- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
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Middleweight champion Sergio Martinez and three-division titleholder Miguel Cotto are two days and two cities into the media tour to promote their June 7 (HBO PPV) showdown at Madison Square Garden in New York and the heat is building.
They kicked things off in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Monday at a news conference open to the public, and the two future Hall of Famers showed great respect for each other.
"I will prepare myself to be the best that I can be inside the ring like always do,” said Cotto, who has probably used that line at every single pre-fight press conference he has ever appeared at. “The Garden holds a very special place in my career and I know that my fans will be there to support me in this quest.”
The fight will be Cotto’s ninth at Madison Square Garden -- all main events -- where he has become a huge attraction, regularly drawing raucous crowds to his fights.
This fight should be no different. A sellout is expected as Cotto is attempting to become the first fighter in the great boxing history of Puerto Rico to win a world title in a fourth weight class.
"I am looking forward to this fight because a win will be historic in Puerto Rican boxing history,” Cotto said.
Then Cotto, 33, brought up the fact that Martinez, who has not fought since April, is coming off a second surgery on his bum right knee, which he has injured in his past two fights, decision wins against Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and Martin Murray.
"I hope that Sergio is 100 percent and his knee is fine because I want no excuses after I defeat him,” Cotto said.
Martinez, who turned 39 on Feb. 21, spoke about his excitement of fighting in New York and his respect for Puerto Rican boxing.
"I am very excited to be fighting in Madison Square Garden where many greats have fought in the past,” he said. “I know Cotto is a great fighter but I will ready to defend this championship at all costs. Puerto Rico has a rich boxing history and I am looking forward to fighting and beating one of their best. I will prepare to give the fans a great night of boxing and because of our styles, this will be a great fight.”
When they met face to face again at the Garden on Tuesday, Cotto was his usual stoic self and offered his standard sales pitch.
“I’m just looking forward to starting my camp, looking forward to train as hard as I can each day, and being here on June 7th just to become the first Puerto Rican to be a champion in four different divisions,” Cotto said. “I’d want to say to Sergio good luck in your camp. Try to do your best and I’m going to do my best. At the end of the road, the winners are going to be the fans.”
Martinez, however, was more agitated and animated, deriding Cotto for the way he feels he disrespected him during the difficult negotiations for the fight, which got the crowd at the public event into it.
Keep in mind that even before the fight was made Martinez felt ill will toward Cotto. Martinez’s side of the story is that a couple of years ago at a television studio in Mexico, he was excited to meet Cotto (38-4, 31 KOs) because they were there at the same time. However, the way Argentina’s Martinez (51-2-2, 28 KOs) tells it, Cotto blew him off and refused to even shake his hand, hence the ill will.
When the fight finally was being worked out, Martinez’s ire grew even more toward Cotto because of the demands he made. Cotto insisted on being in the champion’s corner for the fight, having his name listed first in the promotional materials, walking to the ring last, etc., even though Cotto is the challenger.
For a champion as proud as Martinez, it was difficult to swallow and he let Cotto have it at Wednesday’s press conference.
“Don’t forget one thing,” Martinez said. “We are gonna fight because I am the champion and I’m coming into the ring first and he’s coming in second, otherwise there would be no fight. I go to the blue corner and I really don’t care, because I’m the champion and if it wasn’t for that he won’t fight.
“I will be introduced first in the ring because if it wasn’t that way Cotto would not fight me. I can imagine on June 7th that he’s going to ask for rose petals, otherwise he won’t walk into the ring. No more excuses. On June 7th, I’m gonna win, Argentina.”
Things could get even more interesting on Wednesday in Los Angeles, where Cotto and Martinez will meet face to face for the third and final stop of the tour.