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Much more than settling a score on line for Martinez against Cotto

Photo: Victor R. Caivano/AP

Despite his recent wins, Sergio Martinez knows he's just one loss away from his career possibly ending.

NEW YORK -- By now you have heard the story: In 2008, Sergio Martinez and Miguel Cotto crossed paths at a Mexican television studio. According to Martinez, Cotto blew him off. Then, Martinez claimed, he watched as Cotto was rude and dismissive of the station's employees.

The incident sparked something in Martinez -- a longtime fan of Cotto, who was then campaigning at welterweight -- and since then Martinez has held a burning desire to settle the score in the ring.

"It bothered me because he is not better than everyone else," Martinez said. "I didn't like the way he behaved. I didn't like his demeanor. If it was just with me, I could understand it. I'm his rival. But it was the way he behaved with everybody."

Asked if he remembered the incident, Cotto was succinct. "No," he said. "[But] if that is his motivation, good for him."

Real animosity or a packaged, promotion-ready story? Who knows. Either way, it adds spice to the most anticipated pay per view of the year.

Martinez (51-2-2) will defend his WBC middleweight title against Cotto (38-4) on June 7 at Madison Square Garden. Tickets are expected to sell out quickly. Pay per view buys could exceed 500,000 -- a roaring success for a fight not involving Floyd Mayweather or Manny Pacquiao. On Tuesday, a thick crowd -- many waving Argentinean and Puerto Rican flags -- gathered at Chase Square for a press conference to promote the fight.

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From the dais, Martinez waved at onlookers, a broad smile creasing his face. After a meteoric rise -- one that began in 2010 with a win over then-middleweight king Kelly Pavlik -- Martinez knows the ride is almost over. At 39 and after multiple operations on his troublesome right knee, Martinez's end isn't far off.

He doesn't do much roadwork anymore because his knee won't allow it. A narrow decision win over Martin Murray last year kept his career going, but members of Martinez's team openly acknowledge he could be one loss away from calling it quits.

For Martinez, a fight with Cotto made perfect sense. In 2012, Martinez catapulted into stardom with a win over Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. That fight generated 475,000 pay per view buys and $25 million in revenue. Since then, Martinez has been anxiously looking for an opponent who could help yield a similar return. When Cotto expressed interest in moving up in weight with the goal of becoming the first Puerto Rican fighter to win a world title in four weight classes, Martinez jumped at the chance.

Negotiations were rocky. Money and weight were not a significant problem. Cotto, the bigger name draw, got the bigger share. And Martinez had no problem with a 159-pound catch weight, since he has never weighed in at 160-pounds anyway.

But Cotto wanted more. He wanted his name first on the billing. He wanted to walk to the ring after Martinez, be introduced second and fight out of the red corner, honors usually reserved for the reigning champion.

"He acts like a little girl, like a 16-year-old girl," Martinez said. "If he doesn't get these things then the fight isn't going to happen. It's ridiculous. I just think that he does a lot of things that are ridiculous, not personally toward me, but he has a personality that bothers me."

Added Martinez's promoter, Lou DiBella, "When Cotto is sitting on his ass at the end of the fight, it's not going to matter who was on what side."

Martinez agreed to Cotto's demands -- all of them -- because he understood what Cotto represents: a popular, money-making opponent who, like Chavez, is beatable. At 33 and a veteran of dozens of in-ring wars, Cotto is well past his prime. Before stopping Delvin Rodriguez last October, Cotto was beaten convincingly by Floyd Mayweather and Austin Trout. The union with trainer Freddie Roach has been productive, but a journeyman like Rodriguez is far from a serious test.

"It wasn't a measuring rod type fight," Martinez said. "If it was a Mayweather, that you can consider. With all due respect, Delvin Rodriguez is not that type of fight."

There's something else Cotto means, too: a future. Beating Cotto won't have the same cache as a win over Mayweather (who will never fight him) or Gennady Golovkin (who most certainly will). But it will remind an enormous audience why Martinez became a star in the first place.

Martinez-Cotto won't be for the faint of heart. Not for two warriors whose elusive days are behind them.

"They are going to throw down," DiBella said. "This is going to be a real fight. F--- pound-for-pound lists, f--- who is the best fighter in the world. You can't make a better match up than this."

A win for Martinez means millions, maybe more. A win sets up, perhaps, a rematch with Chavez Jr., a showdown with Golovkin or a fight against Andre Ward. A loss could send him into retirement. For Martinez, there can be no greater stakes than that.

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