By Tyson Bruce
This weekend on HBO PPV Sergio “Maravilla” Martinez and Miguel Cotto, two of this generations best fighters, meet in a match-up that just a few short years ago no one would have thought was possible. In a boxing climate that is withering from more fissures than the Titanic—consumed more by what is not happening than what is happening—a major fight between two of the most honest guys in the sport is just what the doctor ordered.
Don’t you miss the days when a good fight was enough? Did those days ever really exist or are old fans just victims of their own nostalgia? What is certainly clear is that it seems more and more that the general sports fan requires more bells and whistles than an award show just to get excited or even interested in a fight. Or is it just that boxing’s violent nature is just out of step in a culture that defines political correctness gone mad?
It’s the reason why Floyd Mayweather, through his “Money” persona, has become the most watched fighter in boxing. People don’t seem to mind that his fights are rarely entertaining, so long as they get to see him count money on his Leer Jet or get in the odd street brawl at Fat Burger. In fact, his exquisite skills often, sadly, fall second to his antics outside the ropes. For all the mainstream public knows he could fight like Mike Tyson.
Our society is lost in a haze of minutia—a rotting empire that seems isolated from any remaining sense of decency. More than ever boxing appears to be a reflection of society. It is both infuriating and worrisome that boxing fans seem to prefer the reality TV antics/nonsense of Mayweather’s “money” persona to a 24-7 episode between Cotto and Martinez where glory, non-fabricated animosity and ring strategy are the dominant topics. After all, isn’t this supposed to be about boxing at the end of the day?
Cotto-Martinez is a throw back fight in the very best sense of the term. It’s the kind of fight that will sell out Madison Square Garden simply on the quality of the match-up. That doesn’t happen very often anymore. The reason Cotto-Martinez is able to do it is because both men have tremendous ethnic followings. Boxing is primarily a tribal business and the Latino honor and machismo seems to be as much at stake in this fight as Martinez’s middleweight championship.
Miguel Cotto has been one of the great success stories in boxing over the last decade or so, escaping many of the pitfalls of the business. Despite losing against the two best fighters of his generation, Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather, Cotto has managed to remain a commanding financial force in the game. In a sense he is to this generation what Thomas Hearns was in the 1980’s—a great and exciting champion that came up just short against the two best fighters of his time.
Like Hearns, Cotto has managed to remain relative despite the losses because he brings such a high level and excitement and drama to his fights. In an era where undefeated records mean everything, fans have remained loyal to Cotto. But make no mistake, Cotto, after so many excruciating wars, is coming to the end of his leash. He continues to fight because of his desire to make history: to become the first Puerto Rican to win titles in four different weight divisions.
A victory against Martinez, the lineal middleweight champion, would vault Cotto into the very highest echelon of great Puerto Rican fighters like Felix Trinidad, Wilfredo Gomez, and Carlos Ortiz. In order to make one more run to the mountaintop he has hired boxing’s most reliable hired gun in Freddie Roach. Perhaps the greatest folly of Cotto’s boxing career is that he switched trainers more times than Hugh Hefner has wives. Changing trainers that much retards a fighter’s progress and Cotto has, at times, looked like he doesn’t understand his identity in the ring.
Roach’s mission statement is to bring Cotto back to basics by bringing back his technical poise and blood curdling left hook to the body—the mainstays of his style when he was under his uncle, Evangelista Cotto. The question at hand is whether Cotto, in just his first bout at middleweight, has the strength and size to hunt down the much larger and faster Martinez. Two years ago the answer would have been a resounding no, but Cotto and his team have made a calculated gamble that the injury-ridden Martinez is ripe for the picking.
Where as Cotto’s road to the top was mapped out on a clear path outlined by the think tanks at Top Rank, Martinez’s path to glory has been anything but conventional. Martinez didn’t even pick up boxing until his early twenties but somehow made up for an amateur career through his brilliant natural athleticism. Still, Martinez toiled in absolute obscurity for years, wandering from country to country—boxing’s version of a gypsy. If Sampson Lewkowicz had never sent a tape to Lou Dibella it’s very likely Martinez would still be laboring in anonymity.
That Martinez, 51-2-2-(28 ko’s), is the middleweight champion of the world and a damn good one at that is something of an accident. Martinez is really a junior middleweight but he moved up in weight to challenge then champion Kelly Pavlik because he was being avoided like a virus by literally everyone in his own weight class. For years Martinez was the victim of an endless stream of boxing politics, suffering the short end of dubious decisions against Kermit Cintron and Paul Williams. That he had to win a championship by literally sacrificing every advantage—size, purse, and location—is the way it always had to be for Martinez.
It turned out not to matter as Martinez sliced up Pavlik like a surgeon and hasn’t looked back since. Four years and six title defenses later he is still the one and only true middleweight champion. Fighting the best and biggest middleweights in the world (minus Gennady Golovkin) has taken its toll on Martinez’s nearly forty-year-old body. Just within the last couple years he suffered broken hands, a torn rotator cuff and a debilitating knee injury. In his last fight against Martin Murray he was literally falling apart at the seams.
It’s ironic that the moment Martinez finally gets one of the big stars of boxing to get in a ring with him it’s when he arguably is in his most vulnerable form. Just like he had to win the middleweight title, on his opponent’s terms and conditions, he will have to win stardom. Despite being a challenger that has lost two of his last three fights it’s Cotto that has been treated like the A-Side of the party. He will be introduced second, receive a much higher paycheck and fight at a catch weight of his choice.
Martinez took the fight poor conditions and all because he’s a real fighter with a genuine desire to be great. Even if you’re a Cotto supporter, which I would guess the vast majority are, you have to respect how genuine and pure Martinez’s ambition is. Mike Tyson was recently quoted as saying that fighters these days are more concerned about making money than being the baddest man on the planet. While that statement contains a great deal of truth, it certainly doesn’t apply to Martinez or Cotto. After all, Cotto’s made enough money to support his family for generations and yet he still pursues the biggest challenges he can find. Both guys are pure fighters.
This fight is everything that is good about boxing: two of the best fighters of the last ten years fighting at a sold out Madison Square Garden. The fight was even negotiated between more than one promotional company, in a rare act of cooperation for mutual benefit that is seldom observed in boxing these days. More importantly, however, this fight is about two guys that have spent a great deal of time in the shadows of Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, getting one last chance to pledge their own greatness.
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