Ever since Miguel Cotto vs. Sergio Martinez was first announced, there has been one question dominating public perception of the contest: will Sergio Martinez be healthy enough to beat Miguel Cotto? At 39 years of age, Martinez has walked away from both of his last two fights with injuries to his left hand and right knee, and he has looked beatable in both. It's clear that he is well past his best years, and the it seems likely that he will have declined even further in the 13 months since his last bout.
For his part, Miguel Cotto may be past his prime as well, but in a dominant knockout win over Delvin Rodriguez last November he seemed to have found a path back to the aggressive, body-punching style of his younger years with the help of new trainer Freddie Roach.
Fight fans are therefore asking whether or not Martinez has declined enough for Cotto, the smaller man, to beat him. The problem with all of this is that, in focusing so much on Martinez's age and decline, we have lost sight of the fact that this is n incredibly interesting style matchup. As a fight geek, old Martinez vs undersized Cotto doesn't interest me nearly as much as Martinez, the fragile but dangerous counter puncher, and Cotto, the heavy-handed boxer-puncher.
I know, I know. This is not an ideal world, and we can't overlook the circumstances surrounding these fighters. However, even in an advanced state of decline, both men still pose a lot of interesting challenges for one another. Today we're looking at the aspects of Cotto's style that will serve him well against the middleweight king this Saturday.
Aside from the left hook, there is no punch more quintessentially Cotto than the jab. Unlike other boxers, who flick and paw with their left hands, Cotto, a converted southpaw, prefers to smash noses, blacken eyes, and knock opponents down (GIF) with his ramrod left, which is often less jab and more straight left.
I've written about Cotto's jab before, so I won't delve too much into the mechanics behind it, but there is something unique in Cotto's approach to this punch that could give Martinez a lot of trouble. Check it out.
That is not normal jab range.
Cotto is incredibly dangerous in the pocket, because his attacks come from every conceivable angle. For most fighters, this means a healthy variety of uppercuts and hooks, but Cotto even throws his straight punches--the jab in particular--from close range. Note how well the second jab sets up Cotto's left hook. Cotto throws the jab from such a deceptively short distance, that Margarito has no idea he's close enough to get caught by a left hook.
Cotto does an excellent job of sitting down on his jab, dropping his entire body weight into the punch. Not only does this allow him to generate tremendous power, but it facilitates his desire to close the gap and batter his opponent's body and head with tight, powerful hooks. Above, you can see how far Cotto steps in with his jab. With the very first punch he's already in hook range. As he splits Margarito's guard with the second punch he places his left foot to Margarito's right, and takes the perfect angle to sneak his hook right around Margarito's guard.
Here's another trick that Cotto uses to make his jab into a diverse, multi-range weapon. Below, Cotto cuts Margarito's troublesome right eye with a jab.
Though this punch doesn't land clean, you can clearly see the amount of penetration Cotto managed with his fist: he punches the entire length of his glove through the space where he expected Margarito's head to be. Had his jab found the target, he would have snapped Margarito's head back dramatically, as he did several other times in this, their second fight.
The key to this close-range punch is Cotto's level change. Some have surmised that the height and reach difference between Martinez and Cotto will be the Puerto Rican's undoing this Saturday, but Cotto managed to use his smaller stature to great effect against Margarito. Already the shorter man, Cotto drops his base, managing to add a few extra inches of space to throw his power jab, creating space where there appears to be none. As the taller man, Martinez will have some options that Cotto does not, but this doesn't mean that Cotto is at a complete disadvantage in the pocket.
Those level change jabs can also make it very difficult for the opponent to pin down where exactly Cotto is.
Here, Cotto sinks down as Margarito steps in, and plants a jab in the pit of his stomach, then pops him in the head with another one. Despite that, Margarito is surprised to find Cotto out of range of his own jab a split-second later, as Cotto pulls his weight back onto his right foot and watches Margarito's left hand whizz harmlessly past his head. In reaching for Cotto's head with his jab Margarito brings his own head forward, meaning that now Cotto is in perfect position to counter him with a laser-straight right hand to the cheek.
Martinez is the "boxer" in this fight, but Cotto doesn't get nearly enough credit for his technical savvy and ringcraft. Speaking of which...
As a natural left-hander, Cotto has always had surprising deftness in switching stances. He has never been the type of fighter to stay in the opposite stance for long, but he is also not afraid to put himself in southpaw for a moment or two if it means taking advantage of an opening. Here's a particularly flashy example below.
Tony Margarito is more swarmer than pure pressure fighter. He is aggressive and very difficult to put away, but he has never been very good at cutting off the ring. To make sure he stayed one step behind at all times, Cotto approached his second fight with the big man with an eye for angles. Above, Cotto circles left and, instead of preemptively moving to cut him off, Margarito follows him around the ring. Just as Margarito looks to be getting his feet set to punch, Cotto changes direction.
Why buy Cotto-Martinez?
While Miguel Cotto and Sergio Martinez are both certainly still viable fighters, each of them is past their prime. So why buy their pay-per-view event on Saturday?
Sliding to his left, Cotto plants his left foot and steps quickly back to his right, suddenly turning his left hand into a southpaw cross, adding some power to the shot despite the fact that Cotto is moving as he throws it. The moment that punch lands, Cotto executes the same maneuver on Margarito's left side, stepping to an angle and throwing an orthodox, right cross. No longer backed against the ropes, Cotto takes advantage of the momentary lapse in Margarito's forward momentum and moves back toward center ring.
Again, Cotto is not the kind of fighter to stay in southpaw for long, and this is a good thing--most switch-hitters tend to be vulnerable in one if not both of their stances. His willingness to give up textbook positions in order to land unexpected punches, however, is part of what makes Cotto such a diverse fighter. Often billed as the puncher, Cotto is capable of surprising opponents with the surprising depth of his craft.
SETTING UP THE BODY SHOT
The most encouraging thing about Cotto's comeback against Delvin Rodriguez was his renewed commitment to the body shots. Throughout his career, Cotto has been at his best applying his acid left hand to the soft underbellies of his opponents, such as the vicious liver shot he used to floor Carlos Quintana in their entertaining fight (another one in which Cotto made use of the southpaw stance to increase the power in his left). Under Freddie Roach, Cotto seems to have once again tapped into his passion for boxing, which seems intrinsically connected with his passion for battering people's ribs.
Again, Cotto is craftier than credited, as shown by this tricky little set-up for the left to the body.
Here we see two different sequences. In the first, Cotto takes a drop-step forward and connects with a short lead right, before pulling back out of range of Margarito's hook. The lead right will obviously be useful for Cotto against Martinez, a southpaw, but what follows it is more Cotto's style. In the second sequence, Cotto touches Margarito with the same exact right hand, but doesn't commit to the shot. Instead, he uses the tapping punch to bring Margarito's hands up and put himself in position for a left hook to the body. Fortunately, we're lucky enough to see both sequences from nearly the same angle, so we can really get a feel for how deceptive Cotto's set-up is.
The body shot will be key for Cotto against Martinez. Every time that Sergio drops his hands, as he is wont to do, he is essentially asking his opponents to swing at his head. In falling for this bait, they make themselves predictable, which makes it easier for Martinez to dodge and counter them. With Roach in his corner, Cotto will be reminded again and again not to fall for this trick, and if all goes according to plan, we will likely see Cotto banging Martinez's ribs every time he tauntingly lowers his guard.
Martinez will need to be on the lookout for that, as we've already discussed how potent Cotto's left to the body is and, as a southpaw, Martinez stands with his liver dangerously close to his opponent.
Styles make fights, and hopefully you can see just why the styles in this matchup are so intriguing to me. Check back tomorrow for my analysis of Sergio Martinez, and the techniques that best suit him against Cotto.
For more analysis like this as well as interviews with trainers and fighters of every sort, check out Heavy Hands, the only podcast dedicated to the finer points of face punching. Coming tonight, an interview with BE's Pat Wyman, who has scouted opponent's for fighters such as Fabricio Werdum and Rafael Dos Anjos. Seriously, it's coming out this week. I SWEAR.