Cotto Has the Crowd, but Martinez Still Has the Belt

by Kieran Mulvaney

Photo Credit: Will Hart

Sergio Martinez has not, it is fair to say, been shy about expressing irritation during the build-up to Saturday’s clash with Miguel Cotto. Irritation at entering the ring second, at being introduced first, at being listed second in the promotion. After all, he’s the middleweight champion, dammit, while Cotto has never been universally recognized as the man in any of the weight divisions in which he has picked up title belts.

To which litany of complaints Cotto has shrugged and simply pointed out that, from a business standpoint, he is the A-side and Martinez is not. The fans that will be flocking to Madison Square Garden will be doing so mostly to see him. Certainly, that was the case at Friday’s weigh-in at the MSG Theater; the line of fans snaked from the front entrance on 7th Avenue, along 33rd Street and most of the way to 8th, and although there was no shortage of blue-and-white Argentina soccer shirts on display, it was Puerto Rico that was represented in full force.

No fighter in recent times has owned the Garden the way Cotto has; Saturday will be his ninth appearance at the storied venue, his fifth on the eve of Puerto Rican Day, and has the potential to be the greatest of them all.

Martinez, of course, chafes at the notion that the storyline is all about Cotto. He dearly wants to seize back the narrative with both fists, by pounding Cotto into submission or unconsciousness in front of those same adoring fans. After gesturing at the booing Cotto supporters, after teasing them by making as if to take off his shirt for the weigh-in only to reveal another shirt beneath, after whipping them into a froth as he and his rival engaged in one of the lengthier face-offs in recent memory – they might still be staring darkly at each other even now had their handlers not separated them – he turned to the crowd and pressed as many verbal buttons as he could think of.

“Argentina is going to win tomorrow,” he proclaimed, “and by a knockout.”

Cotto weighed in at a trim and muscular 155 pounds, four inside the contracted 159-pound weight; Martinez ducked under that limit at 158.8. Speculation will continue about whether Cotto can handle the larger man but mostly about whether Martinez is gimpy and struggling for conditioning – all the way until the opening bell. At which point, the poster placement, the ring entrance order, and the rumors will all be rendered instantly irrelevant. It will all come down finally to two men, who genuinely seem not to like each other very much, swapping punches until history is made or the normal order is restored.