- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
- 0 Shares
During the memorable 12th round of middleweight champion Sergio Martinez's defense against Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. in September 2012, Martinez, who had otherwise dominated en route to a lopsided decision victory, got knocked down in a dramatic scene that brought the heavily pro-Chavez crowd to its feet.
But Martinez beat the count, engaged Chavez rather than run or hold and survived what would be hailed as the round of the year. However, on the knockdown, Martinez tore ligaments in his right knee. He also broke his left hand -- his power hand, since he is a southpaw -- during the fight. Martinez would later have surgery to repair his knee.
Seven months later, Martinez returned for a fight he probably should not have taken because, according to those close to him, his knee was not fully healed. But the opportunity was too great for him to pass up -- an Argentina homecoming defense against Martin Murray, which the government largely bankrolled and which he fought before an adoring crowd of nearly 50,000 at a soccer stadium in Buenos Aires.
Martinez was not close to 100 percent, yet he survived another knockdown and won a tight unanimous decision. But he also re-injured his knee and broke his left hand again. Martinez needed a second knee surgery and now, at age 39, many question what he has left after so many injuries and a number of tough fights, especially because Martinez relies so much on his excellent speed and movement.
The health of his right knee, and even his left hand, has been a major point of conversation as Martinez prepares for the seventh defense of the lineal 160-pound world championship against Puerto Rican superstar and three-division titleholder Miguel Cotto on Saturday night (HBO PPV, 9 ET) at Madison Square Garden in New York.
"I am getting asked the same questions over and over again about my knee, and I know that the media is just doing their job," Martinez said at Wednesday's final news conference. "I can assure you, though, that I am 100 percent. I am old, but not by that much."
Martinez (51-2-2, 28 KOs), who has a physical therapist as part of his team, has steadfastly said his knee was fine and that he would be ready to fight at a high level.
"My knees are feeling great. I have been running in the mornings on the treadmill. It has been a great camp and I am feeling great and haven't felt this good in a long time," said Martinez, who will face Cotto on Puerto Rican Parade weekend, a date on which Cotto has regularly fought in front of a raucous, partisan crowd. "The recuperation was very painful. I was on crutches for nine months and it is very hard to come back from that, but this is the road that I chose and I enjoy the achievement of coming back from something like this. Everything is going to be fine come fight time.
"Right now I am just the same as when there were no knee problems. I have overcome all obstacles. It has been very painful and I have suffered a lot, but to be the best, these are the type of things that you have to go through and sacrifice. I feel great, and you will see that come Saturday night."
Promoter Lou DiBella, who visited Martinez at his Miami training camp in recent weeks, said he was pleased with what he saw from Martinez -- although even if he wasn't it is unlikely he would say it.
"I believe that his knee is as good as it was before the Chavez fight and I believe that he is in great shape," DiBella said. "I saw him train in Florida and I saw some things I haven't been able to see in some of the other fights where his knees were bothering him.
"I saw great lateral movement. He could plant and throw with real authority and power. Particularly the fact that he could move in all directions without any kind of severe pain. The year off -- a year to rehabilitate, a year to rest -- and just work in terms of strengthening his body -- I think is going to be a huge advantage for Sergio Martinez."
The New York State Athletic Commission was not quite so sure. After hearing and reading so much about Martinez's knee injuries the commission was concerned enough to order him to undergo a special MRI on his knee (as well as his left hand) about two weeks ago, before giving him a license to fight. That is highly unusual.
"That is unheard of from any commission to do that but they did it for the safety of the fighter and he passed no problem," said Sampson Lewkowicz, Martinez's adviser. "He is totally healthy."
Said DiBella, "It is interesting that this has never come up before. It was the commission's request, though, and we abided by it."
There was more drama this week. When the Cotto camp learned that Martinez intended to wear a material sheath over his knee, as recommended by his doctor, during the fight for some additional support, it complained to the commission.
After discussion with the commission and an examination of the covering, Martinez will be allowed to wear it as it is not a bulky metal brace, which, ironically, Yuri Foreman wore against Cotto in a 2010 fight at Yankee Stadium in which Cotto stopped Foreman in the ninth round because of a knee injury to win a junior middleweight world title.
"The brace is not with metal, only for precaution and support," Lewkowicz said. "He is 100 percent healthy. After the fight you can ask Cotto about how Sergio's knee and hands were and he will tell you they were just fine after Sergio knocks him out."
Said DiBella, "I commend [executive director] David Berlin and the NYSAC as he came to a very quick decision and determined that the sheath is OK for Sergio to wear on fight night. Do I think people were messing with us regarding the whole issue with the knee and sheath? Yes, absolutely."
DiBella put the blame on Freddie Roach, Cotto's Hall of Fame trainer, as the instigator.
Martinez said he didn't know who brought up the sheath and didn't much care.
"Whether it was the commission or Cotto's team directly I am not sure," he said. "The only one who will pay for it, though, is Miguel Cotto."
Maybe it was Roach, but he did not sound very concerned. He believes Cotto (38-4, 31 KOs), 33, will win the middleweight title in their second fight together and become the first Puerto Rican boxer to win a world title in four weight divisions.
"The wear and tear of the Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. fight ruined Martinez," Roach said. "He has nothing left. Miguel is the fresher fighter.
"I don't want to hear after the fight 'my knee hurts.' He's going into the fight. He signed for the fight. He knows what he's up against."
Cotto has never been one to engage his opponents in trash talk. Roach handles that job about as well as he handles the mitts. So Martinez returned fire at Roach.
"Regardless of what Freddie Roach says, Cotto will get beat up on Saturday night," said Martinez, a cyclist before turning to boxing in his 20s. "Freddie Roach is a joker and a big talker. He was saying how a cyclist cannot beat a world champion and look at what happened with Chavez [whom Roach trained]."
Not only does Martinez say he is perfectly healthy, but that Saturday's fight will most definitely not be his last, something many have speculated about.
"After this fight I will sit down with my team and we will discuss the future," he said. "I have one fight left with HBO and I am 100 percent going to fulfill that. So for anyone saying that this is my last fight, they are wrong."
A healthy Sergio Martinez says he wants to "beat up" Miguel Cotto, Dan Rafael writes.