NEW YORK – Respect, or the lack thereof, seems to be the running theme between RING and WBC middleweight champion Sergio Martinez and Miguel Cotto leading up to their match at Madison Square Garden on June 7.
It seems it was the primary hangup that dragged out negotiations for what will be one of the most highly anticipated matches of the year.
Bob Arum of Top Rank (Cotto’s promoter) and Lou DiBella of DiBella Entertainment (Martinez’s promoter) were seated six feet from each other at separate tables before a noontime press conference on Tuesday at Madison Square Garden to announce the show.
They were asked whether money prolonged the negotiations. No, they said. Was it the weight? Nope. Both boxers were fine with the 159-pound catchweight.
Finally, they both rolled their eyes upwards and admitted that it came down to something as ridiculous as whose picture would appear on the left side (the dominant side) of the poster for the fight.
In the end Cotto got the upper hand, top billing for the HBO Pay Per View show at Madison Square Garden, where he has fought eight times.
“We kept getting pushed across the room in terms of making a deal that was more favorable for Cotto from the beginning," DiBella said. “Our fighter wanted the fight and we moved very quickly and then we sat for about a month waiting for Miguel and [Cotto’s lawyer] Gabby [Penagaricano] and Top Rank."
Cotto of Caguas, Puerto Rico, is a proud man. He will be fighting before a partisan crowd at the culmination of Puerto Rican Pride week in New York. And he will be attempting to make history.
“Being here to try to become the first Puerto Rican to win titles in four different weight classes and being able to do it in front of all those Puerto Rican fans is going to give me the extra motivation to beat Sergio Martinez," Cotto said.
Martinez, who is from Argentina but now lives in Spain, has had it with Cotto asking for everything in the lead up to the fight.
“He is like a 15-year-old girl, like a little ballerina," Martinez said. “If he’s not on the left side of the poster, he’s not going to fight. If he can’t come out of the dressing room last, he’s not going to fight. If he doesn’t get the referee that he wants, he’s not going to fight. It’s just been ridiculous with all these little things."
Martinez views Cotto’s insistence in getting his way on every small detail in this fight as just more of his arrogance. Martinez said he first witnessed it several years ago when he saw Cotto in Mexico. He said he admired Cotto and went up to meet him when he saw him. But Cotto dismissed him.
“It wasn’t so much about how he was treating me, but how he was treating everyone else, even the guy who was bringing the water [to the table]," Martinez said. “It bothered me because he’s not better than anyone else. Whether it’s me, Mayweather or a guy sleeping on the street, we’re all equal."
Of course Cotto said he doesn’t remember any encounter with Martinez in Mexico. He said he always treats everyone with respect and he doesn’t harbor any animosity toward Martinez.
“If that’s what he needs to motivate himself, then that’s fine," Cotto said.
To Cotto’s way of thinking, his fighting for top billing is something that he was within his rights to do. He said it was all about business and that Martinez, who missed all of last year recovering from his third surgery on his right knee, should understand that.
“There have been two times in my career, with fights against (Floyd) Mayweather and (Manny) Pacquiao, that I understood that they were the A-side of everything," Cotto said. “I understood my position as the B-side. Sergio is the B-side here. I’m the guy who is going to sell all the tickets and put all the people in [the Garden]. Sergio is a great fighter, but he’s not the A-side."
What both Cotto and Martinez fully understand is that respect is ultimately earned in the ring. This is the type of match that will garner respect for both men.
Cotto is looking to regain his winning form at the Garden. He lost his last match there against Austin Trout, a troublesome southpaw. Cotto couldn’t figure out Trout’s right jab and went on to lose a 12-round decision. But he rebounded nicely with a third-round TKO victory over Delvin Rodriguez on Oct. 5.
It was Cotto’s first match with Freddie Roach in his corner. Roach was in Pacquiao’s corner when the Filipino stopped Cotto on a 12th-round TKO in 2009. That doesn’t bother Cotto.
“It’s just work and he has to do the best that he can," Cotto said. “He was working with Manny and he just gave Manny the keys to beat me."
Cotto said working with Roach has rekindled the drive in him to recapture the style that helped him win championships at 140, 147 and 154 pounds.
Arum said he likes the relationship that Roach is developing with Cotto.
“Miguel is a very smart young man and he realizes how much Freddie brings to table," Arum said. “It’s really a match made in heaven. It’s really unusual to see a trainer and a fighter this late in his career bond in the way that they have."
Cotto said he will begin training at Roach’s Wild Card Boxing Club on April 14 – two days after Pacquiao’s fight against Timothy Bradley. So he expects to get Roach’s full attention.
Just how much the 39-year-old Martinez will have after his third knee surgery, surgery on his ankle and having been out of the ring for a year, is the biggest question of the match. Martinez has been down in his last three fights, but has rallied to pull them out. He hasn’t been able to do any road work since before his match against Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. on Sept. 15, 2012.
Leg problems are a red flag for a boxer who has relied upon his speed and movement for much of his career, but Martinez said there won’t be any issues with his conditioning because he plans to begin road work at the end of the month.
“This time there won’t be any issues with my movement," Martinez said. “My leg is very strong. The only reason I’m not running now is for precaution."
Cotto said he has wanted this fight for a long time and can’t wait for all the talking to end.
“People have been talking about this fight for a long time," Cotto said. “But this is the right moment for me."