While Miguel Cotto has been his usual reserved self, Sergio Martinez—who defends his middleweight title against Cotto on June 7 in Madison Square Garden—has decided that part of being champion means acting like a pound-for-pound sourpuss as often as possible leading up to the fight. A few months ago, Martinez had this to say about Cotto: “He does not respect boxing and he does not respect history.” Who knows where Martinez got that one from? Then, after finally completing fusspot negotiations to make the match against the Puerto Rican veteran, Martinez landed another classy dig at Cotto during a press conference. Cotto, he said, “is like a little girl, like a 16-year-old girl.”
But Martinez added a unique telenovela plot twist when he revealed that Cotto supposedly snubbed him at a television studio in Mexico a few years ago. (Fernando Vargas was probably the last notable fighter to use a personal slight to kick start vengeance. Vargas claimed that he had fallen in a ditch while jogging and that De La Hoya, who also just happened to be out for a run, refused his outstretched hand and simply trotted past him. Humiliated, Vargas worked himself into frenzy, fortified himself with PEDs, and went on to lose via grisly TKO to De La Hoya in 2002.) In this case, perhaps, that may explain why Martinez is so dour, but the truth is Martinez has always been short of class. In addition to berating one fighter after another, Martinez also likes to refer to some of his peers as cowards, even tarring Manny Pacquiao with that insult. In 2012, Martinez turned his bout with the sadly overmatched Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr., into some sort of bitter crusade based on the fact that Chavez had a WBC belt that once belonged to Martinez before the unscrupulous sanctioning organization stripped him of it. This, of course, is not nearly as serious as Prometheus stealing fire from the gods, but Martinez was willing to play a vengeful Zeus, nonetheless, whenever he got the chance.
Just what is it that makes Martinez as surly as Benny Blanco from the Bronx? After all, “Maravilla” has had a fairly charmed life in boxing over the last few years. Despite the tags of “greatness” and “Hall of Famer” typically linked to his name by fanboy media types, Martinez has had a relatively undistinguished title reign. Wins over the immortal trio of Sergei Dzinziruk, Darren Barker, and Matthew Macklin, after all, are hardly the stuff of legend. In his next two defenses, Martinez barely survived the last round against Chavez, Jr. and, in his last fight, received a hometown decision against Martin Murray in Argentina. Still, he has made millions of dollars in purses and has received almost universal praise.
Except for his rematch against the nefarious Antonio Margarito a few years ago, Cotto has always been a professional beyond the ropes. Can you imagine him running around the ring with a ridiculous plastic crown on his head like Martinez does after every fight?
Although Martinez complements his swashbuckling style in the ring with good looks and an ultraswoopy fashion sense, he remains a co-star in the United States. Maybe his unpleasant attitude has something to do with that. If so, is it possible that even in boxing being obnoxious has its limits? What a refreshing thought.
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.