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Fitz Hitz: Middleweight title fight has heavyweight enmity

Cape Coral, FL (SportsNetwork.com) - Neither Sergio Martinez nor Miguel Cotto have shown much tolerance for the other when they've appeared together in the run-up to Saturday's middleweight title fight at Madison Square Garden.

Martinez is the WBC champion and risks his belt for the second time, but it's been Cotto who has staked out the high ground with a claim that he's the bigger star -- and thus the A-side of the event.

He's been listed first on publicity material and he'll be introduced last, contrary to long-standing boxing tradition, when the two men reach the midtown Manhattan ring on Saturday.

The fight will be contested at a catch weight of 159 pounds, one below the middleweight limit.

Martinez labeled Cotto's status claims "absurd," but his promoter, Lou DiBella, said the Argentine was agreeable to the myriad stipulations because he wanted to guarantee the fight got made.

"It doesn't matter because in terms of making this fight, Sergio is really the boss," DiBella said. "Sergio's marching orders were do the best you can and make the best deal you can and make sure this fight happens. So I made sure this fight happens."

HBO will show it atop a four-bout pay-per-view card that goes live at 9 p.m. ET

A win would make Cotto the first Puerto Rican-born fighter to win world title belts in four weight classes -- he's already been a champion at 140, 147 and 154 pounds -- and he'd become the first fighter since Oscar De La Hoya to be specifically recognized in both the 140- and 160-pound classes.

Martinez is the favorite according to odds posted at VegasInsider.com, which would require a $185 wager on the champion to win $100. Cotto, as the underdog, would return $150 on a $100 bet.

Now 33, Cotto won his first title at 140 in 2004 and vacated it before moving up to add a 147-pound championship in 2006. He won and lost two titles in that weight class, then moved up again to become a 154-pound champion in 2010, a championship he held until a loss to Floyd Mayweather Jr. in 2012.

Cotto was beaten by Austin Trout while trying to regain a 154-pound belt 18 months ago and has fought just once since, stopping Delvin Rodriguez in three rounds while weighing 153 1/4 pounds last October. He has never weighed more than 154 pounds for a fight, though he is listed as the WBC's top contender.

"It is not only Austin Trout that made it a difficult fight for Cotto, but Mayweather and (Manny) Pacquiao as well," Martinez said. "We have looked at all of those fights, and picked up on different things that have worked against Cotto. My trainer, Pablo Sarmiento, has come up with a great game plan and you will see me execute it perfectly on Saturday night."

It's Cotto's second fight with trainer Freddie Roach, who guided Pacquiao to a 12th-round TKO against him in November 2009. Roach has been quite vocal in predicting success for his new charge, claiming Martinez will be knocked out in the fourth round.

"A lot of people say Michael Jordan wouldn't be Michael Jordan without Scottie Pippen," Cotto said. "Freddie Roach is my Scottie Pippen. Our chemistry together has been great."

Roach faced Martinez with Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. in 2012 and saw his man lose a wide 12-round decision, though Chavez did knock Martinez down in the final round and came very close to finishing him.

"The wear and tear of the Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. fight ruined Martinez," Roach said. "He has nothing left. Miguel is the fresher fighter."

Martinez bristles at the notion that he wasn't impressive in beating his then 26-year-old foe.

"If winning 11 1/2 rounds out of 12 is not impressive, I don't know what I could do. What is being impressive?" he said. "If the fight would have lasted another two or three rounds, Chavez would have run out of gas and I would have stopped him."

Martinez, 39, was the IBO champion at 154 pounds in 2003 and '04 before winning the WBC middleweight belt for the first time in 2010. He was stripped by the organization after one title defense, but regained it with the win over Chavez and has defended it once.

In eight fights at middleweight since 2009, he's 7-1 with four knockouts, though he's been inactive since April 2013 with shoulder and hand injuries.

"Whatever Cotto will do in the ring doesn't matter to me, I don't care," Martinez said. "What is important is for me to be the day of the fight in the same state that I'm working right now. This fight is definitely not going the distance. It will end before the scheduled number of rounds."

THIS WEEK'S TITLE-FIGHT SCHEDULE

SATURDAY

IBF bantamweight title - Newcastle, United Kingdom

Stuart Hall (champion/No. 19 IWBR) vs. Paul Butler (No. 11 contender/No. 41 IWBR)

Hall (16-2-2, 7 KO): Second title defense, first fight against opponent with no losses or draws

Butler (15-0, 8 KO): First title fight, sixth fight within bantamweight weight class (5-0. 3 KO)

Fitzbitz says: The challenger is nine years younger and nowhere near as accomplished, but I have an inkling he'll put together what's needed to stay unbeaten and win a belt. Butler by decision

WBC middleweight title - New York, N.Y.

Sergio Martinez (champion/No. 1 IWBR) vs. Miguel Cotto (No. 1 contender/unranked IWBR)

Martinez (51-2-2, 28 KO): Second title defense (second reign), third fight in New York (2-0, 2 KO)

Cotto (38-4, 31 KO): Twenty-second title fight (17-4, 14 KO), first fight above 154 pounds

Fitzbitz says: Cotto has insisted his resume makes him the "A side" of the promotion, but in terms of all-round skill set at 160, he's no match for a healthy and determined Martinez. Martinez in 9

SUNDAY

IBO super bantamweight title - East London, South Africa

Thabo Sonjica (champion/No. 15 IWBR) vs. Toto Helebe (unranked IWBR)

Sonjica (18-2, 13 KO): First title defense, unbeaten since 2011 (4-0, 3 KO)

Helebe (14-3, 7 KO): First title fight, unbeaten since 2007 (10-0, 5 KO)

Fitzbitz says: Sonjica is a champion and a left-hander and has been on a roll since beating the only man he's ever lost to, Macbute Sinyabi. Put them all together and it's too much for a guy rising in weight. Sonjica by decision

Last week's picks: 4-1; 2014 picks record: 41-9 (82.0 percent); Overall picks record: 588-203 (74.3 percent)

NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full- fledged title-holder - no interim, diamond, silver or other titles. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class,

Lyle Fitzsimmons is a veteran sports columnist who has written professionally since 1988 and covered boxing since 1995. His work is published in print and posted online for clients in North America and Europe. Reach him at fitzbitz@msn.com or follow him on Twitter: @fitzbitz.

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