Sergio Martinez Part Two: The General Crowns his King By Gabriel Montoya, from Maxboxing.com (Dec 2, 2010) Special to Doghouse Boxing - Tweet
“I rule my life by pleasure and necessity. The pleasure of giving my life another life, the necessity of giving another life to my family.”
--Sergio “Maravilla” Martinez, 2007
Recap: Former soccer player and cyclist Sergio “Maravilla” Martinez, started boxing on May, 2, 1995 at age 20, at the insistence of his uncle Ruben Paniagua. Five weeks later, he made his unpaid debut. Martinez fell in love with the sport and embarked on a solid amateur career, earning “Rookie of the Year” honors in Argentina, fighting for the national team and winning several amateur boxing awards. After turning pro and becoming a local attraction, Martinez fought Antonio Margarito in Las Vegas, NV and lost for the very first time. Four fights later, in March of 2000, Martinez left his home of Quilmes, Argentina in search of his dream; his destiny, already written in his mind, only required him to find which road led to it. Martinez’s travels to took him to Europe, where he went by train from Italy to Madrid, Spain, only to realize he had been robbed of the most important piece of luggage he had: his list of numbers to call when he got to Spain.
"When I left Argentina, I had in my luggage a list with the phone numbers of people who lived here in Spain and could initially help me,” Martinez said in an interview with the Argentine press, years ago. “It was a crazy three-days-long trip, from Saturday February 9, 2002, until Tuesday, when I arrived at Spain. When I arrived at Avenida de America in Madrid, I searched for the list and several agendas in my bag and I could not find it. I searched and searched but it wasn't there. It turned out that they had stolen everything. I spent two days in a hostel, sat in the bed, sat in a chair, sat in a corner, thinking, ‘What could I do?’ Without expecting it, checking a pair of pants, in a pocket near the knee, a place you barely ever check, I found a small piece of paper, with a phone number that said, ‘Pablo Sarmiento.’ It was a number I was given a year before in Argentina. From there on, my life in Spain began. I arrived at Guadalajara, ten days later, I had a job and a month later I was already training with Gabi [Sarmiento]."
Martinez, who, by this time, was managed by Ricardo Sanchez Antocha, quickly rose in the rankings in Europe and on eight days notice, fought in Manchester, England against Richard Williams to win the IBO junior middleweight belt. A successful defense and a return match with Williams later, Martinez found himself with a belt but not the big paydays. While there were moments where he doubted himself and the path he had chosen, Martinez had come too far to turn back now. He had come to Spain and found both his manager and his trainer. Now what he needed was someone to bring it full circle and return to the United States, where the big money fights and the crown he longed to wear resided.
After beating Richard Williams in their rematch in Belfast, Ireland in April 2004, junior middleweight boxer Sergio “Maravilla” Martinez was a 29year old IBO junior middleweight titleholder but not making the big money yet. Working odd jobs like nightclub bouncer (among others like construction worker and dishwasher with modeling jobs for Adidas and Nike thrown in here and there), while still training and fighting, Martinez got to see a side of life that may have derailed some. Martinez said watching the nightlife from an outsider’s position helped him clarify his goals and view of the world.
“I have never drank alcohol or smoked or had any vices,” said Martinez. “It was hard to tolerate, have patience and deal with people in the nightclubs, people that were completely drunk and under the influence of drugs but it taught me a lot of things what I did not want. What's out there in the world [was] to love sports even more. Knowing night and how night is so dark, made me love sports even more, which are day. This is the black-and-white of life. The work brought me money I needed and it opened my eyes to what the world was 100%. Night can confuse and derail a lot of people. Thankfully, that did not happen to me and I continued on my chosen path.”
Martinez fought again in Spain in a tune-up bout in January of 2005. His next big test, however, would come in March, just a couple weeks after his 30th birthday against Albert Airapetian in Castilla y Leon, Spain for the WBC Latino 154-pound title. It was a hard-fought battle with Martinez coming on strong late and dropping Airapetian three times in the 11th en route to a knockout in that round. After the bout, Airapetian’s brother, Alez, who lost a four-round decision on the same card, attacked Martinez and cut the back of his head open, an injury that required ten stitches.
With the win (and a sore head), Martinez was stripped of the IBO title and now campaigned as the WBC Latino titleholder, hoping to move up in the rankings and eventually make a move for the world title. Martinez fought twice more in 2005 and three times in 2006 going 5-0 with 4 KOs in that stretch. However, the money did not follow his success. With his abdication of the IBO title, his purses actually dropped in size. At this point, Martinez was, in his words, “a 1000 Euro-a-fight fighter.”
Then Atocha made a call that got the ball rolling in the right direction.
“I became involved with Sergio for the Saul Roman fight,” international matchmaker and Martinez adviser Sampson Lewkowicz told me a few hours before boarding a plane to Indonesia to tend to one of his many boxing affairs. “I had heard of him many times through his wins over Williams, Adrian Stone and others. He was always winning but always the opponent. And always, the fighters he beat were never the same.”
Stone retired after losing to Martinez and Williams fought four more times before retiring. Albert Airapetian never fought again.
Lewkowicz had met Atocha while helping to put together the Javier Castillejo-Oscar De La Hoya fight in June of 2001 and they had worked well together. So Atocha reached out to the highly respected Lewkowicz to see if he could help move along the career of the promising but not-getting-any-younger Martinez.
Sampson did not disappoint and on April 27, 2007, Martinez fought in a WBC junior middleweight title eliminator bout against Saul Roman at the Grand Plaza Hotel in Houston, Texas. After learning his craft in Argentina, honing it and starving for his art in Spain, Maravilla was now ready to come to America. In his last time to The States, he had been a boy coming to America to play a game against men. Now he was a hungry lion, aging but with more than enough left to make a lasting impression. There would be no game playing in Houston.
From the outset, Maravilla circled Roman, darting in and out with his hands at his sides in his typical fashion, daring his opponent to come in or surprising him with an up jab. Roman stalked and stalked but was stopped with a straight left body shot in the fourth round that crumpled him to his knees, unable to continue. At age 32, Martinez was a step closer and Sampson’s faith in him had paid off. Now came the most important step: getting a US promoter.
Martinez fought once in Spain in October of 2007 and then, later that month, Tea Maravilla signed their charge with New York-based promoter Lou DiBella. Lewkowicz had shopped Martinez around to Top Rank, among other promoters, who passed on the “too old” fighter.
“Sampson showed me the tape and I said, ‘Where the hell has this guy been hiding?” said DiBella.
What DiBella saw was not a 32 year old, fading fighter. Instead, the tape revealed a fighter with an unusual style. A southpaw with speed was nothing new but Martinez was more than a mere Dapper Dan, dancing about and not looking to land a knockout. He would move and slide around the ring with his hands down just out of range of his opponent (a tactic that he claims makes him feel more comfortable than the traditional boxing guard). Only in close would switch to a standard guard. He spent a lot of time darting in and out of range looking to land his right hook, which he had developed while he rehabbed his broken left hand, but could drop in a hard left to the head and body at a moment’s notice. One of the more impressive things about Martinez was the energy with which he fought. Martinez did not look like an old fighter looking to conserve his energy.
According to DiBella who did not hesitate to sign him, “He was the best unknown fighter I had ever seen.”
The deal was was not extravagant, four fights with a $30,000 minimum guarantee that allowed Martinez to fight anywhere from four to 12 rounders. Martinez would now be a US-based fighter.
DiBella kept him active, fighting him twice more in 2007 and twice more in 2008 before Martinez finally got the fulfillment that the Roman bout promised: a shot at the interim WBC 154-pound title against Alex Bunema at the Pechanga Resort in Temecula, CA as a co-feature with another rising HBO star, Alfredo Angulo.
Bunema was a journeyman who surprised everyone with a late-career surge, starting that previous January with a TKO win over Roman Karmazin and again in July, when he knocked out Walter Matthysse in six. Martinez was unknown to everyone coming into the bout. Martinez had dominated masterfully from the opening bell, beating Bunema from pillar to post. But by the time he left, with Bunema on his stool, unable to continue after the eighth round, the HBO audience and all that were in attendance knew exactly who the speedy southpaw with the rugged matinee idol looks was and they wanted to see more.
“I am only beginning,” Martinez said afterwards to pound4pound.com’s William Trillo.
Now his mission was clear. Vernon Forrest held the real title. Martinez had the interim version. Finally, a world title fight loomed. Well, sort of.
Next up was a bout with Kermit Cintron for Sergio Martinez’s belt. The problem was, his contract with DiBella had now run out. So a new one was quickly drawn up and the ever-loyal Martinez signed a three-year deal with a two-year option. At his advanced age and unwillingness to fight much longer than three to five years at that point, he was essentially signing with Lou DiBella for life. Financials in order, Martinez could now focus in on becoming the champion he had always dreamed of being.
The bout with Cintron on February 14, 2009 was anything but a Valentine.
“It was not my best night, not my best fight,” Martinez said of the oft-times boring and awkward fight. “I was the champion yet I never felt more like the visitor than in that fight. Cintron fought as if he was the champion defending the belt.”
Martinez felt blocked by the referee and a bit intimidated as he kept getting warned throughout. Still, Martinez was easily outboxing Cintron, when in the seventh round, he landed a beautiful left hand that shot right through Kermit’s jaw, made him walk backwards and hit the deck. Cintron immediately complained it was a headbutt. Referee Frank Santore Jr. seemed to reach the count of ten and wave the fight off as Cintron rose and complained further it was a headbutt. Replays showed it was clearly a very good punch.
“When Cintron said that the punch had to be a headbutt because no one could possibly hit that hard, I felt proud,” said Martinez afterward. “I’ve never been a one-punch KO fighter like those that have bricks in their hand. Instead, I have to work.”
His work wasn’t done on this night, as Cintron complained enough that Santore Jr. allowed the fight to continue and Martinez, who just been celebrating what he thought was a KO victory, had to work himself back into the fight. The fight had a ton of crazy moments. In the fifth, Martinez clearly cut Cintron with a punch but it was ruled an accidental headbutt. In the seventh, we had the KO that didn’t happen. In the 12th, Martinez was deducted a point for hitting behind the head. The fight went the distance and Martinez seemed the clear winner. But the judges turned in their cards; the scores were 116-110 for Martinez and 113-113 twice; a draw. That last point deduction cost Martinez the win.
On May 21, 2009, Vernon Forrest was stripped of his title and Martinez was now upgraded to full champion, though the moment came with a bit of uncertainty.
“One day, they call me from a radio station in Spain, ‘Segundos Afuera,’ a radio show called ‘Segundos Afuera,’” explained Martinez, “and they gave me the surprise…the host, Gonzalo, he gave me the surprise of communicating directly with the [WBC] president, Jose Sulaiman. Sulaiman talked to me; he spoke on the air and said that I was now the absolute champion, that Vernon Forrest was not the champion anymore. Vernon Forrest would become interim champion and I become the absolute champion. Respecting perhaps the history of Forrest, they would not strip him 100% of the title. That was on a Tuesday. On Friday, they called me from the United States, told me that no, that it was not like that, that what the president meant to say was that it was in plans, that those were his plans for Forrest to not be the champion anymore. Hence, I was interim again. I spent the weekend being a bit down. II was a bit used already to these things. But on Wednesday, my trainer called me from the United States when I was having dinner with friends here in an Argentine restaurant. My trainer called me to congratulate me and tell me that I was the new 154 [pound] champion, that we should celebrate. We toasted and I was waiting for them to tell me again on Friday, ‘Hey, Martinez, no, it's not like that. You have to wait.’ But no, from there everything changed because I was invited to Cancun, where they officially crowned me champion.”
Martinez is a dreamer by nature, a goal setter. Having reached his goal of being champion in an out-of-the-ring fashion, he was left wanting more. And he got just that when he faced Paul “The Punisher” Williams on December 5, 2009.
At 6’3” tall, with an 83” reach, Williams, a southpaw and former welterweight and junior middleweight titleholder, was in line to face then-middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik. But just a few weeks out from the fight, Pavlik withdrew due to injury and Martinez happily accepted the HBO date and the assignment.
Williams-Martinez I, a non-title 12-round middleweight contest at Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall, was a war. Williams dropped Martinez early in the first round but Maravilla stormed right back and dropped Williams to end the round, coming moments from his trainer Sarmiento’s first round knockout prediction.
“I predicted that Sergio would win in the first round by knockout,” said Sarmiento. “Well, I was missing 20 seconds. But I also said that when he puts his hand on him, he would do damage to him and, in fact, in the first round when Sergio landed, if the fight would have continued for 20 seconds, 30 seconds more, he surely would have won the first fight by knockout in the first round.”
Instead, the war raged on and both men gave all they had over the course of the 12 rounds. Time and again, Martinez would land the right hook or left hand and Williams answered right back with leather of his own. Back and forth they went, with Martinez taking the middle rounds and Williams coming on late. In the end, the fight of the year candidate could have gone either way, though many observers felt Martinez had done enough to win. With the ridiculous score from Pierre Benoist of 119-110 for Williams and respectable scores from Lynn Carter of 115-113 for Williams and Julie Lederman’s 114-114, Williams took a majority decision. Afterward, Williams claimed he would have done better had he more than three weeks to prepare for Martinez. That comment and the scorecard of Benoist would sit with Sarmiento and Martinez for a long time.
Two fights in a row, Martinez had given all he could and two fights in a row, he came up snake-eyes.
The third big fight in a row would be the charm.
In early 2010, Paul Williams and Kelly Pavlik were once again set to fight but this time, Pavlik wanted to postpone the fight due to a staph infection on his hand that was taking some time to heal. Williams’ camp didn’t want to wait on Pavlik and instead opted to fight Kermit Cintron in May.
Once again, Martinez stepped in and on April 17, 2010, after years of struggle, years of searching for all the elusive pieces of the puzzle, Sergio Martinez realized his dream of fighting, just like his idol Carlos Monzon, for the real middleweight title of the world. This was not for an interim belt. This was for the linear title. This was for history. The little kid from Quilmes had come a long way and he would not be denied.
Coming into the fight, many felt that Martinez, while speedier and craftier than the hard-slugging but slow-as-molasses-in-winter Pavlik, could not stand up to Kelly for 12 hard rounds. In the end, Martinez simply showed the depth of who he is.
He started off outboxing Pavlik from the outside and slowly ramped up his violence in the middle rounds. Unfortunately, Pavlik began to find his range with the jab and right hand and began to get to Maravilla. But a late ninth-round rally that saw Pavlik’s face slashed to ribbons but the quick lefts and rights of a determined Martinez in his second wind was all it took to end the champion’s troubled title reign and begin a new one for Martinez. After that ninth round, Pavlik was through. He couldn’t see for all the blood pouring down his face and he simply followed Martinez around and ate leather until the final bell sounded. This time, Martinez had left no doubt that he had won.
"When the last bell rang, I knew I was the new world champion," Martinez said.
This time, the scores were correct as Martinez was the clear winner with scores 115-112, 115-111 and 116-111.
Afterward, Pavlik declined to use his rematch clause and instead move up in weight, rather than face Martinez again.
Immediately, Martinez made his mark as a champion, speaking out against violence against women, traveling the world and speaking to children and outreach groups. He seemed to not only enjoy being a champion but to understand what it means to exemplify the position. The entourage didn’t grow but his visibility did as he could be seen at every major fight, taking photos with fans, giving them his autograph and his time graciously.
The victory tour would last five months and then it was back to business; or in this case, unfinished business.
A rematch with Paul Williams, who had failed to meet the former champ in the ring, was set for November 20, 2010 at the Boardwalk Hall once again. To Martinez, it must have seemed like old times as Williams- who is advised by Al Haymon, a man known to have strong ties to HBO and whose fighters generally get their way on that network- was treated by HBO as if he were the champion. His side demanded a catchweight of 158 pounds, all the gate sponsorship money and the final insult: while Martinez would be allowed to enter second, as is tradition for the champion, he would be announced in the ring first and he would be in the blue corner which was the losing corner all night long.
Beset with these demands, Martinez simply told DiBella, “Make the fight and I will knock him out.”
The fight was made and now Williams would have his full eight-week camp to prepare as would Martinez, who had set up shop with Sarmiento, et al., in Oxnard, CA.
“My point of view is that we work so well and so hard that those are only small details; the corner, being introduced first, they are just details,” said Martinez after the fight. “What's important is to have worked this hard in order to later respond well in the fight. I think their demands are sometimes unnecessary. But in my case, I prefer to be concentrated in my work and nothing else, in doing my training and nothing else.”
“I think exactly the same. [The Williams camp] were saying a lot of excuses during a long time,” said Sarmiento, who was obviously irked by the ‘lack of preparation’ excuse, “so these are all small things compared to the excuses they had been saying. The most important thing was to step into the ring and do the job.”
Sarmiento and Martinez endlessly watched the first fight with Williams as well as Williams’ one other loss to southpaw Carlos Quintana, a 12-round decision loss. What they found were mistakes that they could exploit both in Williams style as well as their initial approach in the first fight. What they found specifically in Williams is that he generally fights one way: eh comes forward and overwhelms his foes with size and volume. But with that volume came openings and a flaw Martinez would capitalize on big time. Sarmiento, as always, took extensive notes and prepared the game plan step by step.
The build up to the fight, which was considered the crown jewel in a November 2010 of great fights, was as intense as expected.
“I’m going to do what I do best and we’ll put a real beating on him this time,” said Williams. “If the knockout comes, it comes. I’m going to put that beating on him this time, you know; it’d be much brutal this time.”
Martinez, not thought to be a big puncher, maintained the fight would not go more than seven rounds and would end with him knocking out Williams.
He was half-right.
The fight began all at once, as if they had picked up in round 13 of their first fight. Martinez, mixed his power, sped and aggression with a sense of economy, as he eschewed his previous fight’s volume attack and instead took his time, worked to the body almost exclusively to start and waited for his openings. Williams, once touted as this generation’s Tommy Hearns due to his size, fit the bill of “Punisher” from the get go. He came forward as Sarmineto knew he would and attacked with volume. Williams landed his right hook every time Martinez dipped to the left to win the first part of the ferociously paced round. “No way Martinez can handle this pace,” someone near me at ringside said. I agreed.
Then, with about a minute left, Martinez landed a straight left followed by a short left as Williams went into the ropes and the fight took a different tone. Williams moved forward to stave off Martinez’ sudden burst of aggression but ate more lefts for his trouble and his knees buckled ever so slightly. The bell sounded and the crowd went wild. If anyone had wondered where the great fights like Hearns-Leonard had gone, they needed on this night to only buy a ticket for Williams-Martinez II.
Round two began and Martinez once again found a home for his left hand. Only now, it was thrown oddly; a sort of a hook/ overhand left. He would landed it again but still not the effect he was looking for. Then the two men circled each other and squared off with nearly a minute gone by. Martinez seemed to float to his right and then drift slightly left again when Williams began to throw a left hand. And then…
“It is a punch that I was working on during all these months,” Martinez told us on Leave-it-in-the-ring.com Radio Show days after the fight. “In the fight, I knew that at any moment I could land it as hard as I did. It was in the second round, as it could have been in the fifth, or in the tenth, or in the last round. And when I landed that last punch, I did know that Williams was not going to get up. Still, I had to look at him a little bit to see if he was going to get up but I knew he wasn't.
The punch that Martinez landed was an odd one. He seemed to not even be seeing it land as it ripped through Williams’ face, rendering him unconscious as soon as it landed. It was a left to be sure but it wasn’t quite an overhand left. And there is some debate as to whether or not a hook can come from the rear.
“In Argentina, we call it ‘swing.’ In Mexico, they call it ‘bolo punch,’” Martinez explained to me when I asked what he called much debated punch. “I don't know how they call here that punch. I wouldn't know to tell you.”
“I just call it ‘The Punch’ and capitalize it,” I said.
“That is, I believe that's it,” Martinez laughed. “I believe that is the fair name.”
“The Punch” seemingly knocked the whole arena out along with Williams for just an instant. He fell for what seemed like forever. Martinez looked at Williams a moment as he teetered and exhaled, then walked away, his right arm raised. It seemed as if they were the only two people moving for just a moment and then Williams landed and the crowd went insane. It took Martinez’ hero Sugar Ray Leonard 14 rounds to stop Tommy Hearns. It took Martinez the same to stop his.
Lou DiBella leaped to his feet and charged victoriously past Williams’ promoter Dan Goossen, who sat expressionless watching the lifeless-looking Williams, only looking up once to see how the other side lives as DiBella passed by with his arms raised in the air. Al Haymon stood up and stared stone faced at Williams as the referee needlessly counted to ten as if by standing, he could somehow raise his fighter back to consciousness. For all he had done to stack the deck, this was one hand he had lost huge. The arena, which had been lulled to sleep by a listless undercard, was the picture of pandemonium.
With everything against him, Martinez called his shot and then landed it. And as he bounded to his corner to embrace Sarmiento, who had written the plan on his little notebook, the trainer who believed not only in his plan but in his fighter, placed a crown upon the champion’s head. But it was not because he wanted to show the world that Martinez was the best fighter at 160 pounds but because he believes with the win, his fighter is the best fighter in the world, period.
“The truth is that I am convinced that Sergio, after defeating Paul Williams, is the best, pound-for-pound, and is the king,” said Sarmineto who went out the day of the fight and bought the corwn, he was so convinced his fighter would win. “In fact, I did the crown thing because I told him, ‘The day you beat Paul Williams, after winning against him, you will be the pound-for-pound king.’ I am super convinced that he is the best because of the fights we had this year, the fights we have been fighting and the fights that Manny Pacquiao had fought and the fight that Floyd Mayweather had fought. I believe that Sergio is the best, pound-for-pound, at this moment.
“One has to analyze that coldly and see who is the best, pound-for-pound,” Sarmiento continued. “It is clear that [current top pound-for-pound fighters Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr.] have to fight Sergio. One way or another, they have to fight Sergio because Sergio beat Paul Williams and they would not beat Paul Williams. In fact, if they had fought with Paul Williams, they would not have beaten him. It is impossible that they would have beaten him, not the Paul Williams of December 5th of last year because that is a work that we did and we finished it now. Sergio Martinez got in their way and it was the end of Paul Williams but, if not, Paul Williams was the rival for them to beat too at 147.”
When pressed further to explain, Sarmiento pulled no punches. “If you analyze everything coldly, Pacquiao the only fight that he really had with someone that would represent a bit of real opposition to him was the one with Marquez, no one else. The rest were all in the morgue, they were all already practically "worn out". So one has to analyze that. And Mayweather came back after 2 years, fought with Marquez who was 2 or 3 [[ weight ]] categories below, and he fought with Mosley who was also worn out/too old, he was in the morgue. So, they are fighting with people that are practically of third level. One has to analyze that coldly and see who is the best pound for pound.”
Whether or not you agree, it does not matter. The middleweight king has earned his crown and it will take much to remove it.
For Martinez himself, the future is uncertain but his past has been more than fulfilling. It took him years to find his calling and even longer still to accomplish his goal of becoming a champion.
“The tough life, the demands you face, the hard daily work, being far away from home and your family, missing your family, your friends, your country, your flag, your TV, your radio, your chairs, the breakfast with your family. The lack of all that makes you stronger,” Martinez said.
Now as champion, all those years that his family suffered through poverty will end. Neither he nor his family will ever have to worry about the rent or wonder what they will eat ever again.
While he has little interest in fight with Manny Pacquiao, seeing it as a size mismatch, both Sarmiento and Martinez agree his career will not be complete if he does not face Mayweather. His first dream made reality, Martinez has now moved on to another: becoming recognized as the pound-for-pound number one, the best fighter in the world.
“I know I will,” Martinez when asked if he will accomplish this new goal. “It is written. And if not, I have to write it myself."
And when that is accomplished and the battles in the ring are no more?
“I will find a new dream,” King Martinez said, as always, with a smile.
Mr. Montoya would like to acknowledge all of Team Martinez as well as DiBella Promotions and Sampson Lewkowicz for all their help with this story. Most of all, he would like to thank his researcher, Z, whom he dedicates this piece to. “Without you, this would not be possible.”