A lot of terms get thrown around recklessly by boxing fans, and "shot" is one of them. Neither Miguel Cotto nor Sergio Martinez are truly finished as fighters, and that's not going to be the point of what I'm saying here. What I will say, however, is that there's a worthy question about this Saturday's HBO pay-per-view main event.
Why buy a fight that features two fighters who are unquestionably past their prime days, with limited future remaining in the sport, both of them openly fighting only for money?
Now, there's another thing I don't want anyone to misunderstand. Of course they're fighting for money. Obviously they are. This is their career, and at 33 (Cotto) and 39 (Martinez), money is undoubtedly the No. 1 reason to keep fighting. Neither of them really have anything left to prove, or at least nothing they're going to be able to prove at this stage of their careers. Money is the reason. Money is always the reason in boxing.
But making it so clear that it's the main motivation? Personally, as a fan and consumer and all that jazz, there's that dumb little part of me that still wants to believe that fighters fight for pride, excellence, honor, and all that bullshit that we hang on to because facing the realities of what boxing is -- a business, then an entertainment spectacle, and last and most certainly least, a sport -- just isn't that interesting. Nobody fell in love with The Boxing Business. Our core reasons for watching boxing, especially now that it's a niche sport that requires great effort and a monetary investment just to be a fan, will never be fighter paychecks, endorsements, or business deals. It's about the fight.
There's the reason to buy, too. While I think it's a lousy idea to openly be fighting just for the cash, because it allows no flowery, romantic view of Warrior Gladiators and sacrifice and superhuman ability, this fight is worth your money because when you get past all the bad or good ideas on how to sell it, this is a fight that should be highly entertaining, featuring two of the best high-level action fighters around.
Over his last fight fights, challenger Miguel Cotto (38-4, 31 KO) has gone 3-2, and one could easily argue it's an empty 3-2, at that. His losses in 2012 to Floyd Mayweather and Austin Trout were not uncompetitive, but he was pretty soundly outboxed by both men. He was able to make Mayweather somewhat uncomfortable at points, but not as much as Marcos Maidana recently did, and that was Mayweather at his preferred weight of 147 pounds, instead of 154, where he fought Miguel.
Cotto's wins in that stretch (which dates back to 2011) have come against an actually shot Ricardo Mayorga, an actually shot Antonio Margarito, and gatekeeper Delvin Rodriguez. The sell is that with his win last October over Rodriguez, Cotto rediscovered his love of the vicious body attack and the offense-first style under new trainer Freddie Roach. Miguel has cycled through a a lot of trainers since splitting with his uncle, Evangelista Cotto, with Joe Santiago, Emanuel Steward, and Pedro Diaz all taking turns before Roach took over last year.
Roach's belief was that Cotto had lost what made him special. While Santiago wasn't really a boxing trainer as much as he was a trusted friend of Cotto's. Steward coached Cotto for his bouts with Yuri Foreman and Ricardo Mayorga, as Cotto tried to rebound from a TKO loss to Manny Pacquiao.
Diaz, however, got three fights and some significant matchups with Miguel. The two seemed to gel pretty nicely on HBO's "24/7" series, getting along both personally and professionally, and from what anyone can tell at a distance, there was never a serious problem with them, other than after going 1-2 under his tutelage, Cotto decided to move on to a new trainer to try to find another spark.
Sometimes, fighters need to do the "dumb" things in the ring that make them who they are. Cotto was never a defensive wizard, and was never an invulnerable Superman sort. Trying to turn him into a safer boxer may have robbed Cotto of that spark and passion that made him an elite fighter in his prime, and if there's anything to give up past a fighter's prime, passion is not high on the list. Often times, that might be the first thing that helps a fighter hang on when the going gets tough.
His 2011 win over a one-eyed Margarito, who was but a shell of the man who stopped Cotto in 2008, was a personal revenge, almost movie-like in its scripting, with Cotto staring down his battered, bloodied, and swollen opponent after referee Steve Smoger stopped the fight after 11 rounds. But that wasn't the Miguel Cotto of old, either. As good as he did look that night, it has to be said that he wasn't facing a fighter who was in top condition, and that there remained moments where Cotto looked slightly tentative, perhaps wisely fearful of mixing it up with the still bigger and stronger Margarito, whose size and ability to absorb punishment wore Cotto out the first time around.
(AND THE WHOLE GLOVES THING THAT CAME UP LATER MIGHT HAVE PLAYED A PART BUT)
Cotto went 0-2 in 2012, starting with a competitive and entertaining loss to Mayweather, no shame in that. Cotto had a pretty good game plan for that fight and did some effective work, but he lost clearly. It was a defeat at the hands of the far more ordinary Austin Trout in December 2012 that probably heralded the end of Diaz's tenure as Cotto's chief second. That's not to say that Trout is not a good fighter, but he's no Mayweather, and considering Miguel's other losses were to Floyd, Manny Pacquiao, and a 2008 Margarito (WHO MAY OR MAY NOT HAVE USED A), it was a pretty big blow. Cotto had never been beaten by a "good" fighter before.
In uniting with Roach, Cotto explains that Freddie knew how to get the best out of him, knew what to focus on in camp, and has reignited his love of the sport. But their only fight together was a win over Rodriguez, which while impressive, is a lot closer to beating Yuri Foreman than it is to beating a top fighter.
In fact, Cotto hasn't beaten what one might consider a top, in-prime fighter since a close and debated win over Joshua Clottey. That was five years ago, on June 13, 2009.
But is Martinez (51-2-2, 38 KO) still a top fighter? The middleweight champion is something of an unknown quantity at the moment. All Team Cotto can do is prepare for the best of what they've seen of Martinez on tape, and hope that's good enough, that they have the right plan that can neutralize the height and reach advantages Martinez will enjoy.
If Martinez is truly refreshed after taking a little over a year away from the ring following a near-loss to Martin Murray in Argentina, preceded by 11 rounds of domination and one round of hell against Julio Cesar Chavez Jr in 2012, then Cotto could be in big trouble. I don't think many would pick today's version of Miguel Cotto to defeat the 2010-12 version of Martinez, especially given the fact that Cotto's about to be a 5'7" middleweight for this fight, and not exactly one with the broad back of Shawn Porter, either.
Sergio, though, is battling his own decline, and it has been obvious over recent fights. The Argentine star didn't get a real chance to break through until he was subbed in to face Paul Williams on short notice a couple of months before his 35th birthday, and he lost a Fight of the Year-level war there, though he'd go on to beat Kelly Pavlik for the middleweight championship just four months later. Dominant wins over Williams (KO-2) and Serhiy Dzinziruk (KO-8) followed, and then he was solid if not spectacular in stopping both Darren Barker and Matthew Macklin.
The Chavez and Murray fights have showcased a fighter whose body may be betraying him, however. He's already old in years for a fighter, and while he has not taken major punishment over a long stretch by getting a late start in boxing, he's also been heavily reliant on his athleticism, and in particular, his legs. While Sergio's hand speed is good, his defense is not, and his ability to maintain a preferred distance has always been his best asset when it comes to staying out of trouble.
If Martinez can't move the way he used to, his reach and height advantages will disappear against Cotto, who will want to get inside and rough up his opponent, make him uncomfortable, and potentially break both his will and his body, not necessarily in that order.
The other genuine selling point of this fight is that it's a must-win for both men. A loss here could mean retirement for either man, and would at the very least pretty seriously harm their chances of another major money fight in 2014 or early 2015. Cotto is a potential opponent for Floyd Mayweather or Canelo Alvarez with a win, while Martinez still has one fight left and could look to face Gennady Golovkin with a victory here, as he has one fight left on his HBO deal. Sergio, too, could be eyeing Canelo for a future date if he does win, conceding that no one really knows what the status of the Golden Boy Showtime fighters will be now that there's the giant issue there.
And that, in its roundabout way, is where the fact that these guys fight for money first comes in and becomes a positive for this bout. To get that money, you have to take big fights. To get a big fight next, Cotto and Martinez each need this victory.
There are also legitimate concerns about what is on paper an insignificant pay-per-view undercard. While this is nothing new, it's still always going to be a complaint that fans have, and rightly so, given the money they spend not just on these pay-per-view fights, but to subscribe to HBO and Showtime, all necessities if one wants to truly follow the sport.
But the way I see it, this would be like passing up a chance to eat the best steak in town because the sides at the restaurant aren't very good. While it's a valid complaint on both counts, because bad potatoes and bad undercards are both garbage, I still want the main course if it's that good, and this one might be that good.