NEW YORK -- After most of the fans who flocked to the Garden had left, Austin Trout hopped on the top rope, his championship belt still around his waist, and pointed in appreciation to the ones who stuck around in celebration.
Trout had started the night about as unknown as any champ in the sport. Without a doubt, he made a name for himself in New York with the signature victory that had eluded his title reign.
Trout roughed up Miguel Cotto late to win a 12-round unanimous decision and retain his share of the 154-pound title Saturday night at Madison Square Garden. Trout remained unbeaten and used lopsided scorecards to end Cotto's run as the undisputed champion of the New York fight scene.
"All I wanted was a chance," Trout said. "That's all I asked for."
He made the most of it at the Garden.
Trout (26-0) grated skin off Cotto's battered face, leaving the challenger red and swollen, after cranking up the pressure over the final two rounds to truly take control on the scorecards. Cotto (37-4) lost his second straight fight after dropping a piece of the 154-pound title to Floyd Mayweather Jr. in May.
Billed as "No Doubt" Trout, he never wavered even as a raucous pro-Cotto crowd was against him from the start. Two judges scored the bout 117-111 and the third had it 119-109.
"I hope they bring me back to New York," he said. "I loved fighting in the Garden."
Cotto used to feel the same way. He long ruled in New York, turning the city into his own home-ring advantage, winning all seven of his fights at the Garden, plus one at Yankee Stadium.
Trout delivered in easily the biggest and most high-profile fight of his career. The 2004 U.S. Olympic alternate grinded out a championship reign in Texas and New Mexico and was a relative unknown on the national scene.
No doubt, that has changed.
"I've been preparing for this fight my entire life," he said. "Fighting someone like Miguel Cotto is a dream come true for someone like me waiting for their big moment. I had to show him I was the biggest guy and push him back a couple of times. I kept pushing him back to show he had no advantage there."
Trout truly swung the scorecards his way with stiff punches to the head and relentless jabs that shook Cotto.
Cotto, a four-time world champion, stormed out of the ring after the 12th and tersely asked who the fans thought won the bout. But this bout was no popularity contest. The 32-year-old Cotto wanted to time to think with his family before deciding to fight again.
"I'm not finished yet," he said. "I still have boxing in my mind. I just want to rest with my family the rest of the year."
Trout got second billing in the pre-fight introduction, walking out first, a member of his team holding the title belt high over his head -- the intro traditionally reserved for the challenger. But Cotto's company, Miguel Cotto Promotions, helped promote the fight, and he was the main reason why 13,096 fans came to the Garden. They serenaded him with "Cotto! Cotto!" chants as he walked to the ring and they never let up until the end of the 12th round.
Trout's trunks read "Keep Up." Did he ever.
Not even getting called for a pair of low blows did much to shake Trout in what was essentially a road game for the champ. Trout was nailed in the sixth with a big left to the head. Cotto briefly put Trout against the ropes to end the 10th. Cotto put the fans on their feet when he connected with a series of body blows that left Trout reeling. Trout needed some extra time to start the 11th to adjust his gloves.
Trout did enough in his fourth title defence over the final two rounds to keep his WBA super welterweight belt.
"They shouldn't have a question who Austin Trout is now," he said.
Canelo Alverez, holder of the WBC 154-pound belt, was in the crowd, and received some of the loudest boos of the night. Alvarez seemed next in line to fight Cotto, in a potential epic bout, as early as May. But those plans are likely on hold and Trout still might not be marketable enough to get that spot. Trout called out Alverez after the fight and proclaimed himself ready to add another belt to his collection.
Before the main event started, there was a moment of silence and a 10-bell salute for Hector "Macho" Camacho, was shot in the face Nov. 20 while sitting in a parked car and died four days later.
In the big undercard match, Danny Jacobs, from Brooklyn, defeated Chris Fitzpatrick via TKO in the fifth round as he continues his comeback from bone cancer. The one-time rising star in the sport won for the second time since he was sidelined for nearly 19 months because of a form of bone cancer that led to partial paralysis in his legs.
Jacobs busted open Fitzpatrick's scalp early in the fight and pummeled him in the fifth, forcing the stoppage.
"I'm glad I got the rounds in and the ring rust out," Jacobs said. "I feel like I'm back. Obviously, I want to step up my competition. But I don't want to jump the gun just yet."
Trout's win came in one of the rare main events these days at the Garden.
Earlier in the day at a New York restaurant, a press conference was held for the Danny Garcia vs. Zab Judah fight Feb. 9 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
The Barclays Center has quickly claimed its turf in the New York fight game as Madison Square Garden's days as a fight mecca have dimmed beyond the occasional Cotto fight. Some of the epic heavyweight bouts in history, including the first two Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier fights, were held in the Garden.
The remodeled arena is no longer boxing's regular showcase for the stars.
But for a night, MSG had room for one more great fight.