Sergio Martinez 50-2-2 (28 KOs) defends his WBC World Middleweight Championship on Saturday, in what is likely to be a very emotional return to his homeland of Argentina, after an absence of over eleven years. It seems hard to believe that Martinez has not fought in front of his fellow countrymen since 2002, since he relocated to Spain and hooked up with trainer Pablo Sarmiento. Together the two have developed Sergio from a tricky, but green Welterweight, into one of the best boxers pound for pound, in the world. When ’Maravilla’ fights in front of his home crowd on Saturday, he will be returning as the WBC World Middleweight Champion and recognised by most, as the best Middleweight in the world, irrespective of the many baubles and titles floating about between various other boxers.
This is Martinez’s first fight since his huge victory over the controversial Julio Cesar Chavez jr. In beating Chavez jr last September, ’Maravilla’ once again underlined his dominance of the 160 pound division, and brought to an end two years of disreputable scheming and manoeuvring by the WBC in their attempts to install and build up Chavez jr as a ’genuine’ World champion. Despite being hugely outweighed on the night, by a man more suitable to fighting in the Light-heavyweight division, Martinez out-boxed and even out-punched the younger Chavez jr, with ease for eleven rounds, till he was half-punched and half-pushed to the canvas in the last round, in what was a gritty end to a boxing master-class by Martinez. The victory over Chavez jr has brought Martinez the most recognition he has ever had in his career and underlined his place amongst the elite in boxing.
Martinez’s homecoming on Saturday night will be met with huge fanfare, with over 40,000 spectators expected to watch the return of their idol at the Club Atletico Stadium, in Buenos Aires. It might be tempting for some to simply write off the challenger Martin Murray as a bit part player with no hope of victory. However, this would be a mistake, which a champion such as Martinez, is not likely to fall prone too, even at this stage of his career, when his popularity has never been so high, and he is finally receiving the plaudits for which he has worked so hard to gain. Indeed Martinez will know that victory has never been so crucial for him than at this point of his career, with him having risen so high in the estimation of the boxing world, he has never had so far to fall either. In the cruel world that is boxing, everything that ’Marvilla’ has built up in recent years could be swiftly pulled down again, by a defeat on Saturday night.
As for Martin Murray 25-0-1 (11 KOs), he has already shown in his career that he is not the type of fighter to be phased by either Martinez’s reputation or following. In late 2011, Murray travelled to Germany to face Felix Sturm for the WBA World Middleweight Championship. Despite being a huge underdog and fighting in front of the German’s devoted fans, Murray managed to hold Sturm to a controversial draw, with many believing he had done enough to win. Murray, who hails from Liverpool, is a no-nonsense, genuinely tough guy, who will see Saturday as a huge opportunity from which he has everything to gain and nothing to lose.
Although not a noted puncher, the unbeaten Murray, whose only career blemish is his disputed draw against Felix Sturm, is a good all-round boxer with a compact defense and a high work-rate. The stamina and pace of Murray, which gave Sturm so much trouble, could also make things difficult for Martinez, if Murray is able to pressure ’Maravilla’ out of his usual rhythm and not allow Sergio to dictate the action of the fight in his usual manner.
At 38, there are also questions about whether Martinez will suddenly fall prey to his encroaching age over night, as has happened with so many champions in the past. This is especially relevant considering the knee injury Martinez suffered against Julio Chavez jr, which required surgery to repair. Although he has been given a clean bill of health and says that he is in fact in better shape now than he was for the Chavez jr fight, such injuries can often reoccur, especially when the boxer in question is at an advanced athletic age such as Martinez. However, with just one defeat in the last 13 years of his career, that being a controversial points decision to Paul Williams, (which he later avenged with spectacular 2nd round knockout), Sergio has long since mastered the art of winning.
Martinez has also built up a reputation for beating British boxers over the years; from defeating Richard Williams and Adrian Stone in his Light-Middle weight days, to his recent title defense’s over top British Middleweights, Darren Barker and Mathew Macklin. Both Barker and Macklin had their moments against ‘Maravilla’, with Barker breaking his nose and Macklin dropping him in the 7th, but in both fights, the Champion came through in the end, to score impressive stoppage wins. One of Martinez’s most distinctive traits is his ability to adapt to his opposition and come through rough patches, and find a way to win. Martinez has been floored a number of times in his career, but has only been stopped once and that was way back in 2000 by the now infamous Antonio Margarito.
If everything goes according to plan and Martinez retains his title on Saturday, then there are a lot of possible big fights ahead for ’Maravilla’, including a mooted rematch against Chavez Jr. or a clash with the popular WBA Champion Gennady Golovkin. However, the fight that Martinez would really like, that could help him reach his goal of being recognised as the best fighter in the world, pound-for-pound, is a showdown with Floyd Mayweather jr. First though, ’Maravilla’ has to get past a tough guy from Liverpool, who is sure to give a stubborn challenge.