- Dan Rafael, Boxing
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In a fight with major historical implications, former three-division titleholder Miguel Cotto of Puerto Rico will move up in weight to challenge middleweight champion Sergio Martinez of Argentina in one of the year's biggest bouts.
The fight will take place June 7 (HBO PPV) at Madison Square Garden and match two probable Hall of Famers on the weekend of the annual Puerto Rican Day parade in New York, a day on which Cotto has fought regularly. The bout has been in the works for a couple of months and was finalized Thursday before both boxers took to Twitter to announce the deal was complete.
- Miguel A. Cotto (@RealMiguelCotto) February 20, 2014
"It's done. Ready to go," Top Rank president Todd duBoef, Cotto's promoter, told ESPN.com. "I think the energy and the passion associated with both these fighters and the passion that their countries have for them is going to make this an incredible event and an incredible fight, maybe unprecedented in my career, which is over 20 years.
"You're talking about two icons in their countries, two guys who represent so much to their people, and now they are going to get in the ring and do it. You're talking about two fighters who have electrified fans in the sport for many years, and now they will do it in the same ring together on the same night. It will be an incredible event."
They will meet at a maximum contract weight of 159 pounds, one below the middleweight maximum of 160, according to duBoef. Shaving one pound from the division limit is a concession to the smaller Cotto, although Martinez is not a big middleweight and has long said that for the right fight he would drop down to the 154-pound junior middleweight division, where he once held a world title.
Cotto, 33, who has won world titles at junior welterweight, welterweight and junior middleweight, is aiming to become the first Puerto Rican fighter to win world titles in four weight divisions. And he will do it against the recognized 160-pound champion, not just an alphabet titleholder.
"I am very happy to be back in my second home, Madison Square Garden in New York, to once again make history in front of my fans," Cotto said. "I will be ready and prepared to do whatever it takes to bring the WBC middleweight title of the world to my country of Puerto Rico."
Said duBoef, "I've been with Miguel since 2000 and I have seen all of his accomplishments, and I believe this will be another landmark for him. He's had a Hall of Fame career and will show it again with his ability to move from 140 pounds [where he started] to 160."
Immediately after Cotto (38-4, 31 KOs) ended a two-fight losing streak by knocking out Delvin Rodriguez in an explosive performance Oct. 5 in Orlando, Fla. -- Cotto's first fight working with Hall of Fame trainer Freddie Roach -- he said he wanted to fight Martinez next.
"Cotto and Freddie are the ones who said that this is the fight they want," duBoef said. "Freddie faced Martinez with [Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.]. He knows what they are facing."
Martinez (51-2-2, 28 KOs), who will make his seventh title defense, will fight for the first time since April 2013, when he got knocked down and narrowly outpointed England's Martin Murray in an Argentina homecoming fight before a crowd of about 50,000 at a soccer stadium in Buenos Aires. Now Martinez, who turns 39 on Friday, is coming to Madison Square Garden, the arena that Cotto has packed with his large Puerto Rican following many times.
"It has been my dream to fight in the big room at Madison Square Garden, a place where many great fighters have showcased their talents." Martinez said. "It is the biggest stage in the world and the world will be watching this fight."
Said Lou DiBella, Martinez's promoter, "Styles make fights, and both Sergio and Cotto will be looking for knockouts."
DiBella added that the Martinez camp agreed to the deal several weeks ago, but "we have been waiting on Cotto and Top Rank. That's why this thing took so long to get done, but this is the fight Sergio really wanted."
There is some bad blood between the fighters stemming from an incident a few years ago when they ran into each other at a television studio in Mexico. Martinez, as the story goes, was excited to meet Cotto and went to shake his hand only to get blown off. Martinez has wanted to fight him since.
Negotiations for the bout were also rocky as Cotto made many demands that annoyed Martinez, not the least of which is one thing that Martinez gave in on -- that the fight is officially being billed as "Cotto-Martinez," even though Martinez, as champion, typically would be listed first under usual boxing protocol.
"Sergio is a proud man, and he will use all of that stuff, all of the disrespect as motivation," DiBella said. "He told me that when he knocks Cotto out, nobody is going to care what the fight was called."
Martinez is coming off a long layoff because of a right knee injury that has required two surgeries. He reinjured his knee against Murray after first injuring it (and having it surgically repaired) in his lopsided points victory against Chavez in September 2012. He hurt his knee when Chavez dropped him in the 12th round and nearly pulled the upset.
"There's a lot of intrigue in the fight," duBoef said. "There are a lot of what-ifs, what's gonna happen? I think Miguel proved to all of us and, more importantly, he proved to himself that with Freddie Roach he is one of the top fighters in the world today and what he was lacking was his preparation. If it wasn't for Freddie Roach, who changed his strategy and training, we may not have seen that Cotto against Delvin. I think we'll see that same Miguel against Martinez."
Former three-division titleholder Miguel Cotto will move up in weight to challenge middleweight champion and Argentina hero Sergio Martinez in one of the year's biggest bouts.