Sergio Martinez will enter the ring with a stellar 51-2-2 record. | Photo Courtesy: Top Rank
If boxing has proved anything in 2014, it is that age and experience have established their superiority over youth. Bernard Hopkins, 49, took 30-year-old Beibut Shumenov to school; Floyd Mayweather Jr., 37, thwarted the rough and rugged Marcos Maidana, 30; Manny Pacquiao, 35, exacted his revenge on Timothy Bradley, 30; Juan Manuel Marquez, 40, outclassed Mike Alvarado, 33; and Carl Froch, 36, proved his first victory against George Groves, 26, was no fluke.
If this trend continues, Sergio Martinez, 39, should have enough in his tank to turn back the challenge of 33-year-old Miguel Cotto on Saturday at Madison Square Garden in New York. However, of all the fights on the 2014 calendar, this one arguably carries the most intrigue, though Martinez’s age is not necessarily the primary factor. Rather, it is how Martinez can bounce back after having two surgeries to repair ligament damage in his right knee. Most athletes who deal with devastating injuries like the one with which the Argentinean is coping never come back the same; but Martinez is not most athletes.
The current WBC and The Ring middleweight champion is the latest member of the 35-and-over club to defy the effects of age and remain a dominant force in the sport of boxing. Of all the aforementioned names, he is the latest bloomer when you consider he did not begin training for boxing until the age of 20 and did not start his ascent on the pound-for-pound rankings until he hit his mid-30s.
At the age of 35, Martinez announced his arrival by giving Kelly Pavlik hell for 12 rounds, as he took home The Ring, lineal, WBC and WBO middleweight titles. Seven months later, Martinez avenged a controversial loss to Paul Williams by knocking “The Punisher” out cold in the second round of their rematch. Sergiy Dzinziruk, Darren Barker and Matthew Macklin all fell victim to a 30-something Martinez, who only appeared to improve each time he performed. A virtual shutout against Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. was pitched until a late knockdown nearly gift-wrapped a shocking late-round knockout.
Then the injuries hit, and his performance against Martin Murray in his home country left a lot to be desired. Questions about how much longer Martinez can continue to fight have been tossed around since the injury. While another fighter would look to test his surgically repaired knee against a lesser opponent, the prideful Martinez has opted to throw himself into the lion’s den against the new and improved Cotto, who looked like he hopped out of a time machine and brought his old self back when he dusted the previously unbeaten Delvin Rodriguez in three rounds in October. Under the tutelage of Freddie Roach, who had a run-in with Martinez when he trained Chavez Jr. for their showdown, Cotto looks to not only yank the crown off of the Argentinean’s head but also send him into retirement.
Martinez claims to be 100 percent, but could his body betray his mind when he faces Cotto in front what is sure to be a rabid conglomerate of Puerto Rican supporters in Madison Square Garden? The reality: As good as Martinez has been, he is one loss away from retirement. If he does not make the decision himself, the boxing community will make it for him should he lose to Cotto. It may seem unfair, but the surgeries and his advanced age represent two-thirds of the ingredients to calling it a career. The third -- and most important -- is a loss.
While Cotto is far from Murray, he likely would not have stood much of a chance had this fight taken place a couple of years ago. Even with Roach in his corner, the beatings Cotto has absorbed from Pacquiao and Antonio Margarito remain fresh in the memory banks of most fight fans. The spirited performance against Mayweather only provided further proof that Cotto was more of an excellent B-level fighter than an A-level pound-for-pound threat. Boxing pundits do not see Cotto and Martinez on a level playing field. The only reason Cotto has received nods from prognosticators is because of the uncertainty surrounding how well his opponent’s body will perform.
If the sport has taught us anything over the past year, it is that age “ain’t nothing but a number” for high-level fighters. Martinez should not be counted out by any stretch of the imagination. Strangely enough, he has just about everything going against him. From the injuries and the age to not receiving top billing and having to fight the Puerto Rican in the uncomfortable confines of Madison Square Garden, you would think the widely considered No. 3 pound-for-pound fighter in the world was being fed to Cotto.
This is not the first time Martinez will look like the underdog, nor will it be his last. Can he summon the strength and ability to take out boxing’s darling and make everyone a believer? We shall see.