On Saturday night, Madison Square Garden will play host to an intriguing match up, between boxing superstar, Miguel Cotto and reigning lineal middleweight champion, Sergio Martinez. Cotto will be looking to earn a title in a fourth weigh division, while Martinez is looking for a keystone victory over a big name, to earn the respect of mainstream boxing fans, which he feels is long overdue.
At first glance, Martinez appears to better than Cotto in almost every aspect. He is bigger, stronger and faster, and he has not tasted defeat since in 2009, in his highly competitive, first outing with Paul Williams. Before that, you have to look back almost 14 years to his first loss, which interestingly, enough, was at the hands of Antonio Margarito, as was Cotto’s first loss.
With Cotto, I think it’s safe to say that his best days were at 140 and 147 lb., where he seemed to be almost unstoppable, until he faced Margarito in 2008. Since then, he really hasn’t achieved as much as his status would suggest. He is a small Jr middleweight and that certainly showed when he faced a healthy, prime, natural Jr middleweight, in Austin Trout.
When you look at these two boxers a little bit closer, you can see that while Martinez does have physical advantages and a cleaner record, the gap is not as quite as big as it seems on the surface.
Martinez is 39 years old and he really has started to look his age in his last few bouts. Another thing to take into account is the size difference. Martinez is certainly the bigger of the two, but he is a very small middleweight. Martinez does have a clear size advantage, but after seeing them face-to-face, I don’t think that it’s an outrageous size difference, and I don’t think that it’s as big of a size advantage as Chavez Jr had over him.
While Martinez was very impressive with his performances against Kelly Pavlik and Paul Williams, that was four years ago. Since then, Martinez has feasted on lower top ten middleweights, in what has been a relatively weak division. At an elite level, Barker, Macklin, Chavez Jr and Murray, are all quite limited opposition, yet they all gave Martinez trouble. I had Macklin up on points, before Martinez stopped him in the 11th, I also actually thought Macklin deserved the win, and Martinez still looked vulnerable at times against Barker and Chavez Jr (especially when he narrowly avoiding getting knocked out in the 12th). They are all solid guys, but how do they compare with someone like Cotto?
Cotto definitely went through a shady patch following his losses to Margarito and Manny Pacquiao, but since then, I think he has gradually built himself back up. The two fights he has lost in recent times were still competitive decision losses, against top opposition. He gave Floyd Mayweather his toughest fight since Jose Luis Castillo, and he dropped a competitive decision against Austin Trout, who was underrated at the time. I also can’t help but bring up Delvin Rodriguez. I fully understand that Rodriguez is a B class opponent, but regardless of that, I can see a clear shift in Cotto’s style since training with Freddy Roach, and I like what I see.
Some people are very quick to point out the trouble Cotto had with Trout, because of vague similarities to Martinez, but there are a few things to take into account; I think Cotto definitely overlooked Trout, he had the wrong game plan, and most importantly, Trout was young and hungry, and embraced his first night in the spotlight.
I think a healthier version of Martinez, even from just two years ago, would definitely get a late stoppage over Cotto. He would outclass Cotto with movement and speed, and wear him down with accurate punches, but at this stage, I’m just not sure how much more Martinez has left to give. I don't think Cotto stops him, (Martinez has very good recuperative ability, look at the punishment he took from a MUCH bigger Chavez in the 12th round. He didn't run or clinch, and he still tried to fight back. He is very tough) and if there is a stoppage, I think it would actually more likely be by Martinez. Cotto has folded before when hurt, and Martinez may still have that one punch game changer.
Another thing worth thinking about is the fact that Cotto opted to face Martinez over Canelo, for a lot less money. He is not here for a payday, he is fighting for pride, for his legacy and for his country, as he attempts to be the first Puerto Rican to win a title in four weight divisions. I think Martinez wants to win, but I think another part of him knows that he is done, and he is cashing out on a big payday before he retires. If he really wanted to prove that he’s the best at 160 lb., he would be fighting a in a much more dangerous bout against Gennady Golovkin, that would earn him significantly less money.
Keys to victory:
Martinez has always relied on his freakish athleticism to get the job done, but in recent years we have seen a clear fade in these abilities, and we have seen him get hit more and more often, as he stubbornly keeps his hands by his side. I think with his constant knee injures, Martinez will need to stay a bit more stationary to avoid further injuries. While his reflexes have faded, I think Martinez will still have a strong advantage with hand speed and upper body movement. For a change, Martinez will also enjoy a healthy size and reach advantage; that will play into his hands for obvious reasons, but it also changes the way that he needs to fight. He will be the bigger man, so he won’t need to be as mobile as he has in the past against lager opponents, which means less toll on his knees and more power from sitting down on his punches.
Cotto has shown in the past that he does not respond well to being hurt, so I think Martinez needs to come on strong with some hard and accurate punches early in the fight, to earn Cotto’s respect, and make him reluctant to close the distance. If Martinez can do that, he should be able to keep Cotto on the outside, where he can really utilize his reach advantage and mix it up with speed and power shots, while he slowly breaks Cotto down. If Cotto does close the distance, Martinez need to use his good upper body movement to avoid being hit, then get back out of range as soon as possible.
For Cotto, I also think he needs to come on strong in the early rounds, but not too strong. Martinez has shown a clear pattern in recent bouts of coming on strong, going to sleep in the middle rounds, then coming back on to close the show. However, in his last two fights he hasn’t been able to come on as strong as he would like to have in the final rounds. So I think Cotto needs to be somewhat defensive, but still utilize controlled aggression to weather the storm during Martinez’ early onslaught. If he can pull that off, he will probably give away a few early rounds, but still do enough to keep Martinez honest, then really pour it on in the middle rounds when Martinez wants to sleep and then continue with that pressure in the later rounds.
If Martinez keeps his hands by his side, as he has in the past, he may be vulnerable to some sharp, lead right hands, as he was against Barker and Macklin. I think that this will be Cotto’s best chance to close the distance and do some nice work on the inside. I think Martinez will be able to use his Physical advantages to get Cotto back at range, so while Cotto is on the inside, he needs to be relentless with his left hook to that 39-year-old torso of Martinez. I think this will really slow Martinez down and as the fight goes on, Cotto will find it easier and easier to get on the inside, and he will able to mix his assault upstairs and down stairs to wear down his aging foe. Cotto also needs to make it as rough and physical as he can, and really make Martinez move, to put as much strain on those old knees as he can.
I think this is a really hard fight to pick and it is so close that I wont be putting any money on it. If Martinez was anywhere close to healthy, I think he would win handily, but I don’t think he is close to healthy. Even in the state I think Martinez is in, I still think that with the right game plan, he can get the win, but at this stage in the game I don’t think he will make the style adjustment he needs to win. I think Martinez will come out with the same strategy as usual, but his old body won’t comply.
I'm going with Cotto via decision, purely because I believe that after multiple injuries in recent bouts, and with age catching up with him, Martinez is shot. The fact that Cotto is working with Roach, and is focusing on bodywork and aggressiveness has also pushed me this way. I think bodywork will be key in breaking Martinez down.