There is a special kind of cruelty in the world reserved only for championship-caliber boxers.
Sergio Martinez got a good look at it on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden in New York as Miguel Cotto was ruthlessly beating him to a pulp to the tune of a Round 10 technical knockout.
Make no mistake: Cotto wasn’t cruel to absolutely wreck Martinez the way he did in the fight. That’s Cotto’s job, and he did it admirably—and with great skill.
No, Cotto became lineal middleweight champion of the world the right way, just as Martinez had before him; he moved up in weight to take on a bigger fighter, who seemed to have substantial reasons to be the legitimate favorite in the fight, and tore him asunder anyway.
The cruelty, rather, is how a great champion like Martinez, one who worked hard every day to become one of the very best at what he did—a man who took his life outside the ring just as seriously as the one he had inside of it—could turn from butcher to bull in what seems like a blink of an eye.
There were definitely signs. Martinez had a long history of injury layoffs. He looked a bit slower than normal in his last fight against Martin Murray. He was 39 years old and starting to look long in the tooth.
All of that is true.
But Martinez was the middleweight champion for over four years, and no matter what obstacle had been put in front him—whether it be the lengthy volume punching of Paul Williams or the powerful onslaught of Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.—Martinez had always come out on top.
But Cotto may as well have been made of steel on Saturday, while Martinez appeared more brittle than glass. The fight was absurdly one-sided.
Martinez expected as such—but he thought he’d be the one beating Cotto into oblivion.
In fact, Martinez told Bleacher Report before the fight he’d be amazed if Cotto saw the bell in Round 9.
"Cotto isn't going to make it to the ninth round," he said. "I’m certain by the ninth round Miguel Cotto will be a broken person.”
Of course, Cotto did see the ninth round, and it went as well for him as the previous eight had gone. Martinez simply had no answer for anything Cotto threw at him. Cotto landed hooks, straight lefts and jabs. He went to the head and the body. He cut off the ring with ease.
Cotto dominated Martinez in every facet of the sport.
Martinez was a mess of things by the time it was time for Round 10, so his corner wisely asked for the fight to be halted.
Will this be the lasting image of Martinez? The one burned into the brains of fights fans simply because it was the last time they saw the brave Argentine fight?
It might end up that way.
Because for all of Cotto’s brilliance, there has to be a tinge of doubt in everyone’s mind as to what kind of Martinez came to the ring on fight night.
Was this the real Martinez, the one who easily beat up bigger men with his patented blend of speed, quickness and power?
Was this the slick southpaw athlete who made fools of those who were brave or stupid enough to try and trade with him?
Was this the Martinez we all knew?
Or was this only a shell of Martinez, the kind of sad little counterfeit who shows up when a fighter decides to climb into the ring one time too many?
Martinez will need to consider the answer to that question more than anyone. If he wants to continue his boxing career, he should absolutely be able to—so long as he can pass the proper medical tests required by state athletic commissions.
He should have no problem passing those, given proper time for rest and recuperation.
But the bigger test for Martinez will be for him to reflect on his performance against Cotto.
Why was Cotto so much faster? Why was he so much stronger? Why did Martinez look as if he’d never been in the ring with someone so tough?
Was Cotto that great? Or was Martinez just no longer...well, Martinez?
If it’s the former, Martinez should press on. But if it's the latter? It’s time to look for another gig.