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Hobbled Sergio Martinez Chased Impossible Dream against Miguel Cotto

By Ivan G. Goldman

Sergio Martinez entered the ring Saturday with one knee in Madison Square Garden and another in a senior citizens home. His dream of smashing his way to victory was no more than that – a dream. You don’t defeat Miguel Cotto with one and a half-knees.

Photo: Chris Farina/Top Rank

Still, not enough praise can be heaped on Cotto, who trained hard and came out focused, drilling his opponent with quick, thudding shots while moving around with grace and cunning. He was there to give fans what they asked for.

Cotto, who’s now earned world titles in four weight divisions, will make more history before he hangs up his gloves.

But what of Martinez? Are we to applaud his perseverance and courage in the face of a Puerto Rican dynamo with accelerated skills? That’s a decision we must all make for ourselves, but a pay-per-view fight is a specialty contract between the fighters and fans. Fans at home agree to put up more to see the action, and fighters agree to try their best to give them something worth the extra dollars. Other fans take off their shoes at airport security, fight traffic, and budget carefully for the privilege of being on the scene.

In this case Martinez was favored because bettors assumed he would keep his end of the bargain and enter the ring healthy, that if he were seriously impaired he wouldn’t be in the match in the first place.

“Sergio keeps his right hand down and it’s very easy to get that left hook in,” Cotto said after annihilating his prey in nine mostly lopsided rounds. Yes, but in prior fights Martinez’s superior reflexes prevented opponents from taking advantage of that lowered glove. The young Muhammad Ali kept both hands low and still tore up a string of helpless opponents who saw the openings but couldn’t find him with their fists. Ditto Martinez.

Sergio had fooled himself into believing that his 39-year-old body would perform as it had in the past, but science is inflexible. Casual fans often fail to understand how important legs are to a fighter. Good legs put him in position to punch and also to glide him out of danger. If he can’t put sufficient weight above one of them he’ll be off balance and unable to put the kind of leverage into his shots that’s essential to punching with authority. And if you don’t show a fighter like Cotto some dangerous offense he’ll eat you up.

It’s true that Sergio never recovered from that first knockdown in the first round, but that knockdown was made more likely by the fact that he wasn’t able to maneuver inside the ring. It’s hard to believe that Martinez’s reduced condition wasn’t apparent during training.

Martinez, 51-3-2 (28 KOs), tore ligaments in his right knee when Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. knocked him down in September 2012. He was less than one hundred percent when he decisioned Martin Murray 13 months ago and underwent knee surgery afterward. He’d broken his left hand at least twice in the ring. Those of us who expected a healthy Sergio this time out were at least partially deluded by the same stardust mentality that he used to fool himself before his trainer refused to let him enter the tenth round. He’d been stumbling around the canvas like a coyote with one foot in a trap.

Cotto, 39-4 (32 KOs), who now owns the WBC middleweight title, has paid dearly for his success. Let’s not forget that in July 2008 he endured a terrible beating from an Antonio Margarito who, according to the findings of the California Attorney General’s Office, had loads inside his gloves. Cotto avenged himself against Margarito in 2011, but for a long time he didn’t look like his old self in the ring. Now, teamed with miracle man Freddie Roach, Cotto looks better than his old self.

Potential matches against Gennady Golovkin and Canelo Alvarez await.

`sick Sick Justice: Inside the American Gulag, by New York Times best-selling author Ivan G. Goldman, was released in 2013 by Potomac Books, a University of Nebraska Press imprint. It can be purchased here.

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