—-Photo credit : Ed Mulholland- Top Rank
He's the WBC middleweight title holder. He's conclusively defeated the likes of Kelly Pavlik, Paul Williams and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr in title bouts. Of his two career defeats, only one of them was a legitimate loss. And that occurred 14 years ago when he was stopped by Antonio Margarito in his first fight on American soil. His name is Sergio Martinez 51-2-2 (28) and he defends his WBC middleweight title this weekend against former three division title holder Miguel Cotto 38-4 (31).
Cotto is 1-2 in his last three bouts and his two losses were suffered in junior middleweight title bouts against Austin Trout and Floyd Mayweather. If you go back five years, Miguel is 4-3 in his last seven fights. And by no means are those facts mentioned with the intent of disparaging Cotto. He is one of the most popular and respected fighters today in professional boxing for all the right reasons. He's fought every top fighter around his weight and never ducked anyone since he turned pro back in early 2001. In addition to that he's provided the boxing public with action packed and fan friendly bouts every time out. He's never gloated after a win and never made excuses after a loss.
However, no one is talking about one small thing that just maybe be a driving force behind Sergio Martinez on June 7th, and that's a little thing called disrespect. Granted, it may only be in his mind, but when that bell rings this Saturday night he's the only person that feeling disrespected matters to. Of course everyone has noticed that this highly anticipated bout has been billed and promoted as Cotto vs. Martinez.
Yes, Martinez is the champ and is playing second fiddle to a fighter who has never fought as a middleweight before and has lost consecutive junior middleweight title bouts within the past two years. On top of that he was at the mercy of a coin flip regarding his place in the pre-fight ring festivities. This is something not many title holders have been subjected to. Cotto smartly took advantage of his bigger and brighter star power and you and me would've done the same thing if we held the leverage over Martinez that he did. The only blow back from that is it can become a motivating factor for the fighter who feels he's been dissed throughout the promotion. Call it a hunch but I doubt Martinez has ever been this motivated for a fight in his career.
Cotto has participated in and won plenty of big fights during his professional career, versus Zab Judah, Shane Mosley and Antonio Margarito. He's also been the B side of the promotion in huge PPV bouts versus Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather. In his losing effort against Pacquiao he showed tremendous heart and toughness. He was very competitive against Mayweather and pushed Floyd hard over the 12-rounds they fought despite losing a unanimous decision. Yes, everybody loves and respects Miguel Cotto.
Martinez, on the other hand, has never participated in a mega fight before. Sergio has never had so much attention on him like this prior to a bout. Sure, fighting Paul Williams twice (1-1) along with Pavlik and Chavez were seen on HBO, but they don't come close to rivaling the attention and notoriety he'll get after fighting Cotto, win or lose. If Martinez beats Cotto, especially if it's without controversy, his name will be mentioned as a future opponent for Canelo Alvarez, Gennady Golovkin and Floyd Mayweather. All three fights would be for more money than he's made his entire career. And yes, if Mayweather sees Martinez as a viable opponent if he beats Cotto, all he has to do is say “Give me Martinez” and you better believe Showtime and HBO will not stand in the way. If Floyd wants to challenge for the middleweight title, and we know that he does, the cable networks will find a way to come together. They did for Lewis-Tyson and they'll do it for Mayweather-Martinez, provided that's the fight Floyd wants. If you don't know by now that it all depends on Floyd, you haven't been paying close attention.
In all honesty, Martinez has to beat Cotto. Sergio has had a stellar career. But in reality he hasn't faced a murderers row fighting as a middleweight. And that's not his fault. The same can be said for Gennady Golovkin. Both Martinez and Golovkin are trapped in a division that right now is very pedestrian. Other than facing each other or maybe Chavez, there's nobody for them to fight that would stimulate public interest. In order for them to partake in a mega fight they have to go outside of their division. And that's another reason why it's a must win fight for Martinez.
Sergio hasn't reaped the rewards or the mega millions that can accompany a career like the one he's carved out. Also, there are some observers, myself included, who really aren't sure how terrific he is. He's a tremendous athlete, but I think his style bothers most of his opponents more than anything else. His southpaw stance and ability to move and throw unorthodox and awkward punches is the thing that most befuddles his opponents. That aside, you can't argue with his record. But if he loses to Cotto, that will probably end his career as far as being in the running for the few multimillion dollar mega fights that are out there for him right now even at age 39.
Martinez hasn't fought in over a year because of injuries. There's no question about it that his body is breaking down. Health is a huge issue regarding his future as a championship worthy fighter. That said, he should be healthy and strong for Miguel Cotto on June 7th. This is the signature fight of Martinez's career and he has to win it. There's no way he can lose to the guy who was stopped by Manny Pacquiao and lost one sided decisions to Floyd Mayweather and Austin Trout if he hopes to define his legacy and fight for millions of dollars again in his next bout.
Professional boxing is a cruel and lonely world for a fighter and it's is usually not fair. And that's even more the reason why Martinez must beat Cotto. He can't go down and be remembered as the fighter who won a few middleweight title fights but lost his belt to a fighter who used to be the junior welterweight title holder, who lost his title to the fighter who used to be the featherweight champ.
Martinez is very mentally tough and I think he's got tons of pride. Cotto's career can withstand losing to Martinez, but the same cannot be said about Martinez if he loses to Cotto. Beating Miguel Cotto is an absolute must for Sergio Martinez.
Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com