By Jake Donovan
Madison Square Garden served as the backdrop for when true title lineage was reestablished in the middleweight division. Bernard Hopkins manhandled then-unbeaten three-division champ Felix ‘Tito’ Trinidad, lending confirmation to long time de facto status as the best middleweight in the world.
The fight took place on September 29, 2001. There hasn’t been another middleweight championship fight to take place in the main room since that night. That status changes this weekend, when Sergio Martinez makes the 7th defense of his World champion as he faces Miguel Cotto in their highly anticipated championship showdown (Saturday, HBO PPV, 9:00PM ET).
The closest Martinez has come to playing the World’s Most Famous Arena occurred two years ago (March ’12), when he rallied to knock out Matthew Macklin in the 11th round of their championship fight on St. Patrick’s Day. The bout took place in MSG’s The Theatre, often referred to as “the basement” due its location below the main level of Madison Square Garden.
Saturday’s contest will take place in front of a sold-out crowd in the main room, reestablishing a couple of past traditions. Not only have many of the greatest middleweights of all time played the Garden, but Martinez also gets to pay homage to the legends of his native Argentina who’ve also made it a point to ply their trade at the historic venue.
“It has been a major dream of mine to fight at Madison Square Garden in the big room,” Martinez (51-2-2, 28KO) revealed in the most recent entry of his four-part blog for HBO. “I never would have imagined that I would be headlining a main event over there if you asked me that 10 years ago.
“To fight at Madison Square Garden where great Argentinean boxers fought like Oscar Bonavena and Carlos Monzon is the grandest honor that any Argentinean boxer could possibly have. The Argentinean community in New York has always been very supportive of me, and I expect an incredible atmosphere similar to a World Cup soccer match.”
Cotto (38-4, 31KO) has represented Madison Square Garden like no other fighter in this era. His fights have sold more tickets at the arena than any other boxer in the 21st century.
Playing to the massive contingent of Puerto Ricans (by birth or by heritage) living in New York, the Boricua superstar has transformed ‘The Garden’ into the unofficial headquarters for the Puerto Rican Day parade festivities, with the annual celebration taking place on the 2nd weekend in June. Saturday will mark the fifth time in his career that a Cotto fight at the Garden precedes the parade, with the 33-year old boasting a 4-0 record on such occasions, in addition to a stoppage win over Yuri Foreman at Yankee Stadium on the same weekend in 2010 as well.
However, the 33-year old is not invincible at the venue. His last performance at Madison Square Garden was also his lone loss there – or anywhere in New York City – when he was outpointed by then-154 lb. titlist Austin Trout in Dec. ’12. Still, this weekend’s event is being sold as a coming home party for the Puerto Rican superstar, a perception Martinez plans to dramatically change once the bell sounds.
“Miguel Cotto says Madison Square Garden is his home, but come June 7th he will be evicted,” Martinez vows. “I will prove that I am one of the best pound for pound fighters in the world.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene.com, as well as a member of Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox