When RING and WBC middleweight champion Sergio Martinez enters the ring against Miguel Cotto on June 7 at New York's Madison Square Garden, he will have to overcome not only a crowd that will be partisan to a Puerto Rican icon but also a number of injuries that have plagued a fighter who turned 39 in February.
An Argentine southpaw now living in Spain, Martinez is also being treated as the B-side in the negotiations for the bout, which resulted in the fight being billed "Cotto-Martinez," along with a contracted catchweight of 159 pounds.
During a Tuesday conference call in advance of the fight, Martinez (51-2-2, 28 knockouts) and his camp members reiterated their desire to earn respect not only from Cotto (38-4, 31 KOs) but the boxing world in general.
"I think that he'll get that respect and I think that he should also get the respect for the obstacles that he has overcome over the course of a career where he was virtually unknown until his mid-30s," said promoter Lou DiBella of Martinez, who last fought in April 2013 when he rose from an eighth-round knockdown to unanimously decision Martin Murray.
"He has had a string of fights and title defenses that rival the opposition that any great fighter has fought. He's also fought through a lot of chronic injuries and fought through a lot of the politics of boxing, so I believe that ultimately he'll get the credit that he deserves."
Martinez won the undisputed middleweight title with a unanimous decision over Kelly Pavlik in April 2010 before scoring a second-round knockout of Paul Williams in a rematch of their December 2009 fight that featured first-round knockdowns by each boxer. Williams won that fight by a controversial majority decision.
The WBC then forced Martinez to give up his belt for fighting Sergei Dzinziruk, declaring him “Emeritus Champion” and elevating Sebastian Zbik to the status of WBC beltholder. Chavez took that title from Zbik by majority decision in June 2011.
In succession, Chavez scored a fifth-round stoppage of Peter Manfredo Jr., a unanimous decision over Marco Antonio Rubio and stopped Andy Lee in the seventh round before facing Martinez, who rose from a 12th-round knockdown to dethrone Chavez by unanimous decision in September 2012.
Prior to facing Chavez, Martinez scored 11th-round stoppages over Darren Barker and Matthew Macklin. After Chavez, Martinez defeated Murray.
"As far as I'm concerned, I already do have universal respect," said Martinez. "This is a very, very important fight in my career and I feel that I've earned the universal respect of the boxing community."
DiBella, meanwhile, has characterized Cotto's treatment of Martinez as being par for the course.
"You ask about whether the stuff that has come up in the negotiations with Cotto brought any kinds of flashbacks? Well, not really because we've sort of consistently been treated that way. We had to make concessions to get Chavez; we had to give up our title to fight Dzinziruk instead of his then-mandatory and Chavez went on to get that fight against Zbik and to take the belt away on the same network that Sergio fights for," said DiBella.
"So he's had to overcome a lot of what I would view as treatment that wasn't appropriate to a fighter of his stature but he's always proven himself time and time again and I think that he's going to prove himself again on June 7 in front of a huge pay-per-view audience and in front of a sold-out Madison Square Garden. I think that his legacy keeps growing. The people in the know give him the respect that he deserves and before he's done, I think that respect will be universal."
But does Martinez have to defeat Cotto to gain that general respect?
"He shouldn't have to but the reality is that this is a huge fight and this is in the biggest and most famous arena in the world," said DiBella. "It's a against the most proven pay-per-view fighter that he's ever fought and the biggest name fighter that he's ever fought. So in terms of his legacy, I'm not going to pretend that this isn't huge. This is huge."
Photo by Chris Farina/Top Rank