By Cliff Rold
Miguel Cotto has won belts before.
In purist terms, on Saturday night he became one of history’s genuine champions for the first time. If anyone had predicted when Cotto was struggling with DeMarcus Corley and Ricardo Torres at 140 that he would one day hold the Middleweight crown, it would have seemed laughable.
Yet here we are. The long historical succession from Harry Greb to Carlos Monzon to Marvin Hagler to Bernard Hopkins now stops at Miguel Cotto. It wasn’t predictable years ago. It happened Saturday night. It’s easy to think this won’t be a long reign. Cotto is still small for the division and the stars aligned with the right Middleweight Champion at the right time.
It doesn’t matter. In the end, the results read Miguel Cotto, lineal Middleweight Champion of the World. He can vacate tomorrow. He can lose in his first defense.
The honor will always be his. When the moment arrived, Cotto was big enough to seize it.
Let’s go the report cards.
Pre-Fight: Speed – Martinez A-; Cotto B/Post: B; B
Pre-Fight: Power – Martinez B+; Cotto B+/Post: B-; B+
Pre-Fight: Defense – Martinez B; Cotto B-/Post: C; B
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Martinez A; Cotto A/Post: A; A
There was always a feeling that Cotto had a shot if Martinez didn’t have it anymore. It was clear he wasn’t the fighter he’d been before injuries and age started to erode him, but Cotto still had to make it count.
He did so with a perfect game plan executed perfectly. Cotto was ready for the low hands of Martinez and caught him right away. The hole he put Martinez in during the first round was one of the most dramatic rounds of the year. Even those who picked the upset couldn’t have expected that wild start.
Anyone who did should pat themselves on the back.
Martinez, without his trademark speed and reflexes, without the spring in his step that had helped make him elite was left with one thing: his heart. He showed tremendous ring character on Saturday night. He tried the best he could to find an answer, to land a big shot. He fought to keep his feet in subsequent rounds when buzzed.
He took his beating like a man. It was the end of a fine title reign. His run from the first Paul Williams fight to the late rally against Martin Murray was memorable. He gave fans good fights and always came ready to go as hard as he could.
Cotto dished the beating like a man and the sky is the limit for him in economic terms now. He is, in terms of drawing power, the biggest attraction to hold the lineal crown at 160 since Marvin Hagler if he chooses to defend. Bernard Hopkins, as great as he was, was never as strong an A-side at the box office as Cotto is. As a B-side to Floyd Mayweather, a rematch between those two might be the biggest Middleweight title fight in terms of public attention since Hagler-Leonard.
The other alternative for Cotto appears to be Canelo Alvarez but boxing’s favorite Cunningham has a tough road to hoe before he can think about a crack at the Middleweight title. Erislandy Lara looms in July. Lara could shrink the game board considerably.
The biggest loser Saturday may not have been Martinez. It might have been Gennady Golovkin. His chance to fight for the true Middleweight championship may have moved farther away. How he performs at Madison Square Garden next month against Daniel Geale could go a long way to predicting whether he ever gets a crack at Cotto.
Cotto-Golovkin sounds highly unlikely but if Cotto-Mayweather II hits obstacles, if Canelo loses in July, then maybe the money emerges. Cotto hasn’t ducked anyone yet. Maybe he’ll surprise us. If not, Golovkin’s cue to move to 168 lbs. and the domain of Andre Ward and Carl Froch may finally have arrived.
Cotto has options and the hot hand. It’s good to be the king.
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Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]