Image: RICH SCHULTZ/GETTY IMAGES
Madison Square Garden is the glitzy home of the Knicks, the Rangers, the Liberty, and numberless pop stars, but on Saturday night Miguel Cotto turned it into an old-fashioned clipjoint when he mugged Sergio Martinez before 21,091 paying witnesses, scoring a dominant 10th-round TKO to become the first Puerto Rican fighter to win four world titles in four different divisions. This is a feat modern Boricua greats such as Wilfredo Gomez, Wilfred Benitez, and Felix Trinidad were unable to accomplish. Of course, world titles are as common in boxing as Duane Reades are in midtown Manhattan, but Cotto distinguished his achievement by obliterating the generally recognized middleweight champion of the world and scoring an improbable upset in the process.
Entering the bout with Martinez—who outpointed Kelly Pavlik for the middleweight title in 2010—Cotto, 33, was widely considered a shopworn fighter with little chance of bucking the odds. But Martinez, with a record of 51-3-2 with 28 knockouts, has resembled an ancient limestone statue for years, with time and injuries gradually chipping away at him until he no longer resembled his former regal self. He was crumbling bit by bit from fight to fight and there was nothing but fragments left after Cotto knocked him off of his plinth.
For his ninth start at MSG, Cotto walked to the ring without an entrance song—to underline his focus—but he might as well have come out to “El Malo” by Willie Colon. Within seconds of the opening bell, Cotto was backing Martinez up, and after a little over a minute of action, Martinez was on the canvas, courtesy of a double left hook and a cuffing right to the back of the head. Martinez, who later said he could not recover from what Cotto dished out early, spent as much time on the canvas in the first round as the Tecate logo painted in ring center. He would crash twice more before the bell allowed him to survive. But the outcome of the fight was already certain. Martinez, 39, has been sliding for years, and the man who answered the bell against Cotto on Saturday night could have been anything—an astral projection, a hologram, a clone à la Orphan Black—but he was not the same flashy, pirouetting southpaw dynamo from 2010.
Instead of attacking helter-skelter in the second round, Cotto, now 39-4 with 32 knockouts, chose to pick his shots and work deliberately. Martinez, whose gimpy knees stripped him of his trademark razzle dazzle, could do little but take abuse. For eight rounds Cotto beat Martinez, Buenos Aires, to the punch and when Martinez went down again in the ninth, mercy, not a concept easily found in a boxing ring, seemed the only fitting solution. Thankfully, between rounds, Pablo Sarmiento, who trains Martinez, halted the massacre before “Maravilla” could be seriously hurt. Although Martinez was as petulant as a spoiled child during the promotional hype, he was pure class in defeat, showing the poise, thoughtfulness, and sportsmanship in his interview with Max Kellerman that he sometimes lacked before fights.
By easily dismantling Martinez, Cotto, from Caguas, Puerto Rico, not only earned a spot in the history books, but he also took some of the sting out of the charge that he is a second-tier talent unable to compete against elite fighters. Losses to Antonio Margarito, Manny Pacquiao, and Floyd Mayweather, Jr., made Cotto a loud target for many observers not keen enough to note that few pros have taken as many risky fights as he has over the years. Yes, Martinez was badly faded, but he was also faded against Martin Murray last year in Buenos Aires. But Murray did not have the skill or firepower to put Martinez away. Cotto, on the other hand, did, and maybe, just maybe, he will prove how much he has left in another headline-grabbing fight. Right now, however, Cotto will be taking a vacation before he decides his next move. He has a brand new future to look forward to, after all, and futures are few and far between in boxing. Just ask Sergio Martinez.
Carlos Acevedo is the editor of The Cruelest Sport and a full member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. His work has appeared in Boxing Digest Magazine, Maxboxing, Boxing World Magazine, and Esquina Boxeo.