Sergio Martinez will defend his middleweight title for a seventh time. | Photo Courtesy: Top Rank
He has heard it all before, the questions about his size and his strength, the questions about whether taking on a desperate fighter will alter his mercurial style. Sergio Martinez, the reigning world middleweight champion, shrugs it off with his usual confident nonchalance.
Martinez, 39, knows the challenge ahead in 33-year old Miguel Cotto (38-4, 31 KOs) when they meet Saturday at Madison Square Garden for Martinez’s WBC middleweight belt, though the fight is contracted for a catchweight of 159 pounds.
Here is what makes the fight so intriguing: Martinez (51-2-2, 28 KOs) has been knocked down in each of his last three fights, has not fought in more than a year and has overcome torn ligaments in his right knee and a broken left hand in beating Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. in September 2012; Cotto, meanwhile, is 4-3 in his last seven fights, is stepping up to middleweight for the first time and has not beaten anyone significant since defeating Joshua Clottey by split-decision in June 2009.
Against Martin Murray in April 2013, southpaw Martinez reinjured his right knee and left hand, yet persevered for a unanimous decision despite being knocked down in the eighth round. After a second surgery on his right knee, Martinez reportedly was on crutches until the middle of December and only started road work for his seventh title defense two months ago.
“I am getting asked the same questions over and over again about my knee, and I know that the media is just doing their job,” Martinez said at a Wednesday news conference. “I can assure you, though, that I am 100 percent. I am old but not by that much.”
Hall-of-fame trainer Freddie Roach, who Cotto rejoins ahead of the bout, wants to make sure Martinez is at full strength entering this fight.
“We are going into the fight thinking Sergio is going to be the best that he can be, and that’s the way it should be,” Roach said. “It sounds like he’s already making excuses, but we plan for him to be at his best and we are going to beat him at his best.”
The fact is, both fighters come in as unknowns, but Cotto has far more to lose than Martinez. He is a 5-foot-7 fighter giving up three inches in height and six inches in reach to Martinez. Cotto has fought the majority of his career at junior welterweight and welterweight. He has lost two of his last three fights, getting out-quicked and out-boxed by Austin Trout and Floyd Mayweather Jr., though there were moments when Cotto pushed the latter into a few uncomfortable zones. Otherwise, Cotto has slipped considerably from the body-punching, come-forward killer he once was in the early to mid-2000s. Although he is the younger fighter, he has been in far more wars than Martinez.
Against Trout, Cotto had trouble getting inside.
“These are two different scenarios,” Cotto said. “You have Austin Trout, who is a gym fighter who has a lot of mobility, and you have Sergio Martinez, who is not a gym guy who moves around a lot but he has a couple issues with his knees. We are going to do our best. I know how I am going to fight Sergio and I can guarantee you we are going to win this fight.”
Roach believes Cotto has addressed some of his shortcomings.
“I think he knows how to control the ring a lot better now; we really work on that, ring generalship, quite a bit,” he said. “I wasn’t part of the Trout fight, but I did see the fight. I know Miguel can do a lot better and he has been showing that in training with the bigger, stronger sparring partners, and we are more scientific about our approach to this fight and how to control the ring a lot better. I think he’s come a long way with this being our second fight together. We have had a great training camp and have a great rapport with each other. I think the problem has been solved in how to cut the ring off from our opponent.”
There is some friction between Cotto and Martinez, who will be wearing a sleeve over his right knee. Roach wanted it checked through the New York State Athletic Commission to make sure it was not a brace. Martinez has called Cotto a “little girl” and a “diva” for his complaints.
“I don’t hate Cotto -- never,” Martinez said. “I get upset with some of the things that he does and says, but I don’t hate him. We are professionals and we must act like professionals. I don’t know who brought up the issue about the sheath I am wearing on my knee. Whether it was the commission or Cotto’s team directly, I am not sure. The only one who will pay for it, though, is Miguel Cotto on June 7.”