So I sidled up to trainer Freddie Roach a few weeks ago at the Beverly Hills Hotel. I reminded him that he had convinced me in 2008 that his client Manny Pacquiao would upset Oscar De La Hoya. I asked him to convince me that his new client Miguel Cotto can upset Sergio Martinez.
The screwy gimmick creating tension for the Cotto-Martinez fight this Saturday in New York is that Cotto has top billing, even though Martinez is the defending champion, is ranked in the top 10 pound-for-pound, and is favored to win.
Yes, Cotto was once a pre-eminent 140-pounder and later one of the best welterweights, but he took a lot of punishment in the Antonio Margarito debacle in 2008 and lots more from Pacquiao in 2009. Having moved up to 154 pounds in recent years, Cotto was 0-2 in 2012, losing valiantly to Floyd Mayweather but looking far past his prime in a loss to Austin Trout. At 5-foot-7, Cotto, 33, is a very short middleweight who has not fully dispelled the notion that he is a shot fighter.
Although Martinez is 39, he has fared much better than Cotto the past five years, with his narrow loss to Paul Williams, his spectacular second-round knockout in his rematch with Williams, his gritty victory over Kelly Pavlik and his resounding 2012 win over Julio Cesar Chavez adding up to an impressive resume for such a late bloomer in the sport.
But Cotto has the bigger fan base, and he’s promoted by Bob Arum’s Top Rank. Martinez has an estimable but second-tier promoter in Lou DiBella, and his advisor/co-promoter Sampson Lewkowicz can best be described as forlorn. And as a Puerto Rican fighting in New York, Cotto is definitely on the home team.
Martinez can best be described as angry about the second-billing. “This fight happened because I gave up my rights as champion,” Martinez groused from the podium at the Beverly Hills event. In addition to the billing, Cotto will be announced as the headliner, after Martinez, although Cotto will enter the ring prior to Martinez.
So Martinez is motivated, in addition to his superior speed and three-inch height advantage.
How can Roach help Cotto surmount all that?
“I love fighting southpaws and I know how to beat southpaws,” Roach said. “It’s all about footwork.
“Martinez is a great athlete,” Roach said, “but I don’t think he’s a great boxer. I think his defense is poor.” He chided Martinez for keeping his hands too low and for getting tagged by Chavez in the final round of their otherwise one-sided fight.
Besides, Roach said, Cotto is not necessarily the smaller man. “Martinez says he can make 147,” Roach pointed out. “He’s not a huge guy.”
Furthermore, Roach said, Cotto is gaining strength by not struggling with the weight limit for a change. “He’s got a little more muscle, a little more leg strength not having to make weight.”
The problem is that Martinez is the quicker man. Unless Cotto (and Roach) can overcome that, or unless Martinez’s vulnerable knees give way, Martinez should be able to stop Cotto in eight or nine rounds.