By Jake Donovan
Time will tell if Sergio Martinez will get to stick around long enough to gain the recognition he truly deserves as the best middleweight in the world.
The reigning lineal middleweight king is once again forced to play the B-side for an upcoming title defense, this time coming versus former three-division champ Miguel Cotto. The two collide this Saturday at Madison Square Garden in New York City, headlining on HBO Pay-Per-View.
Martinez’ received treatment from negotiations all the way through fight week has been akin to that of a secondary challenger. The true middleweight champion since April ’10, Martinez didn’t balk at any of Cotto’s demands, simply because he didn’t want to offer the other side any excuses to not go through with the fight.
All he asked for – or at least expected – was a level playing field going in. Part of that means the simple request to wear a supportive brace for support to his knee, which is fully repaired but also – along with a recurring shoulder injury - forced him out of the ring for the past 14 months.
Even that meant more negotiating, all for a matter that has never before been an issue.
“We got a request a couple months ago that we had to have Sergio get a MRI on both his knee and hand. It is interesting that this have never come up before in the past,” points out Lou DiBella, Martinez’ promoter. “It was the commission’s request though, and we abided by it. I commend David Berlin and the NYSAC though as he came to a very quick decision and determined that the sheath is OK for Sergio to wear on fight night.”
Martinez and his team were previously alerted of a recently revised law passed by the New York State Athletic Commission calling for the ban of knee brace sheaths.
“Boxers will not be permitted to wear a knee brace during a bout,” states the rule in its modified form from last September. “Boxers will be permitted to wear a knee sleeve during a bout under the following conditions: (1) the boxer will receive no competitive advantage from wearing the sleeve; (2) the knee sleeve will not pose any danger to the boxer’s opponent; and (3) the boxer—without the knee sleeve—is found medically fit to compete by the physician appointed by the Commission to examine the boxer prior to the scheduled bout.”
The alert came well after Martinez’ aforementioned testing, which has the Argetine southpaw and his camp believing that he has become the target of last-minute mind games. Cotto (38-4, 31KO) fights for the first time as a middleweight, in an attempt to become the first-ever fighter from Puerto Rico to win titles in four weight classes. From a speculative standpoint, it stands to reason that Cotto and his team can seek every possible advantage in their underdog role.
“Do I think people were messing with us regarding the whole issue with the knee and sheath? Yes, absolutely,” DiBella firmly believes.
Ever the humble ring warrior, Martinez was less accusatory in his line of questioning. Instead, he uses the tactics as motivation for that much better of a performance on Saturday.
“I don’t know who brought up the issue about the sheath I am wearing on my knee. Whether it was the commission or Cotto’s team directly I am not sure,” Martinez rhetorically wonders. “The only one who will pay for it though is Miguel Cotto on June 7th.”
The bout is Martinez’ first since his hobbled unanimous decision win over Martin Murray last April, in which he was floored and hampered by recurring injuries before digging deep to defend his title for the sixth time.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as the Records Keeper for the Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and a member of Boxing Writers Association of America.