There is more to the fight between Miguel Cotto and Sergio Martinez than its result. A capacity crowd of nearly 22,000 did not jostle its way into Madison Square Garden simply to tally ledgers at the end of the proceedings. And yet, the outcome is as good a place to start as any. So let us begin with this: Miguel Cotto stopped Sergio Martinez last night when trainer Pablo Sarmiento refused to allow Martinez to answer the bell for the tenth round.
With deficits in size, speed, and power, and dubious credentials at junior middleweight, Cotto was given little chance to defeat the aging Martinez. There were concerns about Martinez too, particularly how battle ready his rapidly deteriorating body could be; but most felt even a dilapidated Martinez was enough to turn back Cotto. Cotto, Caguas, Puerto Rico, was chasing history, trying to become the first Puerto Rican to win titles in four weight divisions. And why not take the risk? Having recouped some of his waning credibility ruining Delvin Rodriguez last October, Cotto appeared to be a fighter maximizing his earnings before his name faded in accordance with his abilities and the money dried up. Literally and figuratively, Cotto was going big; to many observers he was cashing out.
Martinez too, was thinking green. If he was going to coax another fight, even another training camp, out of his body, better it be against Cotto than a dangerous middleweight. Besides, Martinez claimed to have history with Cotto, who supposedly slighted Martinez a few years back, and would be made to pay for targeting Martinez in his moment of weakness. If his honour as a fighter were the ultimate motivator, Martinez would not have targeted a junior middleweight who was 1-2 in his last three fights, a move that left Martinez open to criticisms of evading undefeated middleweight Gennady Golovkin. When that junior middleweight is Miguel Cotto, however, satisfaction is had via the counting machine. If Cotto was cashing out, Martinez was gambling that he had enough left to win. And he knew he would be paid handsomely regardless.
Mere moments into the first round, however, the logic behind Cotto-Martinez, all that business sense and risk calculation, went out the window. Cotto landed a cracking left hook, and then another, Martinez hit the canvas, and the aforementioned outcome became all that mattered. Cotto dropped Martinez twice more before the end of the round, confirming both his own power the extent of his opponent’s decay. It was no longer a question of whether Martinez, 158 3/4, had enough to win, but whether he had enough to survive.
Martinez never got on track, never found the space or timing he needed; even when he scored, his rotten foundation kept him from landing with the speed and power of previous years. Cotto, 155, stalked him relentlessly, catching Martinez’ crosses on his guard and ripping combinations to the head and body. Desperate, Martinez tried to slow Cotto with body work, but that opened him up to the left hook—Cotto’s best shot, and one he landed seemingly at will. Without the legs to spring back out of range, Martinez was trapped in exchanges when he opened up, where Cotto tore into him with shorter, crisper punches.
The ninth round was brutal. Cotto hurt Martinez with almost everything he threw. Slumped in his corner at the end of the round, his face swollen and bleeding, his trunks falling down like a closing curtain over his knees’ final act, the proud Martinez begged for one more chance. But Sarmiento had seen enough. Martinez, 51-3-2 (28), had nothing left to give and nothing left to prove given the 55 violent trials that had preceded last night’s. Martinez is all fighter, a fact that can be overlooked in the hyper-masculine culture of prizefighting. Walking away may not satisfy his fighting spirit, but it would spare him a fighter’s end.
Given Martinez’ poor showing, debate will rage over how much credit Cotto can take for last night. There is no debating, however, that Freddie Roach has rekindled Cotto’s fire. In the lead up to the fight, both Cotto and Roach spoke glowingly of their chemistry, with Roach boldly pronouncing that he finally had the fighter he needed to stop Martinez. This duo had produced gruesome results against Rodriguez, in a fight where Cotto very much resembled his old self. But that was Rodriguez. It seemed far less likely that Cotto could channel his past ferocity against Martinez.
Yet there Cotto was Saturday, sitting on his combinations, stalking, digging his trademark hook to the body, and doing so with a subtle disdain for the crumbling man before him. Just as it is unfair to ignore the role of Martinez’ physical deterioration in his loss, so too would it be an injustice to deny Cotto his place in bringing that deterioration to bear. He hurt Martinez early and often, and while Martinez’ body did not allow him to climb back into the fight, it was Cotto who dropped him at the foot of the mountain.
Will Cotto, 39-4 (32), find similar success against Saul Alvarez and Floyd Mayweather Jr., who will certainly be vying for their shot at the middleweight title? That remains to be seen. Could Cotto do to Golovkin what he did to Martinez? It is unlikely Cotto cares to find out (though with their future tied to Golovkin, HBO should think long and hard about letting the middleweight title again give GGG the slip). Whatever he has left, Cotto is probably not spending too much time thinking of the future. Rather, a certain result, and all its attendant delights, are likely to occupy his thoughts for some time.