NEW YORK — The Big Apple always seems to bring out the best in Miguel Cotto.
It can be against Antonio Margarito or Yuri Foreman or Shane Mosley. Cotto always seems to take his boxing to a higher level when he fights in New York.
But he was never better than Saturday night at Madison Square Garden, where the 33-year-old three-time world champion from Puerto Rico knocked down Sergio Martinez three times in the first round and dominated, winning Martinez’s World Boxing Council middleweight title with a 10th-round technical knockout.
Martinez didn’t leave his corner when the bell sounded for the 10th as the fight was stopped four seconds into the round.
Cotto (39-4) made history in his country by being the first Puerto Rico fighter to win world titles in four divisions: middleweight, junior middleweight, welterweight and junior welterweight.
“This is the happiest day of my life,” Cotto said. “I boxed using my angles, controlled him with my jab and backed him up. I kept beating him with my left hook. He keeps his right hand down. It makes it easier for me to land the hook.”
Cotto followed trainer Freddie Roach’s game plan to perfection. He stayed off the ropes, cut off the ring, used his jab and set up Martinez for his big left hook. That left dropped Martinez midway through the first round. He got up, but Cotto was swarming all over him, and a flurry of shots resulted in a second knockdown. Martinez again got up, only to get tagged by a big right hand and dropping a third time. That sent the sellout crowd of 21,090 into a frenzy.
“I fought with a lot of maturity,” Cotto said. “I knocked him down three times in the first round, but I didn’t go wild.”
Roach said: “I’m so proud of Miguel. He was picture perfect. He won every round, and he’d come back to the corner and I kept saying that round was better than the last one.”
Martinez, 39, from Argentina, was clearly showing his age as he couldn’t keep pace with his younger opponent. Cotto constantly beat Martinez to the punch, and Martinez showed frustration. In the fourth round, he held his hands lower than normal and motioned for Cotto to come in. Cotto obliged, rocking Martinez with a left to the body and another to the head as he continued to dominate.
Martinez, coming back after having right knee surgery last year, wore elastic sleeves on both knees. He didn’t move with the same alacrity he had in prior fights, and Cotto made him look even slower. It was evident the knee was troubling Martinez (52-3-2).
Cotto’s offense was dominant, and his defense was sharp, too. He picked off a good number of Martinez’s punches, and the ones that managed to penetrate weren’t enough to hurt him. In the sixth round, Cotto used a bit of Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s famous shoulder roll to keep Martinez from landing a clean shot.
In the ninth round, Martinez was on the verge of being finished, but he survived the round. However, when the bell sounded for the 10th, he stayed in his corner, having taken enough punishment. Cotto was comfortably ahead on all three judges’ scorecards by the same 90-77 score.
The final punchstats showed Cotto’s domination. He landed more than twice as many punches (212-100) and had a huge edge in power punches landed (158-60). He gave Martinez a compelling reason to strongly consider retirement. Whether he will quit remains to be seen. Martinez was taken to a hospital as a precaution after the fight. But before he left, he said that first round did him in.
“He hit me cold in that first round and I never recovered,” Martinez said.
Contact reporter Steve Carp at email@example.com or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.