In kung fu flixtory, Golden Arm is the leader of the Chi Sah gang. ("Both of his arms are as hard and solid as gold and are invulnerable to anything.") In boxing, Golden Arms is Miguel Cotto. Heavy arms, heavy hands, he touch you, you go backwards.
An overall sense of heaviness defines Miguel Cotto. Everything he does, and all parts of him, give off the palpable sense of a great weight being moved. He always seems to moving at about 80 percent of the speed of a normal fighter. This is probably an optical illusion, since he still has no trouble hitting people. But he appears to weigh a thousand pounds, as if his body was a thin layer of skin over solid poured metal. Even now, when he's making an effort to dance on his toes more, it always seems as if every time he lands his solidity might send him crashing down through the ring, to the center of the earth.
Some boxers' punches are snappy, or quick, or pure speed, or they are known to have heavy hands; Cotto's entire arms are heavy. His left hook swings like a crescent of iron, whistling in with the inevitability of doom. It's the same motion he would make if he were sweeping all the plates and cutlery off of a dining room table in a rage. Cotto usually only throws two or three punches at a time; the straight right to the gut, followed by the left hook to the head, or the hook to the body followed by the right to the head. Sometimes he'll toss a jab in. That's about it. He's not one for 10-punch combinations. Completely reasonable, with those hundred pound metal arms.
As one of the few remaining fighters in the world who can reliably sell out an arena, Cotto has a standing date to fight in New York on Puerto Rican Day weekend. The man can singlehandedly fill up Madison Square Garden with boricuas; any fans from his opponent's country are just there to fill in the gaps. On Saturday night, his opponent was Sergio Martínez, an Argentinian. Argentinians dutifully filled in the open seats. Martínez is bigger than Cotto. He's faster than Cotto. He's quick enough to fight with his hands down and his head stuck forward, daring his opponent to swing and miss, and then to snap their heads back in response. Cotto, on the other hand, fights with both hands plastered to his forehead and his neck bent permanently forward, like a bull with blinders on, a nod to the reality of his own slowness. Just a few years ago, a lot of people thought Sergio Martínez was the third or fourth best fighter in the whole damn world. He beat all the big guys in his division. He was really something.
But now, the only two things you really need to know about Sergio Martínez are that he's 39 years old, and that he spent the majority of the past year on crutches after fucking up his knee (again) and his shoulder and his hand in his last fight. He is old, in other words. And no matter how great an athlete you are, no 39-year-old gets better by spending seven months on crutches. These facts were known going into the fight. If you would like some high comedy, I encourage you to look up the pre-fight predictions of all the boxing experts who were sure that Martínez would come back stronger than ever and knock Cotto out. Wishful thinking propels the sporting world, I suppose.
In any case, there was enough credible hype to make the fight a pay-per-view and fill up Madison Square Garden and attract so many members of the press that I was banished to a seat in the very, very upper tier of the stadium, where anyone with a decent vertical jump could have touched the roof. These press seats were so far from the floor that each one was furnished with its own television—never a good sign. The entire row of seats was fronted by a chest-high glass barrier, presumably to prevent journalists who found themselves seated there from leaping to their deaths in despair.
For the superstitious Miguel Cotto fan, there was reason for concern. After all of the undercard fights and the national anthems and a dramatic pre-fight video, and in front of tens of thousands of screaming Puerto Rican fans eager for their hero's moment, the big screen in the middle of Madison Square Garden broke right when Cotto began his walk to the ring. Completely dark. His two-minute procession onto the field of battle went unseen. When Martínez walked out, the big screen worked just fine. One could have reasonably taken this as a warning from God that Golden Arms had fallen out of favor.
There is no God in boxing, though. The bell rang and Cotto swung that big sweeping left hook and knocked down Martínez, lickety split. And again. And again. Three times, in the first round. By the third time, Martínez got up with his hands out, as if pleading for everyone to give him a chance to start this whole thing over again. More than anything else, his machismo had been hurt. (Also his head.)
Martínez survived the round, but in less than three minutes the tone of the fight had already turned to A Sad Old Man's Futile Effort to Stave Off Ignominious Defeat. Cotto looked strong. His opponent looked fragile. Almost every single time that Cotto touched Martínez with the left hook, Martínez's knees would perceptibly buckle. His famed shiftiness became more of a manic, wobbly retreat. With only short breaks for one or two punches to keep up appearances, Martínez spent the next seven rounds circling to his left, to get away from Cotto's left hook. Cotto, as calm as if he were just engaged in some light sparring, followed him around, feeling no need to risk anything, every once in a while touching him with the hook, which was enough to scuttle any plans Martínez had for an offensive rally. After the ninth round, Martínez's corner stopped the fight. It was a one sided affair. The old champion with the creaky knees should go ahead and retire while he still has his movie star good looks.
On Puerto Rican Day weekend next year, Miguel Cotto will be probably be fighting for his life against someone much younger, stronger, and more resilient. Sergio Martínez will probably be stand-up paddleboarding on the Spanish coast and enjoying some hot sex with models. The only thing that boxing really rewards is its own end.
Photo via Getty