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Martinez vs. Cotto: I Can’t Wait

(Photo © Chris Farina / Top Rank)
(Photo © Chris Farina / Top Rank)

By Jason Gonzalez


With less than a week to go before the World Cup begins in Brazil, boxing figured it would be fitting to present its rendition of the grand festivities first. How so? It’s simple: Puerto Rico versus Argentina and Argentina versus Puerto Rico at none other than the world’s most famous arena, Madison Square Garden, the “Mecca of Boxing.”

 

The “Sweet Science” takes center stage on Saturday night in what translates to be one of the most exciting weekends in recent sports history. The New York Rangers are playing in the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in 20 years. The California Chrome is in reach of racing immortality at the Belmont Stakes as he tries to become horseracing’s first Triple Crown winner in 36 years. Lastly, the Miami Heat is attempting to achieve a major milestone of its own, as it makes a bid to become the first NBA team to three-peat since the Los Angeles Lakers accomplished the feat in 2002.


That said, as great as it is to see boxing mentioned alongside the other so-called mainstream sports, let’s shift our attention to why “Boxing’s World Cup,” taking place on June 7 is so fascinating.

 

For starters, the “Boricua Bomber” Miguel Cotto will be fighting for the ninth time at MSG before a raucous crowd on the eve of the Puerto Rican Day Parade. Cotto, 38-4 (31), is jumping one weight class north of the junior middleweight division to challenge Sergio Martinez for the lineal middleweight championship of the world. But is Cotto a legitimate middleweight? Keep in mind that he began his career as a junior welterweight.

 

“Can I carry my power up to 160?” asked the 33-year-old Cotto at the final press conference held at the Theater. “I’m a puncher and my power has come with me from 140 to here at 160.”

 

If Cotto is indeed able to dethrone Martinez, he would become the first Puerto Rican fighter to win four world titles in as many weight classes. But what would history be without a worthy adversary to face or an uphill battle to climb? You can bet your bottom dollar that the Los Angeles Kings, Ride On Curlin and the San Antonio Spurs have the same mindset as Martinez - and that’s to play spoiler.

 

“It’s not only Austin Trout that made it a difficult fight for Cotto but [Floyd] Mayweather and [Manny] Pacquiao as well,” said the 39-year-old Argentine, who sports a ledger of 51-2-2 (28). “We have looked at all of those fight and picked up on different things that have worked against Cotto. My trainer, Pablo Sarmiento has come up with a great game plan and you will see me execute it perfectly on Saturday night.”

 

The final component that is going to factor into the “Martinez-Cotto Equation” is determining what Martinez has left physically. We all know Cotto is going to bring it but can Martinez’s body hold up? Recent evidence suggests his body may be irreparably breaking down.

 

Martinez has been inactive since April 27, 2013 and is coming off a less-than-stellar performance against formidable Martin Murray of England. It was a bout that required Martinez to dig deep while sustaining severe damage to his right knee. The injury forced Martinez onto the operating table, leaving him out of commission for quite some time. The recovery process saw Martinez on crutches for nearly seven months.

 

“It was very hard for me to come back from this, the knee and shoulder injury,” conveyed a modest Martinez. “But I have an excellent team behind me and more than that, I have my ego and that is what drove me to get back to where I was before the injuries occurred.”

 

But as far as his condition for the fight, is Martinez really in top shape?

 

“I am totally 100% healthy,” reiterated the Argentine southpaw. “My doctor, who is here with me, told me that I only need to wear it [a knee sheath] as a precaution, so I am following my doctor’s orders.”

In case you were wondering, the New York State Athletic Commission has approved Martinez to wear the knee sheath on the night of the fight. You would be remiss to not acknowledge that Cotto is fighting Martinez at the right time. Years ago, Martinez would have been a huge favorite. However, you do have to admit you might suspect that Team Cotto may be banking on the premise of Martinez being a spent force. Obviously, Cotto isn’t facing the same Martinez who upended Kelly Pavlik four years ago but to say it will be the same Martinez who fought Murray is also a stretch.

 

“I’m not worried about Sergio and what he has done or what he will do,” said Cotto. “I’m only worried about what I need to do. What Freddie [Roach] has taught me, what we worked on in training camp. The man with the best skills will win this fight.”

 

You would be hard-pressed to argue with Cotto’s assessment. However, with respect to Martinez, you can make an argument that Cotto has faced a fighter like Martinez once before. Obviously, we are alluding to Austin Trout. If memory serves us correctly, Cotto didn’t fare so well in that contest.

Martinez is just as big as Trout; he gravitates toward a stick-and-move type of fighting style like Trout but most importantly, is left-handed like Trout. Cotto wasn’t able to make the proper adjustment for the entire course of the bout, which is probably why Cotto has kept the six-time trainer of the year, Freddie Roach on board (not to mention Cotto’s aura of invincibility at Madison Square Garden has been eliminated as a result of losing to Trout).There is no denying that Roach knows Martinez well, especially after the success his former pupil, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. had against Martinez in their 12th round. Chavez got him and dropped him. It’s possible that Roach may be looking at Saturday’s showdown as “Round 13” but as far as trainers are concerned, Martinez’s chief second, Pablo Sarmiento chimed in.

 

“We didn’t just focus on the fight with Pacquiao,” Sarmiento told Maxboxing. “The fight that we studied closely was the fight with Austin Trout. We had Austin Trout with us in camp. He even sparred with Sergio. We are very prepared for Saturday night.”

 

Although there may be some credence to what Sarmiento is saying, it is somewhat stifled by Roach’s expertise and experience against Martinez, considering he has been up against him before. “The wear and tear of the Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. fight ruined Martinez,” said Roach. “He has nothing left. Miguel is the fresher fighter.”

 

Cotto’s performance in his outing against Delvin Rodriguez in October is a testament to Roach’s statement. But with all due respect to Rodriguez, he isn’t Martinez. Martinez, whose résumé speaks for itself, is of a better pedigree. So how will the game plan be different this time around?

 

“Winning this fight will be bout ring generalship,” said Roach. “Miguel must keep himself in good position and control the ring. This is what we have worked on for nine weeks in training camp. Miguel never knew how to do this before we began working on it. Miguel will have to cut the ring off, stay off the ropes and stay out of the corners. He now knows how to do it. He is a great student and one of the most disciplined fighters I have ever trained.”

 

Easier said than done. Roach isn’t the one fighting Martinez. “Freddie Roach knows me but not as well as he thinks,” said Martinez. “I gave Chavez a beating for 11.5 rounds. If [Roach] is just going off of what happened in the 12th, he is sadly mistaken. Come Saturday, he is going to be real surprised.

There is a recurring pattern in all of Cotto’s losses in the squared circle. He was boxing effectively and then stopped. He opted to exchange punches instead, simply because he was hit hard. And the fighter in Cotto prompts him to seek retribution.

 

There are three keys to a Cotto victory. If he can follow it and stick to the script, there is no doubt he’ll capture a fourth title in a fourth weight class.

 

First and foremost, Cotto needs to utilize his jab. This is Cotto’s most effective weapon. As a left-handed boxer who fights conventionally, Cotto’s jab is like a straight left from the southpaw stance. Next, Cotto must set traps to force Martinez to move to his own right. By forcing Martinez to move to his right, Cotto has an opportunity to land the big left hook to the body. That will be critical if Cotto expects to slow Martinez down. Last but not least, Cotto must make Martinez pay every time he drops his hands. But in order for this scenario to play out, Cotto must punch with Martinez for sustained intervals during the bout.

Unfortunately, Cotto’s track record against A-class opposition doesn’t indicate that the plan can materialize and come to fruition. But that is why they fight the fights. Boxing is the theater of the unexpected and stranger things have happened. We have all been wrong before.

 

The intangibles surrounding this scrap are simply out of sight. No matter what, this is a great fight and one not to be missed.

 

Cotto describe his bond with Roach as “one of great chemistry,” even going as far as drawing comparisons to Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. In this formula, obviously Cotto is Jordan and Roach is Pippen. The only discrepancy with that statement is Jordan and Pippen went six-and-zero in the finals together. Cotto and Roach have yet to reach the mountaintop together.

 

A loss Saturday night could very well put Cotto and Roach in the Karl Malone and John Stockton category.

You can expect a late round stoppage in the contest. And don’t be surprised if Martinez’s arm is raised as he’s declared the victor. This truly is must-see-TV.

 

Jason Gonzalez can be reached at jg51593n@pace.edu.

 

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