By Jake Donovan
It has the potential to serve as the biggest fight of the year, even if it was never even on the map as recently as a year ago.
That’s because as recently as a year ago, Miguel Cotto had no aspirations of fighting at middleweight. The business dictated otherwise, as the former three-division champion moves up in weight to take on the very best, as World middleweight king Sergio Martinez returns to make his 7th title defense Saturday night at Madison Square Garden.
Cotto (38-4, 31KO) is giving away a lot in natural size, but brings the crowd with him as the Puerto Rican superstar has owned this particular weekend in New York City. The HBO Pay-Per-View headliner comes on the eve of the Puerto Rican Day parade, with Cotto fighting in a New York venue under such circumstances for the 6th time in his career.
The tradition began in 2005 with a win over Mohammed Abdullaev to avenge a loss in the 2000 Summer Olympics. From there, the occasion has grown bigger each time out, including a stop to Yankee Stadium in 2010, bringing boxing back to the venue for the first time in more than 30 years, on a night where he became a three-division champ.
A win over Martinez will make him the first in the rich boxing history of Puerto Rico to claim titles in four weight classes, coming at a historic venue where he has sold more tickets than any other fighter in the 21st century.
Martinez (51-2-2, 28KO) will have plenty to say about that, though. The Argentine southpaw – boasting a world of talent and athleticism and camera-ready looks – has served as middleweight king since 2010, beginning with his off-the-canvas points win over Kelly Pavlik.
The championship winning effort kicked off what would lead to a Fighter of the Year –winning campaign in 2010. The year was capped by his jaw-dropping 2nd round knockout of Paul Williams in their Nov. ’10 rematch.
Six successful defenses have come of his reign, including a points win over Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. in Sept. ’12. The occasion served as his lone pay-per-view headliner, generating 600,000 buys for an event in which he dominated all the way up until he was dropped and on the verge of being stopped midway through the 12th and final round.
Much as he’s done any other time he’s hit the deck throughout his four-year title run, Martinez dusted himself off and finished strong to remain champion. Such was the case in a rare homecoming last April, as he was dropped midway through his bout with Martin Murray before recovering and rallying to take a close decision in front of more than 45,000 adoring fans in Argentina, his first true home game in 11 years.
The bout was his last to date, spending the past year recovering from knee and shoulder surgery and not wanting to return at less than full capacity.
But is he all the way recovered? If so, will Saturday prove to be even competitive given the size difference? Or will Cotto find inspiration on a weekend he’s historically owned, digging deep to defy the odds and turn in one last great performance?
Read on to see how the staff at BoxingScene.com believes tonight’s middleweight championship fight goes down.
BOXINGSCENE.COM PREDICTIONS: SERGIO MARTINEZ vs. MIGUEL COTTO
“Heart says Martinez, mind says Cotto.”
- Damien Acevedo (Cotto UD)
“Both fighters may be in decline and one defeat away from retirement. The combination of the champion's trips to the canvas recently and recurring injuries, which I don't trust are completely behind him, leads me to believe that Cotto will win a split decision in front of a partisan crowd. Cotto will be the boxer, with Martinez - who carries power in each hand - being the puncher because he can't slip the shots and move away as well as he used to. Every round will be tight, the exchanges will be critical but the deterioration of Martinez has been greater than Cotto and thus cannot be ignored.”
- Shaun Brown (Cotto SD)
“I think Martinez uses his reach and speed advantage to build an early lead but his body, majorly his knee, betrays him midway through fight. Without the same mobility, I believe Cotto hunts him down and stops him in the 9th or 10th.”
- Ryan Burton (Cotto late TKO)
“Cotto will start out strong, but will fade like he always does. Martinez's superior strength will take a toll on Cotto's stamina, and Martinez will begin to catch Cotto with some crushing overhand lefts, winning a close decision.”
- Michael Coppinger (Martinez SD)
“Martinez is the betting favorite but it's clear that Cotto is the more popular fighter of the two, among the crowd and in the media. His fighting heart and willingness to serve as the face of present-day Puerto Rico boxing culture makes him the sentimental favorite in just about any fight. Martinez has a significant size advantage but even during his best moments through his championship run, has always been vulnerable. The multi-million dollar question remains whether or not he’s fully recovered from an assortment of career-threatening injuries. The guess here is no – he’s healthy “enough” to take the fight – and that Cotto's body work and constant pressure will exploit those flaws, even if it means absorbing a world of punishment before getting to that point.”
- Jake Donovan (Cotto late TKO)
“I like Miguel Cotto. I respect his career's worth of achievements. And I'll even concede that he can consider himself the mainstream A-side of this weekend's promotion. But that's where it ends. Provided he arrives at the ring under his own power, Sergio Martinez is a bigger, stronger and faster man, who's accomplished to meeting - and beating - equally big, strong and fast men at 160 pounds. Cotto looked terrific in beating Delvin Rodriguez, but come on folks... even the biggest fan of Freddie Roach can't think he can simply lay hands on Cotto and elevate him to status as the best middleweight in the world after losses to top dogs at 147 and 154. Martinez probably beats him at whatever weight they could have ever met, but it'll be worse at 160.”
- Lyle Fitzsimmons (Martinez TKO9)
“While it may seem like the weight for Cotto will be okay, I think the size of Martinez will play a huge factor in how much punishment Cotto is willing to take in order to get inside of Sergio’s handspeed. That’s IF Martinez is 100% healthy. If he’s not… I believe Martinez’ handspeed vs Cotto’s power will play major factors until Sergio’s bad knees and other ailments give in as he is forced to retire on his stool after eight rounds.”
- Ernest Gabion (Martinez UD or Cotto TKO9)
“If this fight occurred three years ago, I wouldn't have given Miguel Cotto a chance to win, much less capture more rounds than I have fingers in one hand. But Sergio Martinez has looked vulnerable in his past few fights, and considering how his knee gave up on him against Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and Martin Murray, it's the perfect storm to mitigate any size advantage the Argentine might have over Cotto. And the prospect of a fighter like Martinez who depends on his reflexes and physical gifts more so than the fundamentally sound Cotto, combined with a pro-Puerto Rican crowd that could affect the judges' perception over 12 rounds, that spells trouble for the reigning champ if the fight gets to the cards -- and I think it will.”
- Ryan Maquinana (Cotto UD)
“In a true pick-em fight, I'm picking Miguel Cotto. Barely. I just think that Sergio Martinez physically can't do what he once did. There's a reason Martinez hasn't fought in more than a year and hasn't done any roadwork for the same amount of time. I don't think his body can still hold up to the rigorous demands of prizefighting. I don't think he's a shot fighter (he can see the openings and still land the punches) but that requires mobility and two good legs and I'm not sure he has that anymore. Combined with a smart, intelligent game plan by a rejuvenated Cotto, I expect to see the championship change hands by decision in a close and often exciting fight.”
- Matt Richardson (Cotto Decision)
“It's hard to get too excited about fights where the only way they are viewed as serious is if one person is shot. Sergio Martinez might have slipped but I haven't seen Martinez unable to pull the trigger yet. If Martinez is done, Miguel Cotto can knock him off but this fight would have been laughed off a couple years ago.”
- Cliff Rold (Martinez KO)
“I have doubts about the health of the Martinez knee, but if Sergio arrives to this fight at least 75-80% of his capacity, I suspect that Cotto will end badly defeated. Gabriel Sarmiento admitted that the Martinez injury is serious but if Sergio can go up to the ring without pain, he will be the winner. Cotto was an average welterweight and inside the 154 he didn’t achieve success, don’t think Cotto have the strength to stop a true middleweight like Martinez beyond 5 rounds.”
- Reynaldo Sanchez (Martinez late TKO)
“Unless Martinez's knee falls off during the fight, I think he'll come into this bout well enough to be able to fight effectively for 12 rounds. The same problems that plagued Cotto against Trout will present themselves again against the bigger Martinez. Cotto's aggressiveness will help him deal with the size disadvantage early but I see Martiez keeping him at bay with his jab and movement. Fight will be fun for a couple rounds but will turn one sided in the second half as Martinez wins a comfortable decision (with maybe a bad scorecard which has become the norm).”
- Luis Sandoval (Martinez UD)
" An interesting but a late encounter between two once outstanding fighters. For me it looks like Martinez, despite his latest wins over Chavez and Brits, is a spent bullet - and much more than Cotto, who gave a stern test to Mayweather and looked sensationally solid against Delvin Rodriguez. Stylistically, Martinez would have been a nightmare for Cotto in their primes. But after a long lay-off with his speed and reflexes seemingly vaning he will be a sitting duck for Miguel's brutal body attacks. And as was shown in the last three fights Sergio's chin will not hold up for long.”
- Alexey Sukachev (Cotto TKO11)
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