Miguel Cotto swung the bat, but it was trainer Freddie Roach who called the shot with a degree of perfection that absolutely was Ruthian. Before Cotto moved up to challenge for the WBC middleweight title belonging to Sergio Martinez Saturday night at sold out Madison Square Garden, Roach said Cotto would win with ring generalship and batter the "reckless" Martinez.
Roach couldn't have been more on point. Cotto became the first Puerto Rican to win world titles in four different weight classes by knocking Martinez down four times before the fight was stopped by Martinez's trainer, Pablo Sarmiento, six seconds into the 10th round. It was the greatest fight of Cotto's career and Roach called it his most satisfying win.
Cotto knocked Martinez to the canvas three times in a stunning first round and dazed him again in the ninth on what referee Michael Griffin ruled a knockdown. In between, Cotto stayed in the middle of the ring and fought with perfect control, catching Martinez with left hooks over the southpaw's low right hand and hurting him late with a brutal body attack and uppercuts.
"I just followed the strategy," Cotto said. "I got him good in the first round, so, I was confident. He got up after three knockdowns, but we kept calm . . . I was a little surprised, but I went in with a strategy, and that's what worked. Three knockdowns was not the end of the fight."
It wasn't the end only because of the heart Martinez, 39, showed, but Sarmiento admitted it was the beginning of the end. "More than a fighter, he's a brother and a friend," Sarmiento said, "so, I took the decision on myself to stop it."
Asked if he'd ever seen a fight plan work so well, Roach said, "Not like that. That was perfect."
Roach trained Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. who lost the first 11 rounds to Martinez in their Sept. 15, 2012, bout before knocking him down and nearly out in the 12th round. "People thought I was crazy, but this is the fight I wanted and the fight I thought I could get him ready for," Roach said of Cotto. "I had the right guy this time and a quality game plan."
Roach said the 33-year-old Cotto has plenty left in his tank for a couple more major fights. He would prefer to see Cotto return to the light middleweight class at 154, and he mentioned Canelo Alvarez and a rematch with Floyd Mayweather Jr. as possible options.
But Roach predicted Mayweather might not be eager to face this improved version of Cotto, who lost their May 5, 2012, bout on a 12-round decision. "I think [Mayweather's] legs are gone," Roach said. "I think he's shot . . . I think he won't fight any of my guys. He'll come up with some excuse."