By Fox Doucette
The middleweight division ain’t what it used to be. No longer lorded over by the likes of a young James Toney or Roy Jones or Bernard Hopkins, no longer boasting Felix Trinidad and Oscar De La Hoya or even Winky Wright and Ricardo Mayorga and Fernando Vargas among the contenders and guys looking to move up six pounds from the division below, Sergio Martinez of Argentina (47-2-2, 26 KOs) picked a bad time to try to carve out a legacy in one of boxing’s Old School Eight divisions. The nearest action below him is at 147 where Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather live as rival Mafiosi unwilling to invade each other’s turf. The real action near his own weight is one weight class above, where the recent Super Six has turned “that division between middle and light heavy” into one of the premier divisions in the sport.
Which brings up a question—does Sergio Martinez care enough about his legacy to take the fights that can truly define him as one of the all-time great champions? Yes, Martinez is a naturally smaller man who has fought the majority of his fights at welterweight and junior middleweight and never even pressed the 160-pound limit at a weigh-in. But give me a break. Manny Pacquiao was a flyweight once upon a time. Sugar Ray Leonard started his career as a junior welterweight before ending up as the middleweight champion of the world (and don’t talk to me about capturing the “light heavyweight” title from Donny Lalonde in 1987. If Donny Lalonde was a light heavyweight then I’m Wladimir Klitschko.) Evander Holyfield turned pro against a 177-pounder and won a title from a guy 70 pounds heavier (Buster Douglas, in 1990). Weight is not an excuse for an all-time great.
So that leaves the super middleweight division just beckoning for Sergio Martinez to join its ranks. A fight with just about any top 168-pounder in possession of a belt would be plenty, there are guys at the weight in need of a big signature fight of their own (Lucian Bute and Robert Stieglitz, IBF and WBO champs respectively, I’m looking squarely at you), and a battle with the winner of Andre Ward-Carl Froch would have legit pay-per-view potential, especially in Europe if Froch emerges the winner as soon as Ward’s mother kisses his boo-boo suffered in training and makes it better. That latter fight would be between two of the top ten pound-for-pound fighters in The Boxing Tribune/FOX Sports’ rankings (Froch is all but certain to enter those rankings if he wins).
Martinez is promoted by Lou Dibella. None of the super middleweights I’ve mentioned thus far is associated with Golden Boy or Top Rank, meaning there’s no worry about whether Oscar De La Hoya or Bob Arum will protect their would-be cash cows; the money that would flow to Goossen Tutor or any of the Euro promotion outfits would be reward enough. Contrast that with Martinez’s situation at middleweight, where the WBC forced him to fight for a “Diamond” belt because of their illicit love affair with Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., where the usual weasel suspects are so firmly entrenched that an affable bloke by the name of Darren Barker gets to pretend he’s worthy of fighting the #3 pound-for-pound fighter in the world despite Barker’s own #17 ranking—not pound-for-pound, just at middleweight—by both The Boxing Tribune and Boxrec.com. Mismatches like those don’t get you mentioned among the great middleweight champions in history.
Of course, the very fact that a battle between Martinez and [insert super middleweight top 5 guy here] would be great for the fans, great for the sport, and great for the fighters involved is all the reason you need to know that a fight like that will never happen. Boxing is funny like that. But it still behooves those of us who truly love boxing to look at Martinez’s upcoming fight against Darren Barker and think “there has got to be something better out there.” Here’s hoping someone, somewhere sees the same thing and makes that fight. I’ve got forty bucks right here to get the pot started, just put it on my cable bill.
Fox Doucette covers Friday Night Fights for The Boxing Tribune. His weekly column, The Southpaw, appears on Thursdays. Follow Fox on Twitter @RealFoxD. Fan mail, hate mail, and choices off the 168-pound menu can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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