it was around this round that Cotto reportedly suffered an injury that slowed him down greatly.

“That bicep is torn, you can clearly see it,” said Oscar De La Hoya during the post-fight press conference. De La Hoya also announced that due to the bicep injury, Cotto was taken to the hospital for surgery.

Ali once again hurt Cotto in Round 10 when the two fighters traded hooks. As the clock ticked to end the 12th and final round, it seems as though Ali had done enough to earn a close victory, but it was unclear whether Cotto would get the benefit of the doubt as the favored veteran and star of show as is often times the case in boxing.

“I did feel like I won,” said Ali. “But, I did feel that even if I didn’t get the win I showed what I could do in that ring.”

A night of no judging controversy seems odd for boxing fans, but the judges actually got things right on Saturday night.

“You have to dare to be great,” said De La Hoya who commended Ali for taking the fight, unlike so many others. “Look at what Sadam Ali did, he dared to be great. I can name a list of fighters who turned this fight down–you guys can probably figure it out. When opportunity knocks on your door you better take it. The sky’s the limit and we’re just excited that we worked with Ali from the start.”

Earlier reports came out claiming that Mikey Garcia and Errol Spence were two of the fighters who turned down a fight with Cotto.

For Cotto, he walks away as a fan favorite and a true sportsman who always gave 110 percent–even in a losing effort.

Even with a gruesome injury and having been hurt a number of times against Ali, Cotto dug deep to give fans one last show and finished with his head high.

“Thank you for all the fans, I am proud to call MSG my second home,” said Cotto after the bout. “I had the opportunity to provide the best for my family because of the sport.”

All photos by Ed Mulholland/HBO