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Cotto: the Man who Beat the Man

Miguel Cotto vs. Sergio Martinez
Photo © Chris Farina / Top Rank

Article By Jason Gonzalez


NYC - As HBO’s Jim Lampley said when George Foreman knocked out Michael Moorer, “It happened.” Mi gente, it sure did. Former junior middleweight champion Miguel Cotto captured his fourth world title in as many weight classes after obliterating Sergio Martinez in front of a raucous crowd of 21,090 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Cotto clinched the career-defining win on the eve of the Puerto Rican Day Parade, cementing his legitimacy as a Hall-of-Famer and becoming the first Puerto Rican pugilist to accomplish the aforementioned milestone.


“We just went out in the first round to make our fight,” said the newly-crowned lineal WBC middleweight champion, now 39-4 (32). “We just hit him with really good punches. After the three knockdowns, we kept to our strategy and that was the thing that defined the fight. I was a little surprised I knocked him down three times but it’s part of the work.”
 
You didn’t necessarily have to be a sports buff to comprehend what was at stake professionally for the parties participating in the athletic festivities this past weekend. As each member of his respective sport showcased his talent and athletic prowess over the last 48 hours, it was evident his intention was to tattoo his name in the record books while in the process, being crowned king of his particular craft. Sports fans witnessed one of the most the most exciting weekends in recent memory. California Chrome made a push for the Triple Crown at the Belmont Stakes but sadly fell short as spoiler Tonalist came in first place. For the second consecutive NHL Finals game, the New York Rangers failed to hold on to a lead, only to lose to the L.A. Kings in overtime. The Rangers come home to MSG but now trail the best-of-seven series 2-0. The San Antonio Spurs have LeBron James and the Miami Heat in a tight situation in the NBA Finals. Visions of a Heat three-peat appears to cramp the Spurs’ style of play.
 
Cotto was the only success story of the weekend. His date with destiny allowed him to seal his fate and if you’re a numbers person, one-for-four isn’t the worse thing in the world. In baseball, that’s considered a decent hitting game. Cotto, a heavy-hitter himself, is no stranger to decent hitting games as he landed an astonishing 54% of his punches.
 
“We went in there with a strategy, thinking what we needed to do and that’s what we did,” said the 33-year-old Cotto, “not just the first round, the three knockdowns or the end of the fight. I think you saw throughout the fight what I can do and that was all a reflection of the hard work we did for 10-to-11 weeks.”
 
In the first round, Cotto set the tone of the bout by rocking Martinez’s dome with a left hook, which eventually put him on the seat of his pants. Cotto continued the onslaught, resulting in two more knockdowns. Martinez, a native of Argentina, now 51-3-2 (28), looked real shaky. Although he fought with “spaghetti legs” for the remainder of the frame, somehow he miraculously survived and made it to the second. By that point, the message was crystal clear: there would be more carnage to come. On paper, Martinez appeared to be the stronger man; however, that advantage wasn’t reflected in the contest. Cotto’s constant pressure had Martinez in retreat mode for the entire night. To Martinez’s credit, he fought with valor and courage. Even with the physical issues present, Martinez was okay with taking a one-way trip to the slaughterhouse. As the end drew near, Cotto was credited with another knockdown in the ninth as a result of Martinez’s glove touching the canvas. Before the 10th round started, Martinez’s trainer, Pablo Sarmiento had seen enough. He waved the fight off, causing Martinez to not answer the bell. At the time of the stoppage, Cotto was up by a whopping 13 points. Scores were 90-77 across the board.
 
“Cotto fought an excellent fight,” said Sarmiento. “It was a great victory for Miguel; he proved tonight why he is a three-division champion. We have no excuses tonight; this is Miguel Cotto’s night. Congratulations to him.”
 
Sarmiento confirmed that Martinez was okay and that he was on his way to the hospital for precautionary measure. With Martinez’s future in jeopardy, you would be remiss to not wonder if the 39-year-old, former two-division champion will hang up his gloves for good.
 
“It’s a legitimate question,” answered Sarmiento. “We are going to have to wait and see. It’s not appropriate to answer that question now. We want to let things cool down a bit, then we can make a better decision.”
 
Martinez has one fight left on his contract with HBO. If a pre-existing condition indeed may have been aggravated by what transpired in the fight, will Martinez still be held bound to the contractual obligations?
 
“Who knows?” Martinez’s promoter Lou DiBella asked Maxboxing rhetorically. “There’s a lot of things that need to be discussed, so who knows? But at the end of the day, it’s up to him. It’s up to Sergio to decide what he wants to do.”
 
As for Cotto, he wasn’t the only Puerto Rican prizefighter being celebrated last weekend. Cotto’s island predecessor, Felix “Tito” Trinidad now has his own plaque hanging on the wall in Canastota, New York alongside the other specialists of the “Sweet Science.” That said, where does Cotto rank among the greats, not just from Puerto Rico but throughout the history of boxing?
 
“It’s not up to me where I belong among the greats,” a modest Cotto told the media. “That’s someone else’s choice. Other people determine that. I don’t. I just work hard. I do the best I can every day. I go in the ring and do my best. And the only four people that count in what they think of me, they’re sitting to my right - my family.”
 
The “Nature Boy” Ric Flair used to say, “To be the man, you gotta beat the man.” You would be hard-pressed to find anyone who would disagree with that statement. In order to be considered the best or at least one of the best, you have to compete against top opposition, overcoming the sternest challenges. An iconic victory wouldn’t be historic if there weren’t a formidable foe standing between you and the finish line. Cotto has a lot of options now as he looks to move forward in his career. Gennady Golovkin owns the WBA strap. Cotto vs. Golovkin is a big fight in New York, plus it allows Golovkin to finally have a big name on his résumé. A rematch with Floyd Mayweather is a realistic possibility. Mayweather owns the WBA/WBC welterweight titles and the WBA/WBC junior middleweight titles. He could challenge Cotto for the middleweight strap and make an attempt to tie Henry Armstrong’s record for championships concurrently held. Also, the harmonious union between Cotto and Freddie Roach is paying dividends. Cotto fared well against Mayweather two years ago without him and it’s obvious Cotto has improved under his tutelage. Who knows? Maybe the outcome could be different a second time around.
 
Lastly, there is Saul “Canelo” Alvarez. Common sense says Cotto will be fighting Alvarez next but Alvarez must first get by Cuban southpaw Erislandy Lara. That isn’t a given but other than Mayweather, Alvarez is the biggest draw who brings the most money to the table.
 
“I need a rest,” said Cotto. “I know Freddie doesn’t rest; he’s always ready for the next challenge but I need to rest a little bit and then we’ll talk about it and see what we decide.”
 
And speaking of Cotto and Roach - or as Cotto would say, “Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen” - with this victory, the two individuals are no longer in the “Karl Malone-John Stockton” category. Cotto turns 34 at the end of October. You might figure Cotto has at least four or five more fights left in him. Can the dynamic tandem form a dynasty like the Chicago Bulls team of the ‘90s?
 
“Ring generalship is pretty much a lost art in boxing,” said the six-time “Trainer of the Year”/Hall-of-Famer Roach during the post-fight presser. “It’s something that my trainer, Eddie Futch really taught me well and something I taught Miguel. We had Martinez moving into the right hook all night long and it worked very well. He really gave the guy a boxing lesson. When I said we were going to knock Martinez out in four, I just wanted to get inside their heads a little bit, thinking we’re going to start quick but the real game plan was to outbox this guy because I thought Miguel is a better boxer than Martinez.”
 
Roach sounds more like Phil Jackson than Pippen when revealing the blueprint. Roach knew Martinez well but was the plan of attack to come at as if it were the 13th round of Martinez-Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. (Chavez almost had Martinez out in the 12th round of their fight)?
 
“No, not exactly,” said Roach, smiling. “Martinez is tricky, so you have to be careful. You don’t want to be careless but as far as the Chavez fight is concerned, we only trained for five days for that bout. There were reasons that I am not going to get into; Chavez is a good friend of mine. I really like him a lot but you figure if that if we were able to get to [Martinez] the way we did with just five days of training, just imagine what can happen if you train for 11 weeks. Martinez is a good athlete but not a good boxer. He drops his hands; he leaves his chin out and his defense isn’t good. Martinez wasn’t shot but he makes a lot of mistakes and after the fight with Chavez, he wasn’t the same. Wouldn’t you agree?”
 
It is going to be a fun ride seeing what’s in store for the duo. It seems to be must-see-TV. So make sure you tune in.
 
Jason Gonzalez can be reached at jg51593n@pace.edu.
 
 
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