They had their hands raised over 600 kilometres apart, each in front of adoring crowds after emphatic victories that proved one thing.

The past really is behind them.

Kelly Pavlik and Miguel Cotto answered their first career losses with a pair of stunningly efficient victories in a unique, split-site doubleheader on Saturday night. Finally, two boxers who had been considered among the best in their weight classes can again look forward to bigger things.

"This was exactly what Miguel needed for his confidence," said Top Rank boss Bob Arum, who promotes both fighters. "And Kelly, he should be able to dominate any middleweight he faces."

Both fought lightly regarded opponents hand-picked for their comebacks.

Cotto battered game but overmatched Michael Jennings for five rounds at Madison Square Garden before referee Benjy Esteves Jr. wisely waived it off, putting a halt to what undoubtedly was Cotto's chance to unload almost seven months worth of frustration.

Remember, Cotto's loss at the hands of Antonio Margarito has been thrown into question after the Mexican fighter was found with illegal hand wraps before his own loss to Shane Mosley. People now wonder whether Margarito had a similar advantage when he stopped Cotto in July.

Cotto picked up the vacant WBO title with his win.

"This was a very important fight psychologically," his trainer and uncle Evangelista Cotto said. "Miguel had to get back into the ring.

"He looked very decisive."

As did Pavlik, the slender hero of the Rust Belt who dominated Marco Antonio Rubio for nine rounds in his second defence of the WBO and WBC belts. Pavlik never landed the big knockout blow that he's famous for, but the sheer volume of unblocked punches finally forced Rubio's corner to call for an end after the ninth round.

Pavlik looked much more comfortable back at 160 pounds, 10 fewer than when he fought veteran Bernard Hopkins in October. That loss, in which Pavlik was sick and injured in the weeks leading up to it, can now be considered an aberration more than a concern.

"I don't know if he watched that Hopkins fight," Pavlik said of Rubio, "(but) it wasn't going to be the same Kelly that fought Bernard."

Both Cotto and Pavlik have positioned themselves for big-money fights early this summer, though nothing appears settled.

Cotto likely will return to the ring June 13, the eve of the Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York. It's his usual date at the Garden, where singing, cheering countrymen turn out in huge numbers to support their idol.

Among the opponents under consideration is Joshua Clottey, a hard puncher who's based in the Bronx and would help generate a massive gate. Clottey hasn't fought since August, when he won a technical decision over Zab Judah to claim the vacant IBF title, but he was ringside for Cotto's fight and said he wants the shot.

Other candidates include struggling Kermit Cintron, up-and-coming WBC champion Andre Berto and Shane Mosley, the WBA champion whom Cotto has already beaten once.

"We'll take a look and see what's out there," Arum said. "Mosley won't want to fight in New York, so that's something to consider.

"We'll make the fight that makes the most sense for Miguel."

Pavlik appears destined for another overmatched opponent in Irishman John Duddy, an appealing fight if only because Duddy has an enormous following and crowd-pleasing style. Duddy defeated Matt Vanda by unanimous decision Saturday night.

Another possibility is Vernon Forrest, who's supposed to defend his junior middleweight belt in April.

The fights most boxing fans want to see, though, are against fellow middleweight champions Arthur Abraham and Felix Sturm. The problem is the two Germans aren't well known in the United States and would demand a big payday to fight on this side of the Atlantic.

As for Pavlik going over there? Not a chance.

"Abraham, he's the guy that everybody thinks is the middleweight champ, and that makes me mad. I do want that fight," Pavlik said. "(But) for me to go to Germany for peanuts, to his hometown, the only way to take him out is on a stretcher.

"You go the whole 12 rounds, you're not going to win the fight. It happens all the time over there.

"We just got to see what happens and what opens up."