NEW YORK -- Fueled by an exuberant crowd, Miguel Cotto targeted the eye. Cotto unloaded so many punishing uppercuts and head shots to Antonio Margarito, the Mexican star's right eye was sealed shut.
A crowd of 21,239 at Madison Square Garden gasped -- then roared for Cotto to continue -- as the squeamish scene flashed on the big screen.
Cotto finished the job in front of his fellow flag-waving Puerto Ricans and retained his title, battering Margarito over nine lopsided rounds before winning a TKO decision amid confusion in the corner before they came out for the 10th on Saturday night.
Three years after he took a knee in defeat, Cotto fought his heart out in the rematch.
Cotto (37-2-0) earned a punishing measure of payback for his loss to Margarito three years ago. With the New York crowd going wild for Cotto, the Puerto Rican champ was never seriously threatened and retained his 154-pound title, shuttering Margarito's right eye to cause the stoppage.
Cotto stared down Margarito in his corner after the bout was stopped.
"Just to look at him and taste my victory on him," Cotto said. "He means nothing to me. I'm here with all my crowd and all my people. He means nothing to me."
Margarito beat Cotto in July 2008, only to later have his career and reputation tarnished when he used illegal hand wraps before a loss to Shane Mosley. Margarito didn't box again for more than a year.
He needed surgery to repair a fractured orbital bone following a loss to Manny Pacquiao last year and considered retirement. The New York State Athletic Commission didn't license Margarito until Nov. 22 after ordering another examination of his eye.
Cotto believed Margarito also used illegal hand wraps in their first fight and claimed he had the photos to prove it.
Cotto said he noticed "something strange, something weird" in their first fight. His face swelled up in ways it shouldn't have.
"My face now is a lot different than last time," a smiling Cotto said.
Margarito looked different, too -- and it wasn't just the cornrows.
His eye needed 12 stitches.
Margarito never wanted to quit. His corner barked at ringside doctors and begged for one more round, insisting Margarito could still go. Doctors saw it another way.
Cotto took quick aim on the eye and by the third round it was already closing. By the seventh, it was swollen shut.
With one eye, Margarito gamely fought on, hoping for that one brutal blow that could change the fight. Half blind, he never had a chance. Ring doctor Anthony Curreri stopped the fight even though 3 seconds ticked off in the 10th round. The fighters never met in the center of the ring.
"It came to the point there was no vision at all from the eye," Curreri said. "I think it would have been dangerous for him to go out there without any visual field. He did go quite a bit with the eye impaired."
Referee Steve Smoger did not know what the doctor wanted, causing confusion at the end.
Margarito insisted he could continue, though he was way behind on the scorecards.
"I told them how many numbers I had up," he said. "I knew from now on they were out to protect (Cotto) because I was building (momentum)."
The Tijuana Tornado stopped Cotto in the 11th round in Las Vegas in their first meeting. Cotto said he long resisted a rematch because he didn't want money going to an opponent who didn't fight fair.
Cotto took any issues of legality out of this one from the opening round. The sellout crowd at MSG honked horns, waved the Puerto Rico flag and absolutely went wild for all things Cotto -- starting with his entrance to the opening strains of The White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army."
Nothing could hold Cotto back.
Margarito laughed, smiled and even taunted Cotto after suffering several big blows. His demeanor didn't help him at the end of the seventh round, when he sat on his corner stool, his right eye shut.
Cotto felt at home at MSG where he heard the type of cheers New York's Carmelo Anthony, watching from the first row, would love to hear if he could lead the Knicks to a championship.
Cotto continued taking shots long after the ref stopped the bout. Asked if he didn't feel Margarito's punches as much this time because of the gloves, Cotto smiled.
"I'm still awake. That's my answer," he said. "After nine, 10 rounds, I'm still on my feet."