The legitimate middleweight title is on the line Saturday, June 7th on HBO PPV as champion Sergio Martinez (51-2-2, 28 KO) defends against Miguel Cotto (38-4, 31 KO) from New York City’s famed Madison Square Garden.  I won’t bore you with any of the lackluster undercard fights because this main event is world class and deserves all the attention.

This is a fight I never expected to happen.  Martinez has long reigned as the king at 160 pounds, he wears his crown (literally) after victories to symbolize his mastery of one of boxing’s most prestigious and historically rich divisions.  Cotto has campaigned at many weight classes, all below 160.  He has steadily moved up from light welterweight to welterweight to light middleweight and now for the first time, middleweight. Cotto is looking to make history by becoming the first Puerto Rican champion in four different weight classes.  There are easier ways to do it, he could go after one of the lesser champions in the division but he is challenging the real, world-recognized lineal champion.

A phrase that has been gaining steam among boxing journalists and fans is “DTBG – Dare to Be Great”.  This has defined Cotto throughout his career.  It’s also a phrase that has been used to deride what Floyd Mayweather has done with his brand.  Many criticize Mayweather for handpicking opponents or working in advantages (weight, glove size, specific drug tests) that can be seen as gamesmanship, cowardice or something inbetween.  Cotto has combined his DTBG attitude with gamesmanship to make this promotion as intriguing and contentious as any will be in 2014.

There is bad blood between Martinez and Cotto that runs deep and has a long history that continues to grow with the promotion of this event. Martinez claims he was a fan of Cotto’s and was excited when he had an opportunity to meet him for the first time in 2008.  The story goes Cotto was dismissive and rude to Martinez and that has served as motivation for years as this potential clash brewed over half a decade.  When they met on HBO’s Face Off with Max Kellerman moderating the tension was palpable. 

Martinez revels in the role of underdog and in the case of this fight he can’t claim that right (he is an approximate 2 to 1 betting favorite).  So Sergio latches on to the lack of respect angle and uses that as extra motivation.  Cotto has been adored by the American boxing public for over a decade and has been in numerous pay-per-view main events.  This fight will mark just the second main event pay-per-view for Martinez, who embarrassed the overmatched Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. for eleven rounds before getting knocked down and tearing up his knee in the last round.  Martinez survived the end of the fight and won a wide decision.

The path taken to success in the boxing game plays a role in how marketable a commodity a fighter will become.  Sergio started late in the game and was a cyclist and soccer player prior to lacing up the gloves.  He doesn’t speak English and has largely been avoided by the top players in the sport because he’s been too dangerous and can’t carry a large promotion.  For much of his early prime Martinez won fights in anonymity.

cotto v martinez tale of the tape

Cotto is the perfect foil for Martinez.  He loves the spotlight and embraces the opportunity to carry the promotion of a big fight.  Cotto hasn’t been in perfect form as of late, 4-3, 4 KO in his last 7 fights, while Martinez is 7-0, 4 KO in his last 7.  But Miguel believes changing trainers to the world reknown Freddie Roach will pay dividends and in their very limited time together Cotto has won by knockout against B-level journeyman Delvin Rodriguez.  The last time Roach prepared for Martinez he was in Chavez Jr’s corner in September 2012 and had no answers for Sergio’s elusiveness and accuracy.  Cotto will play the bull and Martinez the matador in the main room in Madison Square Garden.

There are several keys to the fight.  For Martinez, his health.  He has injured his left hand and tore up his knee in his last two fights.  It’s difficult to tell if this will be the Sergio of old or an old Sergio.  Martinez has taken a career-long fourteen months off between his last fight (UD – Martin Murray) and now.  I believe he is geared up for the last two or three fights of his career.  As for Cotto the key will be his discipline and relentlessness.  Miguel will need to be patient to track Martinez and will need to go to the body early and as often as possible.  Any novice fight fan knows Cotto’s trademark is his left hook to the body and it can be the punch to slow down the agile Martinez.  Sergio will use his jab to keep Cotto’s body attack at bay and will apply his hands-down style to stick and move.  Sergio will put most of the early rounds in the bank and Cotto will go for broke in the late rounds needing something big to catch up.  This is where the drama will be real and I’m taking Martinez to weather a late storm and win a unanimous decision and retain his middleweight belt in a main event worthy of it’s pay-per-view status.

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