The tipping point for two careers hung in the balance Saturday night in New York City. Miguel Cotto, a future hall of famer, had lost two fights in a row but had seen resurgence with new trainer Freddie Roach after a win last fall. Another win in Madison Square Garden would mean becoming the first Puerto Rican boxer to win a championship in four divisions and would propel his name back to the top echelons of the sport.
Sergio Martinez hadn’t fought in over a year and was overcoming major injuries and surgery following his last fight. His 39-year-old body didn’t have time to shake off the cobwebs for a tune up. Would his knee hold up and let him ride the night to another A-list victory or would Father Time finally do in the battled warrior?
The backdrop was New York City on the Eve of the Puerto Rican Day parade. Miguel Cotto had nearly made a tradition out of fighting on this weekend for the City’s Spanish speaking boxing lovers. His fame would bring in over 20,000 fans to the Mecca of boxing: Madison Square Garden. Freddie Roach, his new trainer had been in the opposite corner of Sergio once before when Sergio dominated the bigger Julio Cesaer Chavez Jr. for 11 rounds before escaping a memorable 12th in what I thought was one of the best rounds fought this decade.
A mutual hate had built up between the two fighter’s. Sergio antagonized by Cotto’s prime donna attitude and apparent disrespect for him and the community at large, was keen to teach him a lesson in the ring like he had Chavez Jr. – another thorn in his side of what was he again perceived to be a villain of sorts.
What happened in the first round was a very plausible outcome when considering Sergio’s layoff and injuries, yet completely unexpected when you’ve seen his tenacity, instincts, and skills displayed time and again. Miguel Cotto attacked the veteran champion with brutal power and destabilizing shots to the body and head that saw Sergio tasting the canvas an unprecedented three times before the second bell.
Lou DiBella was seen in the background sitting ringside with a look of shock and awe as his most loved and talented fighter was losing in what could now be his last fight. A fighter’s chance was all Sergio had left from that point on. Unlike his previous two fights where he’d been knocked down and survived, Sergio was in trouble from the very start.
As Sergio said later, he never recovered from that opening round and the rest was history. He was constantly hit with left hooks and combinations from Cotto and could never put together a formidable offense. His blackened, swollen, and bloodied face told the whole story. Cotto on this night was the better man.
Sadly, we may never see Sergio Martinez fight again. His career blossomed at such a ripe age that we as fans and spectators of the sport didn’t get the chance to witness enough of his brilliance. A heart-stopping KO of Paul Williams, quick feet that danced around Chavez Jr. and lightening quick jabs followed by the intimidating shoulder shrugs with his gloves hanging by his side, Martinez gave us entertainment in boxing at its finest.
The win sees Miguel Cotto moving to a new realm of mega fights not seen since he fought Floyd Mayweather. A rematch with the pound for pound kind is one possibility as is a unification against another big New York City and HBO draw Gennady “GGG” Golovkin. The GGG fight would produce monster punches with action that would produce another sell out of The Garden. A future fight with Mexican phenom Canelo Alvarez also would make for great boxing.
The Garden doesn’t see as many blockbuster fights as it once did. The Barclays in Brooklyn hosts several fights per year and is seen as the new boxing home for New Yorkers these days. One boxer, Migeul Cotto, has kept The Garden open for business in the fight game over the last decade and for at least one more night gave the City something to cheer about. Boxing was alive and at its best with the two stars meeting at their cardinal moment. A Cotto encore will be in high demand.