Tonight, the collective attention of the fight public will be planted squarely on Puerto Rican warrior Miguel Cotto and his newly-found Argentinean nemesis, Super Middleweight Champion, Sergio Martinez. Although these two men will enter the ring alone when the bell sounds, they’ll both carry two proud nations on their back when they do. While the Argentinean base is thriving on the strength of a solid Matthysse victory months ago and a strong performance from Maidana; the Puerto Rican contingent will do so with a heavy dose of anxiety. The last time Miguel Cotto took center stage at the Madison Square Garden, it was a humbling defeat to Austin Trout. This time around, he has a much more dangerous foe as he attempts to make history in the deep end of the ocean. As we get closer to the first bell, we examine the chances of both men:
SERGIO MARTINEZ (KEYS TO VICTORY)
For Sergio Martinez, keys to victory will come down to two things: Confidence and Conditioning. Taking a year off is rarely an easy task, but entering the ring after such a layoff against a younger power puncher known to eat at the body while taking away the legs can be one daunting task that few have overcome. Martinez will have that mission tonight. In order to find success, he will need to make sure he paces himself with a measured jab, and set early traps in order for the ‘kill’ later on. The past has shown us that Cotto doesn’t always maintain confidence when he knows the man across from him can hurt him. Based on that, Martinez will need to draw his line in the sand early and get Cotto’s attention, letting him know that the power-game is different at the middleweight level. If Martinez can do these things and not become too winded, his chance of victory becomes ten-fold.
MIGUEL COTTO (KEYS TO VICTORY)
For Miguel Cotto, this will be new territory that could come with an ultimate price. In boxing, we often focus on the physical, but for Cotto, this is an entirely mental affair. Knowing that one humbling stoppage would inevitably result in a ‘curtain call’, there’s an extra pressure involved. This extra pressure also comes with the common knowledge that he suffered a very bitter defeat here not too long ago. Cotto will need to enter the ring with the mindset that victory is the ONLY option! Aside from supreme confidence, Cotto will need to use his solid jab. Not only to keep Martinez off center, but more importantly, to setup his massive hooks later in the fight. A heavy dose of body work from the start could seal the deal, as Martinez has less than 100% legs, and there’s no way better way to deplete them more. This plan seals victory without question for Miguel Cotto.
FOUR TO EXPLORE (CRITICAL GAME CHANGERS TO WATCH)
KNEE-JERK (REACTION): For Sergio Martinez, we are often reminded that his 38 year old body simply isn’t what it once was. Shoulders, elbows, knees, and all in between have caused him to look less than his best for quite some time now. After such a long layoff, does he press too hard, resulting in him eventually being caught and stopped in the end? Does he temper himself too much in an effort to prevent from burning out late? He’ll need to find a medium in execution; but with so much on the line and so much time off since his last fight, it’ll be intriguing to see master that difficult art in the heat of the battle. Stay tuned.
NO PLACE LIKE HOME?: For Miguel Cotto, the one place outside of Puerto Rico that he can respectfully view as ‘home’ is New York’s Madison Square Garden. His best moments have come under the famed roof of this building, however, his worst moments have as well. His last two fights here demonstrate that position in a way that resonates loudly; winning a rematch with Antonio Margarito in a career capping victory, while being humbled at the hands of Austin Trout. Knowing that this could be the end, will Cotto benefit or find himself affected negatively by being in NY for this fight? The old adage says “there’s no place like home”; but tonight Cotto could learn whether, for him, that’s a good thing or a bad thing. It’ll be interesting to see what unfolds.
AGE OR EXPERIENCE?: When we look at these two men, a very intriguing subplot unfolds, as it relates to their respective careers. For Cotto, while 5 years younger, he has been in a ton of wars, taking on all comer’s and never conceding defeat with any until his last heartbeat. In the case of Martinez, those extra 5 years on the age ledger have given him an additional 96 rounds in the ring, albeit less punishing rounds. Despite the ‘less-punishing’ element, it’s Martinez who finds himself dealing with a plethora of injuries, most which go back to his former soccer and cycling days. In the end, that wear and tear has finally reached a point where it could either make or break him. The operative question when we assess this subplot:
Who is the fresher man? A 38yr old coming off a year layoff with a surgically repaired body and a years rest? Or a 33yr old who has been battered and mentally shattered? A very tough, yet telling question.
POWER-FUL?: Miguel Cotto has built a reputation in the sport as one of its more feared power punchers, but as history has shown us, rarely does the power of a puncher travel to the cold and brute lifestyle found with a little ‘northern exposure’! When we look at the great Roberto Duran, he had a 100% KO ratio as a lightweight. That power traveled to the welterweight division as well. But the further north he went, the less that power traveled, resulting in a mediocre 58% KO ratio over the course of his career. Miguel Cotto has seen a similar trend, as the only actual stoppages forced at the jr. middleweight level were due to injuries in his opponents (Foremen/Knee and Margarito/Eye). Against Mayorga, it was late (12th round) and unspectacular, and against Rodriguez, he faced a man clearly outclassed.
Operative question: What are the odds of this power being effective against a man who has taken punishment from opponents who walk around as natural light heavyweights?
OFFICIAL PREDICTION/UPSET BAROMETER (SCALE 1-5)
Psychology will play a major role in this affair for both men, and late last week, Miguel Cotto hinted at this when he said “if I have put in enough work at the gym to be confident that I can handle everything he will do, it will be a very easy walk from the locker room to the ring on that night”. Unfortunately, we can’t wait for that moment to give a final prediction, but looking at what we’ve seen and heard leading up to that point, it’s a very interesting contrast. In one breath, Cotto appears hungry and eager to make history, with a confidence that can’t be shaken. The flipside to that is the fact that we’ve seen him lose confidence early and often after taking vicious power shots that aim to kill!
The great thing about Cotto is the fact that even when he loses that confidence, he puts his best foot forward and battles until the bitter end. As great as that is, it’s also safe to say that there could lie the problem for him. The one thing that has plagued Cotto over the years is both a curse and a blessing. It’s his heart! When he needs it, he has it. But when he needs to temper it a little and fight with more smarts than heart, he still opts to use it, and ends up taking more of a beating than necessary. Unfortunately for him, Madison Square Garden will be filled with those rooting for him, tempting him to walk through a dangerous fire. That machismo will be his ultimate undoing.
Cotto is due for a monumental, career-extending moment to bring more honor to the Puerto Rican fight faithful. But what he will need most is skill and defense, and Freddie Roach rarely teaches the two to his pupils. Cotto has the ability to outbox Martinez. But his heart, pushed on by the Nu-Yoricans in the building will counter that skill. In the end, what we can expect is:
TKO11 SERGIO MARTINEZ – (UPSET BAROMETER PEAKS AT 4 of 5) – IF COTTO BOXES INTELLIGENTLY, HE CAN COAST. I JUST DOUBT HE WILL.
(Vivek “Vito” Wallace can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 954.770.9807, Instagram (ViveksView), and Facebook)