When RING and WBC middleweight champion Sergio Martinez meets three-division titlist Miguel Cotto on Saturday at New York's Madison Square Garden, among the big questions will be what will go first - Martinez's right knee or Cotto's face?
Martinez (51-2-2, 28 knockouts), 39, has vowed to retire Cotto (38-4, 31 KOs) - who has been prone to cuts - by slicing the Puerto Rican challenger's face to ribbons much as he has those of past opponents.
The 33-year-old Cotto will be in his second fight with six-time Trainer of The Year Freddie Roach, who has stated that Martinez - injury-ravaged over the course of his past two fights - will last just "four rounds."
"Miguel Cotto will attack early, scoring points in the opening rounds," said Norm Frauenheim of THE RING and www.15rounds.com. "If Martinez's knees hold up, his jab could open up scar tissue that frames Cotto's eyes like lines on an old map."
Having last fought in April 2013 when he rose from an eighth-round knockdown for a unanimous decision victory over Martin Murray, Martinez said he plans to bust up Cotto as he has past opponents.
Kelly Pavlik, Paul Williams, Matthew Macklin, and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. were all left with badly bleeding faces after losses to Martinez. In additon, Darren Barker suffered a perforated eardrum during an 11th-round stoppage loss to Martinez and Sergei Dzinziruk was dropped five times during an eighth-round knockout loss.
On the other hand, Martinez has risen from the canvas during each of his past three fights comprised of an 11th-round stoppage of Macklin and unanimous decision victories over Murray and Chavez.
"Sergio Martinez might have slipped but I haven't seen Martinez unable to pull the trigger yet," said Cliff Rold of BoxingScene.com. "If Martinez is done, Miguel Cotto can knock him off."
Martinez is 7-0, with four knockouts since falling by majority decision to Williams in December 2009, having avenged that loss by stopping Williams in the second round in November 2010. The win over Williams was in defense of the WBC belt Martinez won by unanimous decision from Pavlik in April 2010. Martinez has also knocked out former titleholders Dzinziruk and Barker in the eighth- and 11th-rounds, respectively.
After the Chavez fight, Martinez received eight stitches to repair a cut over his left eye, two staples in his head and suffered from both a broken left hand and torn ligaments in his right knee, the latter of which required surgery to repair. Martinez required a second surgery after having damaged the knee injury, later determined to be a torn right meniscus, after his triumph over Murray.
"Sergio Martinez's knees are the question, an unknown that makes this one as hard as any to pick," said Frauenheim. "Not even Martinez can really be certain at how they'll react under the stress of having to pivot while throwing a punch or eluding one."
Having fought at junior middleweight since 2010, Cotto is moving up to a middleweight catchweight of 159 pounds for the first time in an attempt to become the first Puerto Rican fighter to win a fourth title in as many different weight classes against Martinez. Cotto is doing so the night before the Puerto Rican Day parade. Cotto is 9-1 with five knockouts in New York, and 7-1 with four stoppage at the Garden.
Cotto is coming off a third-round stoppage of Delvin Rodriguez in October that helped him bounce back from consecutive decision losses to Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Austin Trout in May and December 2012, respectively. Cotto's loss to Trout represented his eighth appearance at the Garden and his 10th in New York.
At the Garden, Cotto decisioned former world titleholders Shane Mosley, Joshua Clottey and Paulie Malignaggi, stopped Zab Judah and Antonio Margarito and lost to Trout. The Trout fight was his last appearance in New York.
The loss to Mayweather ended a three-fight knockout streak by Cotto, whose previous setback had come via 12th-round stoppage to Manny Pacquiao in November 2009. The triumph over Margarito had avenged the first loss of Cotto’s career, an 11th-round technical knockout in July 2008.
"If this fight occurred three years ago, I wouldn't have given Miguel Cotto a chance to win, much less capture more rounds than I have fingers in one hand," said Ryan Maquinana of CSNBayArea and BoxingScene.com.
"But Sergio Martinez has looked vulnerable in his past few fights and considering how his knee gave up on him against Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and Martin Murray, it's the perfect storm to mitigate any size advantage the Argentine might have over Cotto."
RingTV.com sought the opinions of 23 insiders for their thoughts on what will transpire in Martinez-Cotto.
Miguel Cotto by late TKO Sergio Martinez: Sergio Martinez is the betting favorite but it's clear that Miguel Cotto is the more popular fighter of the two. His fighting heart and willingness to serve as the face of present-day Puerto Rico boxing culture makes him the sentimental favorite in just about any fight.
The latter is 100 percent why I'm picking Cotto. Based on no other reason than bias, I'm tabbing the Boricua superstar to pull off the Miracle on 33rd Street and become the first ever from La Isla Encanta to conquer four weight divisions.
For a pick based on merit and skill, Martinez has a significant size advantage but even during his best moments through his championship run, has always been vulnerable. Cotto's body work and constant pressure will exploit that flaw, even if it means absorbing a world of punishment before getting to that point.
Record: 9-4 [Last pick: Carl Froch W 12 George Groves]
Miguel Cotto TKO 11 Sergio Martinez: This pick particularly pains me because I've been a Martinez homer for years. Almost everything about the guy is exemplary. However, his most notable success has come late in the game and with that has come the stresses of age and wear.
With each fight comes a new setback. With each new setback seemingly comes a new concern about this or that body part being injured or further eroded. My hopeful side thinks the fighter who made an example of Kelly Pavlik scant years ago would take offense to coming out first and being billed second on fight posters and advertisements, ultimately taking it out on his naturally smaller opponent.
Do I want to see Sergio Martinez prevail? You'd better believe I do. Alas, I can't see any other result than Miguel Cotto bullying the legitimate middleweight king – a staunch anti-bullying advocate – while taking away his legs and busting him up until the referee mercifully calls a halt to the bout. And then I'll bum out on the level I did when Manny Pacquiao destroyed Marco Antonio Barrera in 2003 or when Seth Rollins turned on the Shield this week on Monday Night RAW. It'll be a drag, man.
Record: 3-1 [Last pick: Mike Alvarado TKO9/10 Juan Manuel Marquez]
Miguel Cotto UD 12 Sergio Martinez: Sergio Martinez's knees are the question, an unknown that makes this one as hard as any to pick. Not even Martinez can really be certain at how they'll react under the stress of having to pivot while throwing a punch or eluding one.
Unlike NBA players who play on Madison Square Garden's famed floor, Martinez won't be able to test the knees over a tentative first quarter. Boxing, not basketball, is the true one-on-one match-up.
Miguel Cotto will attack early, scoring points in the opening rounds. If Martinez's knees hold up, his jab could open up scar tissue that frames Cotto's eyes like lines on an old map.
But the initiative belongs to Cotto. If he uses it to gain early momentum in front of loud and loyal fans, he can sustain it and exercise caution later for a victory on the cards.
Record: 11-5 [Last pick: Froch UD 12 Groves]
Sergio Martinez TKO 10 Miguel Cotto: There's no reason to believe that Miguel Cotto won't put up one hell of an effort against defending middleweight champion Sergio Martinez but there is also no reason to believe he'll win the fight.
Regardless of what trainer Freddie Roach would have you believe, Martinez possesses nearly every advantage imaginable, including an upwardly mobile southpaw attack pattern that the naturally smaller Cotto will be beaten to a pulp by.
If Martinez can stay healthy and uninjured during this superfight, his seventh defense of the world middleweight crown, "Maravilla" will prove to be very bad for Cotto's health.
Expect Martinez to pick Cotto apart like he did to Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. but the difference will be Cotto on the canvas late in the fight rather than Martinez.
With all the speed necessary to put his punching power on a poorly defended target, Martinez improves on what Austin Trout did to Cotto and adds an Antonio Margarito ending with Cotto down on a knee and out of the fight before 10 rounds are complete.
Record: 11-5 [Last pick: Groves W 12 Froch]
Sergio Martinez TKO 10 Miguel Cotto: As much as this is an attractive fight, in terms of the respective players, there is still a lot not to like about it. Firstly, Miguel Cotto is never a middleweight.
Cotto stands 5-foot-7 with a small reach and his 154-pound run was hardly impressive. A revenge win over Antonio Margarito was a standout moment but the Mexican warrior was damaged goods.
Cotto also struggled mightily against Ricardo Mayorga before being outclassed by Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Austin Trout. As for Sergio Martinez, things aren’t exactly looking up.
Multiple injuries have led to long periods of inactivity and the warning signs have been out during recent title defenses. He's been down in each of his last three fights and has looked no part of the fighter who tore through Kelly Pavlik, Paul Williams and Sergei Dzinziruk.
Putting their respective shortcomings to one side, I think the night will belong to Martinez. Cotto looked awful against Trout and couldn’t cope with the southpaw stance. If the Puerto Rican legend thought Trout was awkward, then Martinez will probably drive him to distraction.
I see "Maravilla" picking Cotto off with ease and although he might get clobbered by the odd big punch, his size and strength will be real factors in this fight.
Cotto's win over Delvin Rodriguez proved little and the switch to Freddie Roach doesn't make him a middleweight. Cotto goes into retreat mode from round six and gets stopped late.
Record: 13-3 [Last pick: Groves SD 12 Froch]
Sergio Martinez W 12 Miguel Cotto: Yes, Sergio Martinez is 39 years old. Yes, he's taking a risk by fighting Miguel Cotto at Madison Square Garden the week of the Puerto Rican Parade. Yes, he's coming off the longest layoff of his career.
But Martinez is athletic, left-handed and angry about Cotto's "A-side/B-side" demands. He's also disciplined. I believe that he will be 100 percent when he steps inside the ring and that a 100 percent-Martinez is a real handful.
Martinez's protractor-bending angles and snake-charmer moves will twist Cotto into knots and he'll score enough points to make his point. After all, another lefty in Austin Trout was the first to break the MSG spell and Martinez will be the first to do it in June.
Record: 6-3 [Last pick: Froch W 12 Groves]
Sergio Martinez UD 12 Miguel Cotto: The obvious question is whether Sergio Martinez will be the superior athlete we've known him to be or an old man grasping at straws to recapture previous glory. Martinez is no spring chicken and the time off due to injuries could put his ring rust on full display.
However, Martinez is arguably one of the most underrated talents in all of boxing and the perfect foil to Cotto's body punching assault. Martinez's punching power is severely undervalued, his speed often forgotten about and his boxing I.Q. never spoken of in casual boxing circles. Not to take anything away from Miguel Cotto but this is the type of fighter who could give him all kinds of problems on June 7.
If Martinez's 39-year-old body has recovered well, I see a increasingly frustrated Cotto taking chances as the fight carries on that will allow Martinez to pick off his approach and score enough to take home the decision victory in Cotto's backyard. Now, if Martinez is damaged goods, forget this pick ever happened.
Record: 13-2 [Last pick: Froch UD 12 Groves]
Miguel Cotto W 12 Sergio Martinez: If this fight occurred three years ago, I wouldn't have given Miguel Cotto a chance to win, much less capture more rounds than I have fingers in one hand.
But Sergio Martinez has looked vulnerable in his past few fights and considering how his knee gave up on him against Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and Martin Murray, it's the perfect storm to mitigate any size advantage the Argentine might have over Cotto.
And for a fighter like Martinez who depends on his reflexes and physical gifts more so than the fundamentally sound Cotto, along with a pro-Puerto Rican crowd that could affect the judges' perception over 12 rounds, that spells trouble for the reigning champ if the fight gets to the cards - and I think it will.
Record: 3-0 [Last pick: Marquez UD 12 Alvarado]
Miguel Cotto UD 12 Sergio Martinez: This looks like a battle to see who has the most left in the tank or perhaps, more correctly, who has declined the least. Judging off recent form, that seems to be Miguel Cotto. He actually appeared rejuvenated under the tutelage and motivation of Freddie Roach and Freddie, himself, is on a pretty good roll right now.
Sergio Martinez, at his best, was a master and a beautiful practitioner of boxing. The problem is, he is no longer at his best and although his injuries have apparently healed, it does not seem likely, at the age of 39, that he is suddenly going to roll back the years. Martinez has been down in each of his last three fights, was in dire straits in 12th round vs. Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and fairly desperate against Martin Murray as well.
Martinez's problems come in the second halves of fights, when he wears down. It will be important from Cotto's standpoint to do enough to him early to set the scene for that same type of scenario to unfold. I suspect Martinez will look great for first three-to-four rounds but if Cotto applies enough pressure and takes those legs away from Martinez, it will pay off after that. Cotto dominates after the early rounds and pulls away to victory.
Record: 11-5 [Last pick: Froch TKO 10 Groves]
Sergio Martinez TKO 11 Miguel Cotto: Miguel Cotto is a Hall of Famer in his own right but a healthy Sergio Martinez may be able to advance his own case for induction into the Canastota shrine with another memorable victory.
It will be a war of attrition with Martinez peppering Cotto with stinging jabs and blistering combinations and frustrating him by keeping the distance and neutralizing Cotto’s onrushing bullish attacks and Martinez should prevail with his speed and his great ring I.Q.
Record: 2-1 [Last pick: Froch UD 12 Groves]
Sergio Martinez W 12 Miguel Cotto: I wish I could hedge my bet. Back and forth I go. The big question for me has to do with the health issues of the aging and inactive champion, Sergio Martinez. Bu on the other hand, how much is Miguel Cotto really "back"?
So what that he looked very good in demolishing Delvin Rodriguez? All things being without outside influence - biased Cotto judging in New York City or the complete physical collapse of Sergio – I'm looking at Martinez using his tricky style to stymie Cotto.
I think that Cotto will have a relatively difficult time in finding his foe enough times to be effective over the 12 rounds. Martinez by close decision but I can't really tell with how some judges will look at this.
Record: 9-1 [Last pick: Froch KO 9 Groves]
Sergio Martinez W 12 Miguel Cotto: My first thought, when I heard that Sergio Martinez and Miguel Cotto were scheduled to fight was that Martinez wins. My thinking hasn't changed but there a number of intangibles that make this bout intriguing.
Martinez is 39 years old and he hasn't fought in over a year. In his last match, a hard-fought victory over Martin Murray, Martinez fractured his hand and re-injured his right knee.
Martinez recently revealed that he also hurt his left shoulder during training camp. Is age making Martinez brittle? Cotto looked like his old powerful stuff last October when he dismantled Delvin Rodriguez in three brutal rounds but Rodriguez is not Martinez.
I do believe that Martinez has seen better days and that his body is breaking down but his style will always give Cotto problems. I see an intense bout with Cotto applying major pressure in the early rounds.
Martinez will use his speed, superior movement and long jab to keep Cotto off balance and he will survive some scary moments to win a close unanimous decision.
Record: 12-4 [Last pick: Froch TKO 10 Groves]
Miguel Cotto W 12 Sergio Martinez: In a true pick-em fight, I'm picking Miguel Cotto. Barely. I just think that Sergio Martinez physically can't do what he once did.
There's a reason Martinez hasn't fought in more than a year and hasn't done any roadwork for the same amount of time. I don't think his body can still hold up to the rigorous demands of prizefighting.
I don't think he's a shot fighter - he can see the openings and still land the punches - but that requires mobility and two good legs and I'm not sure he has that anymore.
Combined with a smart, intelligent game plan by a rejuvenated Cotto, I expect to see the championship change hands by decision in a close and often exciting fight.
Record: 11-4 [Last pick: Froch W 12 Groves]
Sergio Martinez W 12 Miguel Cotto: I am favoring Sergio Martinez over Miguel Cotto but have some uncertainty with this pick. Like many, I am just curious to see what version of Martinez will show up.
I think we have a pretty nice gauge on what Cotto will be in the ring on June 7 as he has shown himself to be still very much dedicated to his career. It's just Martinez who I am questioning; however, I think he has enough to pull it off.
Record: 4-2 [Last pick: Marquez W 12 Alvarado]
Sergio Martinez KO Miguel Cotto: It's hard to get too excited about fights where the only way they are viewed as serious is if one person is shot.
Sergio Martinez might have slipped but I haven't seen Martinez unable to pull the trigger yet. If Martinez is done, Miguel Cotto can knock him off but this fight would have been laughed off a couple years ago.
Record: 9-6 [Last pick: Froch W 12 Groves]
Sergio Martinez UD 12 Miguel Cotto: I like Sergio Martinez close but by a unanimous decision. I believe Sergio's style is wrong for Miguel Cotto.
Sergio has had a long rest; his injuries have had time to heal and his body is rested. I think his time off will be the key to an easier night.
Record: 3-1 [Last pick: Simpiwe Vetyeka SD 12 Nonito Donaire]
Sergio Martinez W 12 Miguel Cotto: I'm going with Sergio Martinez to be elusive and cagey and tricky enough to offset Miguel Cotto's pressure attempts and win a decision. I think the mesh in styles will make for a very competitive and interesting match.
But I just think that if Martinez is fully healed and unaffected from recent injuries, his movement and hard-to-time shots from the outside will cause Miguel a lot of problems and leave him unable to pin Sergio down long enough to get the job done.
Record: 8-3 [Last pick: Marquez W 12 Alvarado]
Miguel Cotto TKO Sergio Martinez: I have to go with Miguel Cotto here. I don't know how healthy Sergio Martinez's knees are but if he isn't able to move for 12 rounds, Cotto is the wrong guy to stand in front of, immobile.
We saw how Cotto was able to take apart the mobile Yuri Foreman once his legs were no longer able to keep him out of danger. Martinez may be bigger, physically, but he generates all of his power on movement. Cotto's measured attack will eventually grind him down I feel en route to a TKO win late.
Record: 3-0 [Last pick: Donaire W 12 Vetyeka]
Sergio Martinez UD 12 Miguel Cotto: As long as Sergio Martinez doesn't have issues with his surgically repaired knee, he should be able to beat Miguel Cotto. Martinez is bigger, faster and more athletic than the Puerto Rican superstar.
Cotto has a chance if he can stay close enough to Martinez to land his signature left hook to the body frequently enough to slow down the champion. The usually elusive and awkward Martinez will try to box from the outside and use his superior hand speed.
I see Cotto having some success going to Martinez's body but otherwise, I don't think he will be fast enough to land enough over 12 rounds to win the fight. I look for Martinez to score a knockdown and win a clear decision, something along the lines of 117-110.
Record: 10-1 [Last pick: Froch SD 12 Groves]
Sergio Martinez SD 12 Miguel Cotto: This should be a great fight. I was going to pick Miguel Cotto based on the age difference and the fact that he's got Freddie Roach in his corner as well as how Sergio Martinez looked in his last fight.
Then I looked at his record and saw that Cotto has not defeated an elite fighter since Shane Mosley - and Mosley was 36 at the time. Martinez is an elite fighter and though he's almost 40, he stays in superb shape.
Martinez was hurting in his last fight, which accounts for the sub-par performance. I think Cotto will have some trouble with the southpaw style and will put up a good fight in front of his legions of fans at Madisonn Square Garden. But it will not quite be enough.
Record: 9-1 [Last pick: Froch TKO 7 Groves]
Sergio Martinez W 12 Miguel Cotto: What did we learn from Miguel Cotto's going 1-2 in his last three fights? Well, he can compete with the best fighter on the planet in Floyd Mayweather Jr. but he can't deal with a boxer with good lateral movement in Austin Trout and he can do great things with an opponent who's not on his level in Delvin Rodriguez.
Although Sergio Martinez hasn't lost a prize fight since his controversial loss to Paul Williams in 2009, he has also looked vulnerable in his past three fights. What does that tell us? We, the fans, will receive an excellent treat between two men who always put it on the line for their supporters.
Don't buy into the notion that "Martinez is too big and to quick for Cotto." Sure, the size advantage and speed department will benefit the aging warhorses but it won't be overwhelming. Cotto always was a bit of a late starter in his bouts and will get busy early with his consummate body attack. That should make Martinez a bit uncomfortable as both men sustain great deal of punishment early on.
Martinez may even get dropped somewhere in round four, courtesy of a Cotto left hook, appearing to make trainer Freddie Roach prophetic given that he predicted a knockout by Cotto over Martinez inside four rounds. But Martinez will get back on his bicycle, popping his jab and circling to fire off three and four-punch combinations to bloody and tie up Cotto.
But there can only be one and I have Martinez taking a close and exciting decision by scores of 115-113. The result will crush Cotto's dream of becoming the first Puerto Rican to win four titles in as many weight divisions. But because of Cotto's performance, he will remain relevant in boxing.
Record: 10-4 [Last pick: Froch W 12 Groves]
Sergio Martinez UD 12 Miguel Cotto: Left hooks to the body, calm demeanor, resilient mentality, horrible full-body tattoos. Miguel Cotto is known for many things but beating the odds isn't one of them. Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr. hammered that point home. Cotto will undoubtedly be enshrined in the Hall of Fame after he retires.
But as far as his active career, Cotto overcoming underdog status is something we have yet to see. Two years ago, at this weight and title, this fight could have been shrugged off following Cotto's losses to Mayweather and Austin Trout. But as only boxing has been able to do time and again, the odds are slowly lining up. Enter "Maravilla" Martinez.
Despite fighting slightly above his natural fighting weight, Martinez has cemented himself as the middleweight champion the old-fashioned way: he beat anyone they put in front of him. Yet after years of fantastically grueling victories, the crown has finally taken its toll. What we have in front of us is a battered and chronically-injured champion ready to make a stand against the third most popular fighter in boxing.
The problem or appeal – depending how you look at it - with this fight is the amount of questions that come with it. Will switching over to Freddie Roach bring out the offensive force that enabled Cotto sell out Madison Square Garden several times over? Does Cotto's power translate to 160? Are Maravilla's natural size and strength advantages still advantageous when they come with several busted limbs?
Does a victory for Cotto mean sequels to his fights with Pacquiao and Mayweather? Does Martinez still have enough in him to beat Cotto and take on fast-rising Gennady Golovkin? Even with all the questions and variables this fight is throwing out there, I believe that Cotto is out of his depth at middleweight. I believe that Martinez will turn in a gritty and determined performance that will have his hand raised at the end of 12 rounds.
Record: 6-5 [Last pick: Groves UD 12 Froch]
Sergio Martinez W 12 Miguel Cotto: Tension has been simmering for months between these two, though they have a storied history dating back to meeting in Mexico several years ago. There are several intangibles which will play a huge part in how this fight plays out.
Has Sergio Martinez gotten over the injuries? How are they holding up? He's looked an old fighter of late; will he again? How will Miguel Cotto look at a career-high 159? How is his body holding up after so many miles on the clock?
All told, I suspect Martinez starts the better and builds a lead over the first half of the fight. Cotto will continue to press Martinez, enjoying moments along the way. But I suspect, down the stretch, he'll be behind on the cards.
Cotto will look to do damage with his body work, which will have slowed Martinez down. But the still versatile champion will hold off a late onslaught to retain his titles in a close-but-deserved points win for Martinez.
Record: 11-3 [Last pick: Froch TKO 9 Groves]
By a one-sided 16-to-7, the insiders favor RING and WBC champion Sergio Martinez to successfully defend his crowns against three-division titlewinner Miguel Cotto.
Photo Credit: Chris Farina-Top Rank