Saturday night in New York City, Miguel Cotto finally put to rest any skepticism that he is not a great fighter. After dominating Sergio Martinez for nine of the best fought rounds of his career, the Puerto Rican superstar ended Martinez’s four-year reign as champion of the middleweight division. In doing so, Cotto not only won his fifth world championship in four weight divisions, but more importantly, Cotto got the victory he needed to punch his ticket to Canastota, New York. The city a fighter goes to once they retire to be enshrined in the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
The thirty-three year old Cotto may have found his way into the Hall of Fame even if he had lost last night, but it would not be indisputable as it is now. Miguel Cotto is a beloved fighter, and much like the late great Arturo Gatti, an exciting fighter. For those reasons Cotto, like Gatti, would have been given the benefit of the doubt and would have gotten accepted into the Hall of Fame. After putting forth the best performance of his career, Cotto no longer needs anyone’s benefit of the doubt.
Sergio Martinez did not have his incredible athletic gifts that made him one of the world’s foremost elite fighters last night. Martinez looked every bit his age, and the effects of his highly publicized knee problems indeed were noticeable. The now former champion was fighting on fumes, all Martinez could summon was his championship heart.
As the first round opened, Martinez found himself in a nightmare. Before Martinez even knew what had hit him, he found himself down on the canvas with over fifteen thousand Miguel Cotto fans going completely hysterical. Martinez managed to get up off the canvas three times in the opening stanza. It looked as if Cotto was going to score a first round knockout, but Martinez survived the three worst minutes of his career.
The southpaw stance that Martinez fights in is typically an advantage for the Argentine, but last night it was a detriment. Miguel Cotto’s best weapon, the left hook, was in ideal position to connect all night long over Martinez’s lowly held right hand. In years past Martinez had been able to get away with keeping his hands held at his waist, because he possessed marvelous reflexes and lateral movement. With those physical gifts now eroding, Martinez had no defensive answer for Cotto’s intelligent attack.
Martinez is one of only two fighters in recent memory to have survived being knocked down three times in the opening round to go onto last as many rounds as he did last night. The other fighter who also displayed such grit, is Juan Manuel Marquez. Unlike Marquez, though, Martinez was never able to reverse the momentum.
Martinez tried his slick tricks here and there, he wiggled his shoulders at Cotto in the rare occasions he made Cotto miss. In the middle rounds,he was able to slow the pace a bit and move around the ring. Martinez tried to peck away with the jab and work himself into his rhythm, but Cotto was too smart and Martinez was too limited.
Miguel Cotto knew the only punch Martinez had that could change the fight was his left hand down the middle. That punch never came, Martinez did not have his signature left hand at his disposal. What would make the punch so deadly is that Martinez would throw the left with real force on the punch, while pivoting his feet away from his opponent. Once it was apparent that Martinez’s knee would not allow him to pivot on the left hand, any hopes of him rallying back went down the drain.
Martinez continued to take a beating all the way into the 9th round. The former champion’s heart and mind were there, but his body was failing him. Martinez’s longtime trainer, Pablo Sarmiento, and Martinez himself saw that the effort had become futile. As the bell sounded for round ten to begin, Martinez retired on his stool. Miguel Cotto had secured the victory he needed and Martinez, like so many proud champions before him, had to accept the end of his time as a championship level fighter. Madison Square Garden went into a frenzy as their beloved fighter had pulled off the upset.
Freddie Roach deserves a mountain of credit for Cotto’s spectacular performance. Roach has often been called overrated for almost annually collecting the sport’s Trainer of the Year award. Hopefully this performance will open up the eyes of Roach’s naysayers and cement his status as still one of the sport’s very best trainers. Roach had Miguel Cotto fighting more disciplined, with more intensity than anybody has seen from Cotto since the days he was an undefeated fighter working below his uncle, Evangelista Cotto.
Sergio Martinez will always be remembered by the true fans of Boxing. Martinez was the longest reigning middleweight champion since Bernard Hopkins. There is a very decent chance that Martinez will ultimately get into the Hall of Fame. Indeed “Maravilla” has taken boxing fans on a terrific, unexpected ride. For a fighter who never stepped foot into a boxing ring until 20 years of age, Martinez could not have asked for a better career.
The man of the night, was of course, Miguel Cotto. After Miguel Cotto defeated Shane Mosley in 2007, it seemed as if Mosley was going to be the first of many great fighters to wind up Miguel Cotto’s dossier. No one thought it would take the then undefeated 27-year-old another seven years to have another truly great victory. Antonio Margarito would infamously pummel Cotto with a cement-like substance in his gloves back in 2008 to ruin Cotto’s spotless record.
In that fight, Cotto did not just lose his undefeated record, he lost his prime. From that night on, as Cotto fought from 2009 to 2013, a vintage Cotto was a rarity. You would see it in spurts, like when Cotto gave Floyd Mayweather a good fight in May of 2012. Then Cotto would show up uninspired seven months later and lose in back to back fights for the first time in his career. After being 33-0 in the first thirty-three fights of his career, Cotto would drop to just 5-4 in his past nine fights heading into Saturday night.
Just when it seemed like you could stick a fork in Miguel Cotto, as many people already have, Cotto reminded everyone why he is the star he is. Cotto came into this fight a world champion in three divisions, but at no point in time was Cotto ever considered the universally recognized champion in any of the divisions he won world titles in. Now, he is the king of the hill in one of boxing’s most historic divisions. Without dispute, Miguel Cotto is the middleweight champion of the world.
There will be fans who will try to equate Cotto’s accomplishment as meaningless. That he cherry picked the championship of the world from an aging fighter who had become ripe for the picking.
There is indeed truth to that notion. Cotto could have fought Saul “Canelo” Alvarez for the same money instead of fighting Martinez. Alvarez though, did not bring a world championship to the table, he lost his title to Floyd Mayweather. The truth is though, With Cotto having the middleweight championship of the world now, a showdown with Alvarez just became all the more lucrative and would now be a much more meaningful fight. The same can be said for a rematch with Floyd Mayweather.
Whoever Cotto fights next, he should only defend his middleweight crown in Madison Square Garden. When Cotto is motivated, he has never lost inside that arena. Those rabid Puerto Rican fans lift him to another level.
Did Miguel Cotto beat Sergio Martinez as his best? No he did not. However, was he not heading into last night a heavy underdog? Miguel Cotto is considered undersized at a 154 pounds, he just made the jump to 159 and won the middleweight championship of the world in his very first bout at a weight class he never competed in. No matter how you look at it, Cotto overcame the odds and became the first universally recognized middleweight champion to hail from Puerto Rico. With that accomplishment, Miguel Cotto has cemented his greatness.