By Bart Barry–
If we choose to believe all was well with Argentine southpaw Sergio “Maravilla” Martinez’s lower body when the opening bell rang on his match with Puerto Rican Miguel Cotto, Saturday, a match Martinez’s corner ended after nine rounds and a few perfunctory protests from Martinez, a match that ended with Cotto leading by three insurmountable scores of 90-77, we must also believe Martinez didn’t know Miguel Cotto had a left hook he should slip or duck.
Whatever the delta between Martinez’s expectations and Cotto’s actual speed and power, and whatever exaggerated praise we’re now prompted to give trainer Freddie Roach by the network that gave us “On Freddie Roach,” Martinez did not successfully evade 10-percent of the left hooks Cotto hurled his way in an opening round that saw the Argentine driven to the blue mat thrice. It is impossible to believe Martinez is that dumb. His handlers, though, seem to believe we are.
Saturday Sergio Martinez commenced with an apology the final postfight interview he’ll conduct after a world-championship match, offering his regrets to Argentines and Puerto Ricans and whoever else made the trip to Madison Square Garden to see him defend his lineal middleweight world championship against a smaller man who was, himself, considered done with world title fights 4 1/2 years ago. It was an uncommon start to a postfight autopsy. Jermain Taylor, the man who beat Bernard Hopkins twice to become and remain the middleweight world champion Kelly Pavlik beat twice to become and remain the middleweight world champion Sergio Martinez beat four years ago to become the middleweight world champion, certainly did not begin his interview after being stopped by Pavlik in round 7 of their 2007 championship match with an apology.
Martinez’s apology meandered about in the shady terrain between a lamentation all did not go perfectly as needed for him to remain upright and a concession he knowingly participated in, and promoted, a profitable event for which he was unfit. Telling was this: In the moment after Cotto’s first left-hook lead sent Martinez wobblehobbling across the canvas, Cotto looked surprised by the development as Martinez, who began Saturday’s match hopping senselessly leftward, the hybrid of a kangaroo and an Amir Khan, as if to present evidence that, whatever happened henceforward, he was right and right mobile when the match began.
While boxing bookmaking is a fool’s errand, did there even exist a way to calculate prefight the probability Miguel Cotto would open with a 10-6 round? That score, right there, says plenty about Martinez’s fitness to make Saturday’s fight: It says a man was knocked to the canvas three times without a referee much considering waving the match off, which says the knockdowns Cotto scored on Martinez were at least in part like the second knockdown Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. scored on Martinez, improperly ruled a slip, in the 2012 fight that unbuttoned them both.
After Saturday’s first round, the match was little more than a sadist’s ball, as Martinez’s legs were always what made him unique, and without them, with a lead right leg that looked splinted from heel to hamstring, Martinez would be unable to find a rhythm or punch trajectory worth a dash, and would have no anchored force on any punch, or subsequent acceleration on his knuckles, on the odd chance he did land one. After the second knockdown of the first round, when the lineal middleweight champion got muscled to the mat by a man in his middleweight debut, one Cotto made while weighing a few sips of sportsdrink above super welterweight, Martinez’s handsome countenance was the picture of hopelessness. If he was frustrated by the failure of one or both of his knees, he was not appalled – Martinez’s face, Saturday, said “Already?” where his face against Chavez once said “My God!”
There was something nigh fraudulent about the entirety of Cotto-Martinez, beginning with an asinine plot that went from “I must punish Miguel Cotto for not saying thank-you to the barista who served coffee at our first photo shoot” to “I sell more tickets than Sergio Martinez” before arriving at “Max, since we are both bored with this idiocy, may we interview you?” It was a middleweight championship fight contested by men whom former champion Marvelous Marvin Hagler could have beaten in a handicap match, two on one, and Bernard “The Executioner” Hopkins would have undone in one evening’s consecutive matches without ordering Richard Schaefer to fetch his alien getup in between.
But our sport retains its feelings of goodwill for both Martinez and Cotto, and well it might. Even had those who absolutely knew better, from Martinez’s trainer to his promoter to his cable network, told us of Martinez’s true condition, the high probability he’d be unable to evade Cotto for more than a minute or two, few aficionados would have begrudged “Maravilla” a pension fight against Puerto Rico’s only active ticket-seller, in Madison Square Garden the day before National Puerto Rican Day Parade 2014. The fight satisfied all matters of curiosity and suspense, and settled them quickly, and rewarded Cotto for repeatedly making since 2007 what daring matches Floyd Mayweather does not.
And to Martinez it gave a final and robust payday with his dignity diminished but still intact, an amicable goodbye in the tradition he bids farewell to others – “con un abrazo fuerte (with a big hug).”
Bart Barry can be reached at bart.barrys.email (at) gmail.com