NEW YORK -- Austin Trout couldn't have cared less that he was entering the lion's den against Miguel Cotto. He came to Cotto's house, Madison Square Garden, on Saturday night and became the lion tamer.
Trout took the best shots Cotto had, fired back enough and closed strong to leave "No Doubt" -- his nickname -- as he won a unanimous decision and retained his junior middleweight title for the third time before 13,096 mostly disappointed Cotto fans.
"Miguel Cotto is a great fighter. It was just a great honor to be in this ring and an even greater honor to beat him in New York," Trout said. "To have my hand raised with a kingpin like Miguel Cotto, it is a dream come true."
Trout's history helped him stay poised. He has been a road warrior before. He beat a fighter from Panama in Panama in 2009, and when he won his title in 2011, he did it in Mexico against a Mexican fighter, Rigoberto Alvarez, the older brother of fellow 154-pound titleholder Canelo Alvarez. And in his first defense, Trout then beat another Mexican fighter in Mexico.
So by the time Trout got to the grand stage of the Garden to face its favorite son, Puerto Rican hero Cotto -- the most popular boxing attraction New York has had in years -- he was ready for enemy territory.
"I've been preparing for this fight for my entire life," said Trout, a 27-year-old southpaw from Las Cruces, N.M., who was virtually anonymous before facing Cotto. "Fighting someone like Miguel Cotto is a dream come true for any fighter like me, waiting for their big moment."
This was Trout's big moment, and he made the most of it.
"I knew some of the rounds were close, but I felt I pulled out a lot of the close rounds," he said. "If there is any doubt that I won the fight, I'm all for a rematch."
Whether there will be a rematch, who knows? But Cotto does have a contractual right to a second fight. And in any case, one thing seems clear: Trout destroyed the plans for a May showdown between Canelo Alvarez and Cotto (37-4, 30 KOs), which loomed as one of the biggest fights in boxing.
Alvarez was ringside, rooting for Cotto. It was the second time he had been ringside rooting for a fighter to win, only to see him lose and kill his plans for a big fight. It also happened over the summer when Victor Ortiz was stopped by Josesito Lopez.
Perhaps now Alvarez will turn his attention to Trout (26-0, 14 KOs) and try to avenge his brother's defeat.
"Hey, Canelo! Tu quiero [I want you], Canelo!" Trout called to Alvarez from the ring after the fight. "It's time to unify this division."
Judge Adalaide Byrd scored it 119-109, and judges John Poturaj and Steve Weisfeld each scored it 117-111. ESPN.com also had it for Trout, 115-113.
Cotto, a three-division champion who was bidding for his fifth world title, was bitterly disappointed, leaving the ring in a hurry after a brief exchange with Showtime's Jim Gray.
"If I agree or not, that was the decision," he said of the scores. "Ask the people in here, and they will tell you [who won]."
Cotto had entered the fight with a 9-0 record in fights in New York, including a 7-0 mark at Madison Square Garden, so the loss ends that great run. He also dropped his second fight in a row. In May, he lost his 154-pound title on a competitive decision to Floyd Mayweather Jr. in Las Vegas.
"I can't do anything but just walk away," Cotto said later in his dressing room. "I'm satisfied with the job I did tonight. I'll go back to Puerto Rico and think."
Trout started well, using his jab and hand speed to keep Cotto off balance in the first couple of rounds, but Cotto steadily began to work his way inside and do what he usually does -- pressure his opponent, back him up and rough him up.
Cotto had Trout a bit wobbly in the fourth round and raised some swelling around his right eye. Cotto was stalking and pressuring Trout through the middle rounds, but Trout kept his composure and kept firing even when he was backing up. He was warned for low blows in the fifth round and again in the ninth round.
"I felt like I was the bigger man, and I wanted to prove that and push him back if I needed to," Trout said. "He wouldn't let me box, so I had to push him back and show him he had no advantage there."
Although Cotto landed some very strong left hands, Trout never appeared too troubled by his power. He kept moving and punching and finished the fight very strong. He had Cotto looking a bit confused and unable to land anything solid.
Trout had a big 11th round, and then as the crowd was cheering "Cotto! Cotto! Cotto!" in the 12th round, Trout continued to score, seemingly hurting Cotto with a right hand in the final minute of the fight.
"He's a southpaw, so it was difficult, but I felt I did my job," said Cotto, who had dominated against other southpaws he had faced, including Zab Judah and Carlos Quintana in world title fights. "He came at me with both hands. It was a great fight. We fought until the end. I'm really thankful for all of my fans who were here to support me tonight. There's no place like fighting in MSG."
Cotto probably will rue the day he picked Trout to fight. He made at least $1 million -- the figure on his New York contract, which didn't take into account other revenue, such as profits from the pay-per-view in Puerto Rico -- but turned down an offer to face Manny Pacquiao in a rematch for millions more.
Trout was, of course, happy with Cotto's choice.
"After the first couple of rounds, I went back to the corner, and my coach [Louie Burke] gave me the instruction to use my speed and stop trying to get into a slugging match," Trout said. "I'm a really teachable fighter.
"I then got into a better rhythm. I was able to take advantage of my skills. I was anxious coming in to fight a guy like Miguel Cotto and I knew he would be strong. When you fight a guy like Miguel Cotto, it makes you a little nervous, but this was the moment I was waiting for."