Michael McCarthy is for this week’s edition of TWIB, following a record-breaking weekend for Puerto Rican Miguel Cotto.
Boxing can be a cruel game. It tests every aspect of a fighter’s makeup. If there is a flaw or fault in a fighter, physically or mentally, stepping into the ring is one good way of exposing it. On Saturday night, at New York’s famous Madison Square Garden, Sergio Martinez found that out first hand.
This was a fight I had been looking forward to since it was first mooted months ago. Sergio Martinez and Miguel Cotto are two of the sport’s most exciting, entertaining and admired stars. Martinez is a supreme athlete who exploded into superstardom quite late in his career.
Both cycling and professional football were possible career choices for the gifted Argentine in his early years but he chose boxing and turned professional back in 1997. For 12 years he wandered in the wilderness, fighting in Spain, the UK and occasionally in the US. However, in December 2009 at the age of 34, he made his big splash in a fight of the year candidate against Paul Williams. Since then he has consistently sought the best available challenge and delivered numerous exciting performances.
Miguel Cotto had a more traditional route to stardom. An Olympian from boxing-crazy Puerto Rico, he succeeded Felix Trinidad as the favourite son of Puerto Rican fight fans. And like Martinez, Cotto has always been one to seek bigger challenges and test himself at the highest level. Having already won titles at 140, 147 and 154 pounds, Cotto was moving up to middleweight to challenge Martinez.
Many considered it a leap too far for Cotto. All the physical advantages lay with the bigger, faster and stronger Martinez. The predicted pattern for the fight would be one of Cotto trying to corner Martinez and unleash his left hook whilst Martinez would use speed of foot and hand to catch Cotto with power shots whilst dancing away from the left hook. Cotto was the clear underdog.
However, the asterisk attached to all pre-fight predictions was the physical fitness of Martinez – specifically his surgically repaired knees.
Before the opening bell had even sounded there were troublesome signs for Martinez. He was wearing incredibly long shorts in an attempt to mask the fact that both knees were heavily strapped. Once the bell sounded it was apparent that Martinez was not 100%. His movement was slow and shuffling rather than his usual graceful fluidity.
Cotto, as promised, looked to test Martinez’ fitness from the start. He immediately applied pressure and looked to close the distance on Martinez, testing the Argentine’s ability to move. Within the opening minute of the round Cotto landed a left hook that wobbled Martinez.
Smelling blood, Cotto piled on the pressure and dropped the champion with two more left hooks. Martinez beat the count but was clearly badly hurt and there was still a minute and a half left in the round. Cotto had a chance to finish the fight early. Another trademark Cotto hook wobbled Martinez and he went down for the second time in the round.
The hugely pro-Cotto crowd in Madison Square Garden on the weekend of the Puerto Rican Day Parade were going insane. They could not have dreamed for a better start for their man. But it would get better still. Martinez had only just regained his feet after the second knockdown when Cotto blasted him once again with that left hook. Although the durable Martinez was not badly hurt by the third knockdown, his balance appeared to be all over the place.
Martinez made it to the bell but the story of the fight had already been set. Any pre-fight prediction of Martinez being too quick and too strong for Cotto had been blown out of the water. The three knockdowns meant the round was scored 10-6 in Cotto’s favour. Martinez was in a deep hole and the fight was just three minutes old.
Despite his super start, Cotto remained wary. He knew this fight was his for the taking but that he still had a dangerous opponent in front of him. Cotto showed patience in adhering to his game plan, rather than recklessly pursuing a knockout. He was content to dominate rounds and pile up the points. Martinez showed great heart but was clearly fighting a losing battle.
He failed to puncture Cotto’s excellent defence and did not land a shot of any real significance. As the rounds passed and Cotto continued to extend his lead, it became apparent that Martinez’ only hope was to land one big shot, but in truth it never looked likely.
The 9th round was a big round for Cotto as he landed a number of powerful shots. He also scored a dubious knockdown as Martinez’ knee was (incorrectly) adjudged to have touched the canvas after a Cotto left hand had buckled his knees once again. At that point Martinez was battered and bloody and was hopelessly behind on all three scorecards. His corner made the correct decision to end the fight at the bell to start the 10th round.
The victory was an historic moment for Cotto. He became the first Puerto Rican fighter to win titles in four different weight classes. Having eclipsed the achievements of his fellow Puerto Ricans, Felix Trinidad and Wilfred Benitez, Cotto described the victory as “the biggest achievement of my professional career”.
It was a terrific performance from Cotto. After back-to-back defeats against Floyd Mayweather and Austin Trout in 2012, many had begun to question Cotto’s position at the top table in boxing. This victory and the almost perfect execution of his game plan firmly re-established his position as one of the top fighters in boxing.
He now has a number of money-spinning options in front of him, including a potential showdown with Mexican Saul “Canelo” Alvarez. Mexico and Puerto Rico share a storied boxing rivalry and should Canelo and Cotto get the opportunity to write a new chapter, it would be a mouth-watering prospect.
Martinez’ career may very well have run its course. At 39 and with a litany of injuries, his body is beginning to betray him. He will be fondly remembered for the way he came from left field and shook up the middleweight divisions.
His finest hour was undoubtedly his epic victory over Julio Cesar Chavez in September 2012.Having schooled Chavez in the art of boxing for 11 one-sided rounds, Martinez was dropped and badly hurt in the final round. When all common sense said to hold, spoil and waste time, the shaken Martinez continued to fire back, refused to hold and saw out the victory on his own terms.
In defeat, Martinez refused to take from Cotto’s victory. He rejected the notion that injuries and age had played a part in his downfall and insisted Cotto deserved full credit for the victory – a classy move from a classy fighter.
On the undercard in New York, Ireland’s Andy Lee scored a stunning one-punch knockout. Lee overcame a first round knockdown to turn the fight around with a beautiful right hook/uppercut that will be a knockout of the year candidate.
However, this was not a great overall performance from Lee. He was making his debut at 154 pounds having dropped down a division and was behind on the scorecards after a sluggish start to the fight.
The other big boxing news this week was away from the ring but may have major long term implications for the sport. On Tuesday, news finally broke that Richard Schaefer was to quit his role as CEO of Oscar De La Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions. The move was pre-empted by weeks of speculation but the timing of sudden confirmation came as a surprise.
Schaefer was thought to be instrumental in bringing Al Haymon and his stable of fighters under the Golden Boy banner. On the back of Schaefer’s announcement, Floyd Mayweather also revealed he would no longer be working with Golden Boy.
It is unconfirmed as yet, but widely believed that most of the fighters represented by Al Haymon worked with De La Hoya’s company on a fight-by-fight basis. If they decide, like Mayweather, to no longer work with Golden Boy it will be a devastating body-blow to the company.
Finally, Katie Taylor has done it again. On Saturday she claimed her 6th consecutive European title with a victory over French boxer Estelle Mossely in Bucharest. She has cemented her place as Ireland’s greatest ever female athlete and is perhaps the greatest female athlete on the planet. Few athletes, male or female, in any sport can claim to be as dominant as Taylor is at her chosen sport.
Michael McCarthy, Pundit Arena.