There might not have been a Triple Crown winner at Belmont Park, but a sold-out Madison Square Garden crowd saw Miguel Cotto capture a "Quadruple Crown." Cotto overpowered Sergio Martinez to win the WBC middleweight title Saturday night and become the first Puerto Rican to capture titles in four different weight divisions.
Cotto knocked Martinez down three times in the first round and gave him a standing eight count in the ninth. When the bell rang for the 10th round, Martinez's trainer, Pablo Sarmiento, stopped it six seconds in after deciding his man had taken enough punishment.
Coming as it did on the eve of New York's annual Puerto Rican Day parade, Cotto and his legion of supporters who packed the Garden for the ninth time in his career celebrated wildly from the start. Trainer Freddie Roach, who helped Cotto overcome his problems fighting southpaws could not have been more pleased.
"I'm so proud of him," Roach said. "He deserved this historic victory. He was picture-perfect. He didn't get hit with nothing. His defense was beautiful. Every time he came back to the corner, I said the same thing to him: 'That round was better than the last round.' "
It was the greatest performance of Cotto's career, and it came at the perfect time, allowing him to surpass three-time Puerto Rican champs Wilfredo Gomez, Wilfredo Benitez and Tito Trinidad. "This is the biggest, happiest day of my life," Cotto said.
As the proven drawing card, Cotto (39-4, 21 KOs) got top billing and received a guarantee of $3 million compared with $1.5 million for Martinez (51-3-2, 28 KOs), who at least was introduced last as a champion should. It was Cotto's debut as a middleweight.
At age 39, Martinez was spotting the challenger six years, and he also was coming off his second right knee and left hand surgeries. But he didn't use that as an excuse. He told promoter Lou DiBella his legs were gone after the first knockdown in the opening round.
Explaining his decision to stop the fight just after the bell to open the 10th, Sarmiento said: "He was unsteady and not responding. He got hurt badly in the first round and never fully recovered."
Martinez got knocked down once in each of his three previous fights, but even so, the first round was a shocker. The champion came out circling as if to show everyone his knee was in good shape. Cotto waited for him to settle down and then threw a left over Martinez's low right hand, staggering the Argentine to the ropes. Another left put Martinez on the canvas.
Martinez rose only to run into another left, followed by a right that dropped him a second time. Before the round ended, Martinez went down a third time from another Cotto left.
"Sergio keeps his right hand down, and it was very easy to get my left hook in," Cotto said. "I showed my maturity as a fighter. I didn't fight wildly ."
Early in the second, Martinez tasted the canvas again, but referee Michael Griffin ruled it a slip. Just as Roach taught him to do, Cotto stayed off the ropes in the fourth and commanded the center of the ring.
Cotto started going hard to the body in the sixth, forcing Martinez to bring his arms down for protection, but leaving his chin exposed. In the ninth, Cotto stepped up the pressure, hammering Martinez with painful and pinpoint combinations until Griffin gave Martinez a standing eight count.
"It was really the punch in the first round that ended it," DiBella said. "[Martinez] didn't want it to end there. He fought on heart, but Cotto fought a brilliant fight."