NEW YORK – Sergio Martinez had gone down in his three previous fights, but he had always gotten back up and won the fight. But he hadn’t fought Miguel Cotto, who dropped Martinez three times in the first round and never left room for a comeback.
In the end Martinez’s trainer, Pablo Sarmiento, saw enough of Cotto’s pinpoint punches finding their mark and stopped the onslaught, calling a halt to the fight at the start of the Round 10, giving Cotto a TKO victory, the RING, WBC and lineal middleweight championship, and a piece of history before 21,090 partisan fans at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night. Cotto is the first Puerto Rican boxer to win world titles in four different weight classes.
“This is the biggest achievement I've ever had in my career. Being here, Miguel Cotto, being here at Madison Square Garden, I feel very good. I told you that we had the most beautiful and the most outrageous camp in my career. I have to thank Freddie (Roach) and my group.”
Cotto (39-4, 32 knockouts) was nearly flawless against Martinez, who never seemed to get his bearings on a night when he needed to be at the top of his game. Martinez had missed 14 months after having surgery to repair his right knee. But it wasn’t his knee that did him in. It was those three knockdowns in Round 1 that sent him down losing path.
“He hit me cold in the first round and I never recovered,” said Martinez, who was transported to the hospital after the fight for precautionary reasons.
Sarmiento and Martinez had a heated discussion following the Round 9 – a round in which Cotto leveled some hard, accurate punches that found their mark every time.
“He was unsteady and unresponsive. That’s why I stopped the fight,” Sarmiento said. “He was hurt badly in the first round and never really recovered.”
Freddie Roach, Cotto’s trainer, agreed with the stoppage, calling it “the humane thing to do.”
You would be hard pressed to find anyone who wouldn’t agree with the stoppage.
Martinez (51-3-2, 28 KOs) hardly looked like the same man who had climbed to the top of the middleweight mountain with decisive victories over Kelly Pavlik and Paul Williams. He looked like a 39-year-old boxer who had been through several wars and whose body was failing him.
It was certainly not the fight that many in the star-studded crowd, which included actor Denzel Washington, Lakers forward Pau Gasol, who accompanied Martinez in the ring, and Mike Tyson, had anticipated at the Garden on Saturday night.
There was no ring walk music for Cotto. He entered in somber silence, wearing a short hooded, sleeveless jacket. It was all business for the man who had made the Garden his second home, going 7-1 at the famous arena since 2005.
Martinez’ entrance was much more festive with music blaring as he bounced into the ring.
But all the bounce went out of his step once the bell sounded to begin the fight.
Cotto blitzed Martinez from the opening bell. He sent Martinez to the canvas three times in that opening round. On one of the knockdowns he ripped a left to the body and followed it up with a right to the jaw that sent Martinez falling back on the seat of his trunks.
In the second round Cotto raked a left hook across Martinez temple and he fell to the canvas. But Griffin called it a slip. Just like old times Cotto’s left hook was a major weapon in his arsenal. Whenever he decided to unleash it, the delivery point was always somewhere on Martinez’ chin or midsection.
“Sergio keeps his right hand down and it’s very easy to get that left hook in,” Cotto said.
Maybe it was the 14 months away from the ring, but Martinez looked like he had trouble finding his balance even before Cotto rocked his equilibrium. Martinez, noted for being a good athlete in the ring, wasn’t even winning that battle.
Martinez looked winded by the Round 5, and he hadn’t even figured out a way to get inside of Cotto’s much-improved defense. But Martinez picked up his pace in Round 6 and started to get a rhythm going by doubling up on his jab and shooting the left behind it. It seemed to keep Cotto occupied momentarily.
Cotto staggered Martinez with a blistering right to the temple early in Round 7 and then he picked up his body assault, raking hooks to Martinez’s midsection.
Cotto opened up on Martinez in the Round 9, landing accurate, straight combinations that whipped Martinez head to and fro. It was the kind of punishment that Martinez had been accustomed to taking as a middleweight.
Following their heated exchange, the bell sounded to start of Round 10 and Martinez tried to make a move off the stool to come to the center of the ring. But Sarmiento blocked his path.
“The guy has a lot of heart,” said Lou DiBella, Martinez’ promoter. “But he wasn’t the same after those three knockdowns in the first round.”
DiBella said he is not going to try to talk Martinez into retiring. He said that decision belongs to him. But he doesn’t think that Martinez will lack for things to do outside of boxing if he decides to call it quits.
As for Cotto, it looks like his decision to go with Roach as his trainer has extended his career. At age 33, the sky seems to be the limit for the newly minted lineal middleweight champion.
“That was the best I’ve ever seen him box,” said Bob Arum, Cotto’s trainer. “Freddie is a great trainer, but you have to give the kid credit for executing everything he’s learned.”
There were questions as to whether the work they did in their first fight together – a third round TKO victory over Delvin Rodriguez – was a fluke. Cotto proved against Martinez that it wasn’t.
“I think we passed the audition,” Roach said. “I’m so proud of Miguel. He worked so hard in camp and deserved this historic victory. He was picture perfect. He won every round. He got up three times in the first round. He’s got a lot of balls. Miguel didn’t get hit with nothing. His defense was beautiful. At the end of every round it was the same as the others. I kept saying that round was better than the other.”
Arum is already plotting the future for Cotto. He said he would love to do a rematch with Floyd Mayweather Jr.
“Floyd’s not going to fight him again,” Arum said. “He’s scared to fight Pacquiao. You think he wants to fight Cotto again now.”
But there are matches to be down with Saul Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin. And if Cotto fights the way he did against Martinez, then that would certainly be something special.