NEW YORK -- After a surprising, dramatic and one-sided bout in front of a rapturous Madison Square Garden crowd in which Miguel Cotto captured the world middleweight championship from Sergio Martinez, here are five things we learned:
1. Miguel Cotto still has it
We knew an inspired Cotto under trainer Freddie Roach had the potential to be competitive with Martinez despite giving away size, speed and power. But could any of us have predicted an absolute drubbing from start to finish? Not likely. While the impact of Martinez’s age and injuries certainly played a factor, that wasn’t the prevailing storyline. This was simply a different Miguel Cotto, who entered the ring with a renewed level of confidence that he wielded like an ax to the tune of three stunning knockdowns in Round 1. Cotto set the tone for his workmanlike dismantling of Martinez by his stealth ring entrance -- set to silence with the house lights dimmed -- and put on a vintage performance at age 33.
2. The Cotto-Freddie Roach marriage is a success
Cotto has never been immune to allowing outside-the-ring drama affect his performance inside of it. He also has never been afraid to switch things up in his corner at any time. Yet throughout his career, a happy Cotto has often meant a successful one, and there’s undoubtedly a unique comfort level between him and Roach -- a “player’s coach” who has gained Cotto's respect and focus.
Not only was Roach successful at resurrecting the Cotto of old, he appears to have melded the attacking style of Cotto’s younger dyes with the more refined boxer he became in recent years under the tutelage of Cuban trainer Pedro Diaz. The result was a version of Cotto who was equally adept at using his footwork to avoid Martinez -- never allowing him to develop his swagger by getting into a rhythm -- as he was able to stand and trade with him to destructive results. Cotto landed an astonishing 54 percent of his punches and did much of his damage with a looping left hook to the head that repeatedly exploited Martinez’s tendency to keep his hands too low. Roach’s preparation in terms of conditioning also prevented Cotto from the kind of late-fight fade that played a factor in each of his four defeats.
3. The end is very near for Sergio Martinez
Martinez showed tremendous heart to survive the storm of three first-round knockdowns and keep coming until his corner had seen enough before the start of Round 10. But this simply wasn’t the same fighter whose speed and elusiveness defied his advancing age in recent years. With his twice surgically repaired right knee compromising his mobility, Martinez looked every bit of his 39 years of age. The end is often abrupt for fighters such as Martinez, who rely on athleticism and a Houdini-like style above sound technique (see Roy Jones Jr.). Roach’s postfight comments were a harsh yet accurate summation of his growing vulnerability: “[Martinez] is a great athlete, yes. But I never thought he was a great boxer. You can’t fight with your hands down and think you’re going to be able to win fights.”
With one fight remaining on his lucrative deal with HBO, you can expect to see Martinez at least once more in some form of an orchestrated farewell. Martinez stayed true to form as a stand-up champion and person by offering no excuses in defeat, but his brief and memorable run as an unlikely middleweight king and one of the sport’s true elite has come to an end.
4. The Garden is still the mecca of boxing
After taking more than a year off for renovations, Madison Square Garden made an epic return to big-time boxing as Cotto once again headlined the big arena on the night before New York’s Puerto Rican Day parade. There’s still a certain level of electricity about a big fight between two stars at “The World’s Most Famous Arena” that can't quite be duplicated in Las Vegas or beyond. And with Cotto, the arena’s No. 1 tenant, able to reawaken his career at the highest level -- along with the rise of a potential replacement and possible future opponent in middleweight titlist Gennady Golovkin -- one can expect to see MSG pick up where it had left off. Cotto’s raucous welcoming committee, fueled on by his unexpected trio of early knockdowns, provided the soundtrack for an intoxicating atmosphere that was boxing at its very best.
5. Boxing is simply better with Cotto in the mix
Boxing is a sport whose potential for crossover appeal relies almost exclusively on the dynamic qualities of its stars and their ability to make marquee fights. And with the majority of the biggest names pushing closer to 40 than their absolute prime, the arrival of a resurgent Cotto on Saturday can only be viewed as a positive for the sport. Fresh off a historic victory and armed with one of boxing’s few remaining glamour titles as the lineal middleweight king, Cotto has plenty of attractive options moving forward. Not only does his status as a promotional free agent make it easier for fights to get made, the Puerto Rican star brings with him one of the sport’s most passionate fan bases. Whether it be a crossroads showdown with rising star Canelo Alvarez in another chapter of the epic Mexico vs. Puerto Rico rivalry or a marquee rematch with pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather Jr., Cotto will satisfy fans' desire for the kind of significant fights between stars that attract a casual following. And with a new division of potential opponents in his future, his willingness to dare to be great and take on the very best provides Cotto with a throwback quality that fans covet.