Tim Smith

Martinez says Cotto fight will prove he’s still the best middleweight

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There was a time when no one would dare question Sergio Martinez’ status as the best middleweight in boxing. Not only did he have the best skills in the division, but he had the credentials to back up his position. There were his victories over Paul Williams and Kelly Pavlik, giving him the WBC, RING magazine and lineal middleweight championships.

But Martinez has had to rise from the canvas to score victories in his last three fights. And he has been out of the ring for the last 14 months recovering from a third surgery on his knee and a subsequent infection that setback his rehabilitation. In the meantime, undefeated WBA beltholder Gennady Golovkin, who wields his right hand like the Hammer of Thor, has stolen some of Martinez’ thunder in the middleweight division.

These are the kinds of things that conspired to cast doubts on a boxer’s credentials – no matter how sterling. And the only way to remove that doubt is to convincingly beat back the next challenge that he faces.

Martinez (41-2-2, 28 KOs) will have an opportunity to do just that when he steps into the ring to defend his WBC and RING championships in a 12-round middleweight match against Miguel Cotto on HBO Pay Per View at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night.

“When someone has been in boxing for 20 years and taken a year off, it’s not a problem because you have 20 years of experience, so that year lay-off is not going to affect me in the least,” Martinez said.

Of course no one is going to believe that until they see the 39-year-old Argentine move around the ring and repel a hard-charging Cotto (38-4, 31 KOs).

Before shutting down to repair his knees, elbow, and a broken hand, Martinez was coming off grueling fights against Darren Barker, Matthew Macklin, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and Martin Murray. The year off may have helped him to physically and mentally recharge.

“I would like to be in my early 30s than my early 50s and I’m sure that Sergio would rather be in his early 20s than his late 30s,” said Lou DiBella of DiBella Entertainment, Martinez’s promoter.

“But I think in terms of his physical health, the year off – a year to rehabilitate, a year to rest and just work in terms of strengthening his body – I think is going to be a huge advantage for Sergio Martínez, for his knee, for his hand, for his elbow, for everything that ached him and I think you are going to really see a great Sergio Martínez.”

Martinez got a late start in boxing. He played soccer and was a cyclist before taking up boxing at age 22. Some of the wear and tear on his body might have come from his previous athletic endeavors. Martinez was a physical wreck following his last two fights against Chavez and Murray.

After the Chavez fight, Martinez received eight stitches to repair a cut over his left eye, two staples in his head, and suffered from a broken left hand and torn ligaments in his right knee. The torn ligaments had to be surgically repaired. He needed another surgery after tearing the meniscus cartilage in the same knee following his victory over Murray.

He was knocked down in the Chavez and Murray fights. Martinez’s high-wire act in his last few fights made him appear vulnerable. He said he wasn’t able to do any running or road work before the Chavez fight because he re-injured his knee in the previous fight against Macklin. If his mobility is compromised for this fight, then he could indeed be at a disadvantage against Cotto. But Martinez, always a superior athlete in the ring, is certain that his speed and movement are back to his pre-knee injury days.

“Right now I am just the same as when there were no knee problems. I have overcome all obstacles,” Martinez said.

Martinez and DiBella were annoyed by what they thought were excessive demands by Cotto with regards to the promotion. Cotto wanted top billing because he believes he’s the star attraction for the show. DiBella said they relented to Cotto’s demands.

“There were a lot of concessions that were made due to Cotto’s star value and concessions that he wanted that a champion doesn’t normally give, but Sergio’s attitude was that he wanted Miguel Cotto and he wanted this fight badly,” DiBella said. “He thought it was a great opportunity and he always wanted to fight in the big room at Madison Square Garden before he retired and to prove himself at the Mecca of Boxing, and in order to get the fight we had to swallow some things we didn’t want to swallow.”

That is just one of the little things that have added more fuel to a fight that was already red hot.

Cotto is looking to make history against Martinez. A victory would make Cotto the first Puerto Rican boxer to win four world titles in different weight classes. Of course the question is whether Cotto, who will be fighting for the first time at middleweight, can stand up to a real middleweight champion and take away his title.

Martinez doesn’t think so.

“I'm sure that I will win the fight by knockout because I'm training in a very hard and intense way and with such motivation that everyday I'm hitting harder, throwing more punches,” Martinez said. “Whatever Cotto will do in the ring, doesn't matter to me, I don't care. What is important is for me to be the day of the fight in the same state that I'm working right now.”

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