Moving up from a lighter weight class against an established and elite middleweight seemed daunting odds in Miguel Cotto’s history-seeking bout.
Despite a successful career, highlighted by world titles in three separate weight classes, Cotto had never fought above the 154-pound division. And his first crack at middleweight was against a fighter considered among the sport’s best pound-for-pound fighters as recently as a year ago.
But Cotto overcame the seemingly difficult obstacle and made a loud introduction to the middleweights late Saturday. Spearheaded by three first-round knockdowns, Cotto scored a technical knockout victory when opponent and defending champion Sergio Martinez failed to answer the bell for the 10th round of their fight at Madison Square Garden.
With the victory, Cotto captured the World Boxing Council middleweight belt. Cotto, 33, also becomes the first native Puerto Rican to win world titles in four different divisions.
“This is the biggest achievement I’ve ever had in my career,” said Cotto, whose appearance helped attract an announced crowd of 21,000. “Miguel Cotto became Miguel Cotto here and Miguel Cotto is still Miguel Cotto here at Madison Square Garden.”
Cotto pleased his supporters and gave Martinez an instant reminder that his title reign would soon end with a career-defining first round. The power punch that enabled Cotto to stop 31 previous opponents and helped him to world titles as a junior welterweight, welterweight and junior middleweight remained as potent in the new weight class.
“I hit him with a hard punch, and I just [went] for him,”Cotto said. “I maintained myself in the fight and kept fighting.”
Cotto (39-4, 32 KOs) sent Martinez to the canvas with a left hook to the head seconds into the fight. Martinez’s nightmarish opening round continued as Cotto floored him a second time with a right to the head. Cotto punctuated the impressive start when he knocked Martinez for the third time with a right to the body.
Martinez (51-3-2) survived the early onslaught but could not escape Cotto’s repeated aggression through the next eight rounds. Cotto landed repeatedly with left hooks to the head and body shots. For good measure, Cotto dropped Martinez a fourth time in the ninth round.
“In training camp, we knew we were preparing for a difficult fight because Sergio is a great champion,” Cotto said. “We came here with the philosophy of winning round by round, and that is what we did. We let our hands go from the beginning and it helped us win the fight.”
Inactive for 14 months because of a knee injury, Martinez failed to utilize the speed he vowed would frustrate Cotto. Instead, the native of Argentina sustained a cut around his right eye and showed noticeable bruises on his face from Cotto’s precision punching.
The punch buildup and Cotto’s commanding lead on the scorecards forced Martinez’s trainer Pablo Sarmiento to stop the fight before the 10th round. All three judges had Cotto ahead, 90-77, when the fight was stopped.
“He caught me cold, and I could not respond,” Martinez said of his first-round struggles.
Although he seemed to favor his surgically repaired knee during his first-round troubles, Martinez refused to consider it a reason for the defeat.
“You have to learn how to win and learn how to lose, [Saturday] it was my turn to lose,” Martinez said. “I congratulate Miguel Cotto.”
Saturday’s lopsided loss could mean the end for Martinez, 39, in top-tier fights. Cotto, meanwhile, will remain a significant presence in marquee matches, especially with the renewed optimism he has gained the past two fights working with six-time Trainer of the Year Freddie Roach.
“We are going to take a break from boxing for the next couple of weeks, but Freddie is a tireless worker, and I know he is already considering the next steps,” Cotto said of his future fight options. “When we sit down and talk again we will let you know.”
AROUND THE RING• Oscar De La Hoya, Felix Trinidad and Joe Calzaghe headed the 2014 class that was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame Sunday afternoon in Canastota, New York. The three retired fighters earned Hall of Fame distinction in their first year of eligibility.
• Miami resident Yudel Jhonson won a convincing unanimous decision over Mexico’s Norberto Gonzalez in their middleweight bout Friday night in Verona, New York. All three judges scored the bout for Jhonson, who is now 16-1.