Intro: I wrote this two days after the Cotto vs Martinez middleweight title fight in hopes that it would be published for a site that I freelance for. Ultimately, it didn’t make the cut as the site had an article already written, so I decided to post it here so that it would get some visibility and/or feedback.
As the first bell rang for the much anticipated middleweight title bout between Sergio Martinez and Miguel Cotto, no one predicted this fight to be so one sided. After a few moments of feeling each other out, Martinez was jolted as Cotto’s signature left hook cracked against his right cheek. Martinez, noticeably stunned, hobbled to the corner with Cotto charging in. The crowd howled in excitement as Cotto sent a clear message to Martinez and spectators alike. Cotto was there to unseat Martinez from his Middleweight throne.
Martinez’s last fight was a foreshadowing. He faced an accomplished but limited Martin Murray in his homeland of Argentina. Martinez struggled, but was effective enough to eke out a controversial decision. He got the benefit of the doubt – both in the fight and in public opinion – and possibly home cookin’. The performance was recognized as a fluke, considering his injuries and his past performances. Compared to last Saturday night, it was no fluke.
Over the duration of the fight with Cotto, one thing became apparent: Martinez would never be the same. The first indication was that Martinez started the fight with his guard up - even before the first punch was thrown. That is stylistically unusual for Martinez. He didn’t seem as sharp as expected. His footwork was cluttered and stiff. He couldn’t move in and out or laterally; at least not as smoothly as we’re used to seeing from him. Was this a result of his knees being unable to support the kind of movement Martinez has relied on in the past?
The 3rd and 4th rounds were Martinez’s strongest. He seemed to be effective in utilizing his right jab and bested Cotto’s jab in their exchanges. He felt comfortable enough to drop his hands. He began throwing lead lefts. At one point, Martinez did his usual shoulder shrug to signal he had the upper hand.
As the fight went on, it became clear that his level of comfort was only temporary. Cotto readjusted brilliantly by using Martinez’s right jab, lead lefts and spacing against him. Cotto kept just out of Martinez’s range to cause overextension. Cotto responded to those overextensions by dashing in or ducking under, countering with combinations to the head and body. Cotto seemed to concentrate more on the body attack. This effectively took whatever spring remained in Martinez legs out of the fight.
By the 7th round, Cotto had figured Martinez out. He cut off the ring, landed several lead punches of his own, got the best of the exchanges and completely out boxed Martinez. The defensively underrated Cotto was as sharp as Ginsu knife in all facets. The once great Martinez looked like he didn’t belong. With his bad knees, Martinez couldn’t get leverage for power. Even though it’s never really been his game, Martinez’s knees also killed his ability to fight inside. That would’ve been the only way for him to turn the fight around. Martinez never answered the bell for the 10th round.
Martinez didn’t look like the class A fighter that he mocked Cotto for not beating. He didn’t look like the pound for pound superstar that would systematically dismantle his opponents before knocking them out late in fights. Cotto on the other hand, shined brighter than ever. On his home turf away from home, it was one of, if not the best performance of Cotto’s career.
Martinez was a phenom. The natural ability and talent he possessed afforded him shortcuts that many other boxers aren’t able to take. He exploded out of obscurity to quickly become recognized as one of boxing’s pound for pound best. That same natural ability and talent were catalysts to his unorthodox style, which relied heavily on athleticism and reflexes. Most of his opposition was outclassed on those attributes alone. The majority of his opponents dependent on boxing fundamentals were broken down and eventually knocked out during his reign as middleweight champ.
So why would fundamentals be important to a fighter like Martinez? Fighting with his hands down, allows him to bait counter opportunities and strike with his thunderous overhand lefts or crushing right hooks. His success unintentionally mocks the conventional methods of boxing. It was his unorthodox style that gave him the freedoms from which his opponents, shackled by the fundamentals, were limited by.
Unfortunately for Martinez, the styles that rely on pure athleticism always deteriorate as their employers age. We’ve seen this before with Roy Jones, Jr. Even Muhammad Ali qualifies after his speed and reflex seemed to slow. The fundamentals allowed him to revert to the rope-a-dope.
Martinez, just like Roy Jones, is a reminder that pure athleticism without strong fundamentals in boxing will eventually betray you. They can get you to the top of the mountain, but fundamentals provide you the longevity stay a little bit longer. Ultimately, Father Time conquers all.