By Cliff Rold
They’ve built the event.
Are we in for a fight?
That’s the big question heading into a clash that has intrigue largely for one reason: there are many who suspect Middleweight Champion Sergio Martinez has had the course. At 39, coming off nail biting moments in each of his last two outings and injury issues, is Martinez a spent force?
If so, challenger Miguel Cotto might have a serious shot at becoming an unlikely heir to history’s Middleweight throne.
If not, then we have a sound transactional move from a talented champion still seeking to plant himself firmly in the broadest consciousness of the sport with commensurate pay. For close to two years, Martinez chased the biggest payday available to him in the form of Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. Always viewed as easy pickings beyond the economics, Martinez made it just that for eleven rounds. A twelfth round knockdown created a great explosion of drama from an otherwise mundane evening.
With Gennady Golovkin and others building momentum, can the aging Martinez make it past Cotto to the challenge of serious Middleweights again?
Let’s go the report cards.
Titles: Lineal/Ring/TBRB Middleweight Champion (2010-Present, 6 Defenses); WBC Middleweight (2012-Present, 1 Defense)
Previous Titles: WBC Super Welterweight (2009); WBC Middleweight (2010-11, 1 Defense); WBO Middleweight (2010)
Average Weight – Last Five Fights: 158.55 lbs.
Hails from: Madrid, Spain (Born in Argentina)
Record: 51-2-2, 28 KO, 1 KOBY
Record in Major Title Fights: 7-0, 4 KO (8-0-1, 5 KO including interim title fights)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: 7 (Antonio Margarito TKO by 7; Kermit Cintron D12; Paul Williams L12, KO2; Kelly Pavlik UD12; Serhiy Dzinziruk TKO8; Darren Barker KO11; Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. UD12)
Previous Titles: WBO Light Welterweight (2004-06, 5 Defenses); WBA Welterweight (2006-08, 4 Defenses); WBO Welterweight (2009, 1 Defense); WBA Super Welterweight (2010-12, 2 Defenses)
Average Weight – Last Five Fights: 153.45 lbs.
Hails from: Caguas, Puerto Rico
Record: 38-4, 31 KO, 2 KOBY
Rankings: All at 154 - #3 (Ring), #4 (BoxingScene, ESPN, BoxRec), #5 (TBRB)
Record in Major Title Fights: 17-4, 14 KO, 2 KOBY
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: 17 (Cesar Bazan TKO11; Carlos Maussa TKO8; Lovemore N’Dou UD12; Randal Bailey TKO6; DeMarcus Corley TKO5; Ricardo Torres KO7; Paulie Malignaggi UD12; Carlos Quintana RTD5; Zab Judah TKO11; Shane Mosley UD12; Antonio Margarito TKO by 11, RTD9; Joshua Clottey SD12; Manny Pacquiao TKO by 12; Yuri Foreman TKO9; Ricardo Mayorga TKO12; Floyd Mayweather L12; Austin Trout L12)
Pre-Fight: Speed – Martinez A-; Cotto B
Pre-Fight: Power – Martinez B+; Cotto B+
Pre-Fight: Defense – Martinez B; Cotto B-
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Martinez A; Cotto A
The Chavez final round might be written off if not for Martinez’s next outing, a defense against Martin Murray that could have gone either way. Martinez was forced to come off the floor in round eight and struggled throughout the night. Out of the ring now over a year, he’s either healed up or gotten old.
That’s the storyline anyways.
No one can know until they’re in the ring so we take Martinez at the form of his last two fights. That form presents a lot of problems for Cotto. The Puerto Rican star has always struggled with speed. It undid him against Pacquiao and Mayweather and allowed Austin Trout to win too many exchanges in his last defeat.
Martinez won’t be as fast Saturday as the first two were against Cotto but he should still be quicker than Trout. He’s also more versatile than Trout. Martinez works well with his feet and jab and has shown excellent power, evolving as a puncher as his career progressed. Against Cotto, he’ll have reach and height advantages to go with his speed edge.
Both men can be caught and have been down multiple times. Cotto is considerably smaller than the men who have been a thorn in Martinez’s side. Murray, Matthew Macklin, Pavlik, Chavez, and Williams were all full bodied at the Middleweight limit and stood eye to eye (or eye over eye) with the champion. Cotto will have to get inside to have a chance.
The opportunities will be there, especially if Martinez can’t move like he was able to a year or two years ago. Cotto showed some renewed focus to the body in a tune-up against Delvin Rodriguez, evoking the ghosts of his peak form at 140 and 147 pounds. One thing missing though in all the questions about the wear on Martinez is regard for how much wear Cotto has amassed. He’s been in wars for a decade and the win over Rodriguez doesn’t erase the scars.
Cotto has always struggled to integrate his offense and defense, typically being in one posture or the other. The transitions are hard, not seamless. Martinez can exploit that, but only if he times those shifts. It’s not easy to do. Cotto is the sort of fighter who might not be able to beat everyone but he’s competitive with almost anyone. He knows his game plans and knows how to fight.
He doesn’t go away easy, or at least he hasn’t in the three classes where he’s won titles so far.
But this is Middleweight.
It's hard to get too excited about fights where the only way they are viewed as serious is if one person is shot. Is Martinez shot? There’s no evidence of that just yet. Martinez has shown some slippage but he hasn’t been unable to pull the trigger. When he needed a late surge to save his title against Murray, he found it. Murray, unlike Cotto, is a real Middleweight and a genuine Middleweight contender.
Cotto hasn’t looked like a world-beater since moving up to 154 lbs. but he hung in tough in losses to both Mayweather and Trout; Martinez isn’t markedly bigger than the latter. If Martinez is done, Cotto can knock him off.
This fight would have been laughed off a couple years ago but Saturday it should be reasonably competitive in spots. In the end, Martinez will prove to have healed up enough to exploit being too big, too quick, too shifty, and too long for Cotto. The pick is Martinez by stoppage.
Report Card Picks 2014: 28-9
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@example.com