REINVENTION of 33-year-old prizefighters is akin to the clock spinning in the wrong direction. Habits have been formed and the programming has been complete. Or so we’d think. Sometimes, however, the greats have one last hurrah, a memory-jog of what they once were and a farewell to the fans.
Only rarely do they adapt to the use of new knowledge, fresh impetus, aching joints and the need to find challenging goals once money, fame and respect are prevailing motivators.
Screamed to the ring by a huge Puerto Rican contingent in the hallowed arena of Madison Square Garden, Miguel Cotto reinvented himself with a dominating 10-round victory over a shellshocked Sergio Martinez, becoming the first ever four-weight world champion from the boxing-obsessed island on June 7, 2014.
The former light-welter, welter, light-middle and now WBC and lineal middleweight champion of the world was the coolest head in a volcanic bear-pit. The passionate Argentine pockets of Martinez fans were loud, the Miguel Cotto army was deafening. They were allowed to reach a raucous fever pitch unchallenged when their idol made his gladiatorial ring entrance. Once his familiar anthem of the White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army was dimmed, Cotto – without music – strode to the ring and waited for the champion.
It was a sign of intent that there was only one item on the agenda: the fight.
The electrified crowd could hardly wait, refusing to sit through the introductions as the anticipation heightened.
Martinez (11st 4 3/4lbs) arrived to fanfare but shortly after the first bell had a heatseeking missile on his tail.
Cotto’s hands seemed faster. Perhaps it was the weight (he’d come in at 11st 1lb, only a pound over the light-middleweight limit of 11st – the match had been made at 11st 5lbs). Maybe credit goes to the training he had done with trainer Freddie Roach. Whatever, he had almost instant success with his straight right and left hooks, to the body and up top.
Before long Martinez was being rocked by heavy hooks and his initial descent sparked a shuddering roar that sent tremors through The Garden.
It was a mix of disbelief, awe and pride. The passion in the audience was palpable and the final left hook that sent Martinez sprawling was one he ultimately could not recover from. He was down twice more in a round that set the tone for the rest of the night.
The usually graceful Martinez looked cumbersome. Maybe he’s not the same fighter who began to dominate at middleweight a couple of years ago. Maybe, as Sergio insisted, Cotto deserved all of the credit.
Round after round Martinez swam against the tide. Heart kept him in there, balls kept him battling back. But he was hurt often, Cotto’s rasping left to the body was a thorn in his side and he could not get out of the way of Miguel’s right or left hook.
By round three Martinez desperately needed a foothold but Cotto, like a shark in shallow waters, was gliding patiently, taking lumps out of him with fast shots and moving out of range. That caused Martinez to fall short with his counters and he was picked off from distance, too. Everything was going wrong.
He was finally more elusive for a while in the third, but Cotto was ruthless. He would take a small step, and then plough in behind his jab. As Martinez tried to circle, Miguel seemed able to cut the ring off at will.
Finally there were some loud “Mar-ti-nez” chants from the 21,090 in attendance, in round four. Perhaps the fans sympathised, or maybe they wanted the fight so many expected, hoping the Argentine could turn a one-way beatdown into a two-way war.
He tried to circumnavigate the ring but was constantly harried. Cotto picked some peachy uppercuts through the middle rounds, hurtful, bulldozer-type shots that saw Martinez’s film-star looks begin to crumple and swell.
Three painful looking blows, a right to the body, one to the head and then a thudding jab, drew a pained expression from Martinez’s face in round six.
Cotto was bouncing up and down in the eighth, looking spritely and making the champion miss with atypical swings by some distance. Sergio complained about a shot that landed high on the head although it didn’t merit action from referee Michael Griffin and none was taken.
By the ninth Martinez needed either a knockout or several knockdowns to win, worrying considering he’d not put a dent in the challenger all night.
Then Cotto’s ramrod jab resulted in a knockdown. Martinez questioned it, clearly disappointed, and when he trudged back to his corner, after a nine-round whipping and four knockdowns, trainer Pablo Sarmiento did the decent thing.
Martinez’s withdrawal came six seconds into round 10.
Judges Guido Cavalleri, Max DeLuca and Tom Schrek all had Cotto ahad 90-77. In other words, Martinez had not won a round and needed a knockout to win. What he did not need was to be assaulted for a further three rounds for the sake of hearing the final bell.
Cotto, 39-4 (31), said the resounding win was the highlight of his career.
“I had only one thing in mind when I left home, that was to win the championship,” he said. “We came here knowing we were going to face a great champion, we knew we had to get ready for him and they told me what to do and I followed the strategy. I got him good in the first round so I was confident.”
From reinvention to reclamation; Martinez was making no promises about his future.
He’d said before he would retire if he lost but the 39-year-old had not just lost. He had been crushed.
The deposed champion would not want to go out that way but, if he does, he moves on with the highest payday of his own hard and arduous career. The loudest voice telling him to call it quits might belong to his battle-weary and fragile body.
He had not boxed since Martin Murray pushed him to the absolute limit in Argentina in April 2013 and he’s had further surgery on his troublesome right knee.
Some said they heard Martinez, 51-3-2 (28), asking for his knees to be iced in between rounds though it later turned out he’d been asking it to be put on his neck.
Maybe that was to bring him out of that knockdown-induced stupor because the media was later told that he’d felt dizzy from there on. It’s why he missed the post-fight press conference and went to hospital.
“I got caught and I never recovered after that,” he stated in the ring immediately afterwards.
Sarmiento said Martinez wanted to fight on but he wouldn’t allow it.
“More than being a fighter, he is a brother and a friend and I took that decision myself,” he explained. “He never got back after that first round and I did what I had to do. Cotto was better than Sergio tonight, there’s nothing else to say.”
The implication was that Martinez’s body had finally crumbled, beginning with his chin in the first round and maybe his knees subsequently.
Martinez has long been a master of the unpredictable with his unconventional southpaw attacks, but here he seemed to move only to his right or in and out. If Cotto senses a weakness it’s ‘game over’ and at no stage did it look anything other than a battle for survival for Martinez.
Cotto’s accomplishments mean he can stake a real claim to being the best fighter from his country. He wouldn’t be drawn on where he stands and said his immediate plans included a rest.
“I want to rest and to enjoy my family but whatever Freddie wants me to do I will do,” he said.
Before the fight we wondered if Cotto could be as good as he had been before. A career-best win now has aroused curiosity over whether the best is still to come.