By Tyson Bruce
Miguel Cotto’s one-sided destruction of middleweight champion Sergio Martinez has left fans fiercely divided on it’s meaning. Boxing is often an intensely polarizing sport—it’s loose, if not nonexistent, regulations make this basically formality—making the Cotto-Martinez result a feeding frenzy for Internet gossip. Hard lines have been drawn: either Cotto is a revitalized monster or Martinez was so past it that on Saturday night Cotto might as well have been fighting his hologram. The truth, as is so often the case, probably lies somewhere in the middle.
In a recent article I speculated that Cotto’s many career obituaries and subsequent resurrections are the result of his enduring popularity. Fans don’t want to see him become boxing’s latest cautionary tale but they are also not fully prepared to let him go. Boxing has very few genuine heroes and Cotto is one of them. Cotto is a throwback to the days when fighters were expected to be the strong silent type. Combine that with the fact that he’s almost always in thrilling fights and it’s a damn hard thing to let go of. In that sense, Cotto, ironically, is the least polarizing figure in a sport so jaded it makes the American political system look like a nursery rhyme.
So what truth can be taken from Saturday night?
The easiest place to start is with the appearances of both men on Saturday night. Cotto, usually smooth muscled, looked like he was carved out of stone; a point that was emphasized by his menacing tattoos and short, old-fashioned boxing trunks. Martinez, on the other hand, looked decrepit. His once pristine physique looked like a baroque statue in desperate need of repair. He wore protective sleeves on both knees and his trunks were so long and baggy that it resembled a parachute designed to break his fall. Intentionally or unintentionally, one guy looked ready to win and the other guy looked ready to lose.
The first round, which featured three knockdowns, came as a shock to everybody, including, and least of all, Miguel Cotto. The sheer ease with which he was destroying Martinez created a look of shock on Cotto’s usually stoic face—so much so that he didn’t try and finish Martinez off in the last thirty seconds of the round. After all, when was the last time Cotto was ever in an easy fight (Delvin Rodriguez doesn’t count)? Right away you began to speculate whether the milk (in this case the Cotto-Martinez match-up) had already gone sour.
One thing that can’t be doubted is that Cotto was a man on a mission. He went after Martinez with a pragmatic yet ruthless attack that was reminiscent of him at his very best. Clearly, trainer Freddie Roach has resurrected Cotto’s career by balancing the ruthlessness of his youth with the more refined boxing skills of his latter career. No matter how shot or physicality handicapped Martinez was on fight night, Cotto proved that he still has plenty of gas left in the tank.
That being said, anyone that believes that Martinez was even 75 percent of his former self is deluded. His fragility was obvious even to the most untrained eye. His trademark bounce was replaced with stunted gallop and his once laser-like straight left hands looked telegraphed and unsettlingly slow. This was akin to watching Roy Jones, to the shock and horror of everyone, getting pasted by Glen Johnson in 2004. Fighter’s that rely on athleticism as the foundation of their craft generally don’t age gradually or gracefully, rather it hits them all at once, usually in the form of a brutal beating or knockout.
That Martinez was able to overcome the three knockdowns and make it as far as he did is testament to his courage and unquestionable character. That, however, was the lone silver lining, as Cotto ruthlessly hunted him down round by round. Cotto never got reckless enough for Martinez to land anything of consequence but was consistent enough with his offense to render any notion of comeback as futile.
This is why Martinez’s corner stopped the fight—there was just no way he was ever going to win that fight. In an act of true sportsmanship Martinez never blamed the disastrous result on his ailing body but instead gave full props to his superior opponent on the night. Tim Bradley might want to take note of this approach.
Surprisingly, most mainstream publications, namely ESPN, seem to be in favor of the “Cotto was just that good” byline—even going as far as placing Cotto on the illustrious top-ten pound for pound rankings. Perhaps it’s because Cotto is far more respected, but when Canelo Alvarez whaled on Alfredo Angulo, who was coming off perhaps a career best performance against Erislandy Lara, people were very quick to say that Angulo was a shell of his former self. Martinez is no Angulo but the premise is still the same.
Could the same not be said then about Martinez, who very nearly lost his most recent bout to, of all people, Martin Murray? If there can be any criticism about last weekends bout it’s that Martinez, one of the finest boxers on the planet for so many years, had to endure more surgeries than Michael Jackson before getting a proper superfight.
Regardless of where you stand, the boxing landscape had undergone a dramatic shift because of Saturday night’s result. Who would have thought after being dominated by Austin Trout in 2012 that Miguel Cotto would ever be the lineal middleweight champion of the world?
Hopefully Cotto does the right thing and gives the man many believe is the best middleweight in the world, Gennady Golovkin, the opportunity to prove himself. Cotto is in the unique position of being able to function on both sides of the cold war—doing business with Golden Boy and Top Rank—meaning that his future intensions have the greatest hope for honesty. Either way, boxing still has Miguel Cotto and that can never be a bad thing.