By Lyle Fitzsimmons
I’ve liked Miguel Cotto for a long, long time. He’s a big-time fighter. He’s a good guy and an accommodating interview. And he’s never shied from a challenge – win, lose or draw – when fighting the best of the best from 140 to 154 pounds.
As it turns out, I feel pretty much the same way about Freddie Roach, too. He was a fun TV fighter when I first became a fan. He’s been entertaining and cooperative every time I’ve sought him out for a chat. And his prowess as a trainer goes far beyond anything I could say in support.
So if I were strictly a fan heading into this weekend’s big event at Madison Square Garden, I’d happily throw my enthusiasm behind them as they look to conquer their first big mountain as a team.
But as a journalist, I could scarcely feel more different.
Sergio Martinez is a legitimate middleweight champion who’s met opposition of all stripes – champions, contenders and wannabes – since become a full-time 160-pounder more than four years ago.
He handed Kelly Pavlik his first loss in his native weight class. He iced Paul Williams with a single shot when the lanky slugger was one of the hottest fighters in the world. He pounded on Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. for nearly every second of 11 rounds, then was hearty enough to endure a final-round rally.
He moves well. He can punch. He’s got quick hands. And he can take a good shot.
In other words, when it comes to belt-holders who’ve faced and beaten the best that the division has to offer – Lajuan Simon and Osumanu Adama need not apply – “Maravilla” really means “The Man.”
And unless he’s stricken with early onset osteoporosis before Saturday’s first bell, Cotto’s in a big jam.
As much as I recall Roach telling me how wonderfully he and his new charge were working together when we last talked a few weeks back, and as impressed as I typically am with Freddie’s prediction acumen – yeah, I thought Oscar De La Hoya would kick the stuffing out of Manny Pacquiao in 2008 – I simply can’t see a way that his fourth-round forecast this time is anything more than wishful thinking.
Lest anyone forget, his guy has won precisely one fight in exactly 30 months. And while he certainly looked impressive in registering that third-round stoppage, neither the level of opposition for it (154-pound Delvin Rodriguez) nor the prior efforts of said opposition heading into it (Rodriguez was just 4-4-1 in nine pre-Cotto fights) should fuel thoughts that a similar outcome is within reason here.
Because it’s just not.
Remember, none other than Floyd Mayweather Jr. took all Cotto had while capturing nine, nine and 10 rounds two years ago; a clear win that was followed seven months later when a foe on the far-lesser level of Austin Trout beat a similarly decisive nine-, nine- and 11-round tattoo onto a slower, less athletic version of Cotto in his 21st and most recent title-level try.
And while Martinez is older than both “Money” and “No Doubt” and probably past the vintage that he’d attained at his middleweight peak, it’s no less true that Cotto is two birthdays beyond his own last championship victory and no more equipped now to handle a guy with faster hands and longer arms who’s not dipping his toe into the 160-pound waters for the first time.
He’ll get announced after a reigning champion and should have significant support from the crowd in his MSG playpen, but by the time Saturday night turns into Sunday morning in midtown, the Puerto Rican may be wishing he’d pulled his A-side/B-side routine on someone a few tiers lower than who he picked.
You can go home again, Miguel.
But that doesn’t mean it’s not going to hurt.
* * * * * * * * * *
This week’s title-fight schedule:
IBF bantamweight title – Newcastle, United Kingdom
Stuart Hall (champion/No. 19 IWBR) vs. Paul Butler (No. 11 contender/No. 41 IWBR)
Hall (16-2-2, 7 KO): Second title defense; First fight against opponent with no losses or draws
Butler (15-0, 8 KO): First title fight; Sixth fight within bantamweight weight class (5-0. 3 KO)
Fitzbitz says: The challenger is nine years younger and nowhere near as accomplished, but I’ve got an inkling he’ll put together what’s needed to stay unbeaten and win a belt. Butler by decision
WBC middleweight title – New York, N.Y.
Sergio Martinez (champion/No. 1 IWBR) vs. Miguel Cotto (No. 1 contender/unranked IWBR)
Martinez (51-2-2, 28 KO): Second title defense (second reign); Third fight in New York (2-0, 2 KO)
Cotto (38-4, 31 KO): Twenty-second title fight (17-4, 14 KO); First fight above 154 pounds
Fitzbitz says: Cotto has insisted his resume makes him the “A side” of the promotion, but in terms of all-round skill set at 160, he’s no match for a healthy and determined Martinez. Martinez in 9
IBO super bantamweight title – East London, South Africa
Thabo Sonjica (champion/No. 15 IWBR) vs. Toto Helebe (unranked IWBR)
Sonjica (18-2, 13 KO): First title defense; Unbeaten since 2011 (4-0, 3 KO)
Helebe (14-3, 7 KO): First title fight; Unbeaten since 2007 (10-0, 5 KO)
Fitzbitz says: Sonjica is a champion and a left-hander and has been on a roll since beating the only man he’s ever lost to. Put them all together and it’s too much for a guy rising in weight. Sonjica by decision
Last week's picks: 4-1
2014 picks record: 41-9 (82.0 percent)
Overall picks record: 588-203 (74.3 percent)
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.