“I’ve been training for the last four weeks,” Martinez told me and my co-host David Duenez on our Leave-it-in-the-Ring.com radio show. “Actually, this has been one of my best training camps. Barker is my next opponent and he is the most dangerous fighter I will be facing. I am 110% focused on this fight. I’ve got to win this fight.”
Win he must because once Martinez does, he and chosen network HBO, which will air the fight Saturday from Atlantic City, NJ, will face the same problem they always do when he wins: Who’s next? While this fight is a bit of a “gimme” concession to a fighter who has had a hard schedule up until now, one could argue the fights Sergio Martinez is in are generally dictated to him by the network. Unwilling or unable to go to Argentina with his fighter, promoter Lou DiBella has essentially allowed Martinez to become a two-fight-a-year guy, waiting on an HBO date instead of getting out there, taking interim off-premium cable fights and building into a crossover draw (at the very least, he could be building a local following somewhere). This makes forcing top-drawer fighters like Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr. difficult to do. Impossible even. Still, those are the fights Martinez wants.
We asked Martinez about Pacquiao first. One “reporter” keeps pressing Martinez with the idea of this fight, getting members of Martinez’s team to “call out” Pacquiao on poorly-edited videos made for shock value alone. This has turned some of the public perception that Martinez is a man fighting uphill against all odds into a big guy picking on a tiny guy. Somewhere in between is the truth. Martinez told us that Manny and Floyd are fights he wants though I get the sense that Mayweather is the true challenge he truly craves. He also spoke of perhaps moving up to super middleweight.
“I’ve always said that Pacquiao is a smaller guy,” said Martinez. “I don’t have a problem fighting him. In fact, we fought the same guy, Antonio Margarito, in the past. There’s really no issue there. With Floyd Mayweather, he’s fought at 154 pounds before. I think that would be a great fight. I would be interested at super middleweight at a catchweight. I don’t like catchweights but at this point, at a catchweight, that would be OK. It would have to be the right deal and the right fighter.”
For the moment, however, Martinez is secure and comfortable at 160. In his mind, he is actually still a junior middleweight and just coming into his own at middleweight, where he moved to out of necessity and good fortune.
“Right now, I would consider myself a 154-pounder. I have a tendency to lose weight [in between fights],” Martinez said. “When I fought at 154, no one wanted to fight me. I couldn’t find any rivals and of course, the opportunity to fight against Pavlik [emerged]. I had to work really hard to get to this point. Even for that fight I had to work really hard. For now, I will stay at 160 and even then I have to work my butt off to stay at this weight.”
One fighter on Martinez’s mind, who’s not so much elite but a financial cash cow, is one Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. who holds the WBC belt Martinez was stripped of for not fighting Sebastian Zbik. HBO had turned Zbik down as an acceptable opponent for Martinez yet OK’d him for Junior to fight for Martinez’s belt once the WBC got its greasy paws on it (then elevating Junior to #1 in the division despite fighting the mechanics who worked on the cars of taxi drivers his father was once accused of fighting). Recently, Junior pulled out of a defense because he reportedly hit his hand on a ceiling fan and got cut.
“I’m a little bit tired of it,” said Martinez of Junior’s behavior as a “champion.” “First of all, [Chavez Jr.] has no respect for the belt. He has no respect for the past and future fighters. He is kind of a disgrace as a champion. It’s kind of a disgrace that he has to keep coming up with excuses like that. He is not really behaving like a world champion should be.”
One fighter who has called out Martinez is young Peter “Kid Chocolate” Quillin, a fighter who works out at the Wild Card in Hollywood under the part time tutelage of Freddie Roach. Quillin appeared on our show and made a case for himself fighting Martinez. While Quillin is skilled, he has yet to face a young or near-prime opponent who will push back. While I consider him a solid prospect, until he faces that kind of adversity and answers questions of chin, adaptability and courage under heavy fire, it makes no sense to throw him in with the middleweight champion of the world. Martinez agreed.
“With all respect, Kid Chocolate was still in the 20s in the rankings,” said Martinez. “He is a good fighter. He is definitely the future. He needs more experience. He needs to fight more viable fighters, someone that I fought on the way up before he gets a shot with me. It is something that he needs to work a little harder. Just to call out Sergio Martinez, anyone can do that.”
Quillin had echoed the quote Freddie Roach, who trains both Pacquiao and Junior, offered me that Martinez is “a great athlete but just a good fighter.” Martinez, after a pause, took exception to the comment without us even having to mention it.
“That was a very mediocre comment that Freddie Roach said just to cover his fighter’s back,” said Martinez. “He is using Quillin as a shield for Pacquiao and Chavez Jr. [Quillin] is a good fighter and is the future but tell him to fight some of my rivals first before calling out Sergio Martinez.”
Martinez is a longtime vet of the sport. He has fought the hard way to get where he is and is still left wanting in terms of drawing power and leverage at the negotiating table. We asked Martinez if he felt fighters today are rushed and impatient when attempting to get the belts and go to the top. Last week, we saw 24-year-old Victor Ortiz, a 7-1 underdog, lose due to his inexperience at the highest levels of the sport.
“In some cases, yes,” agreed Martinez. “Sometimes they try and hurry up the fighters and it is not the best thing for the fighter and also not the best thing for boxing. It takes the prestige away and that’s what we are trying to do. We are trying to keep boxing at the highest level,” the Barker tune-up being the obvious exception.
Beyond consternation and call-outs, Martinez is focused on what he should be, becoming the best fighter he can. We asked about that crazy, hands-down, slick-moving style of his and where it came from.
“I fight that way because of my experience but I always had that style since I was coming up,” said Martinez. “The only difference is that more people are seeing it now. Of course, me coming up, no one knew who I was. My boxing has grown and I became a better fighter because of that but I’ve always had that style. When I first started fighting this way coming up, it was not really accepted in Argentina. A lot of the fans didn’t like it. A lot of the press didn’t like it. It was not accepted. I decided to stick to my guns and master my craft. When I fought in Europe, I fought the same way. I embraced it. I made it my own and I am not a master yet but I am going to keep getting better, keep evolving to become the best fighter in the world.”
After he destroyed Paul Williams in two rounds of their rematch last year, Martinez said at the post-fight presser he would probably only fight three more times within about a year-and-half from that point. Recently, however, he signed an extension with Lou DiBella for another three years, essentially signing up to finish his career with DiBella and his promotional firm. I asked him why he changed his mind about fighting on past a year or more.
“It was a decision I made with my team and I feel really good about it,” said Martinez. “It was a great offer. I know I can fight for more years. I don’t know how many but I know I can fight for more. I feel great. I feel strong. I haven’t even hit my peak yet. I am going to continue get better. I am going to continue to work until my body says no more.”
The immediate future for Martinez is Saturday and Barker, an ordinary fighter with decent speed (what I would call) “local” power, a rangy frame and style that could cause some problems if Martinez allows his focus to wander. After a run of Kelly Pavlik, Williams twice, Kermit Cintron, and Sergiy Dzinziruk, all high-level fighters, will Martinez let down mentally vs. Barker? We’ll see. As for the not so distant future, Martinez has a Plan A.
“Looking ahead in the future- and I usually don’t- I am focused on Barker. I want to fight Floyd Mayweather,” said Martinez. “He doesn’t want to mention my name. That is one of my goals and one of my dreams to fight on PPV and the whole nine yards.”
We asked Martinez, who is willing to come down to 150 pounds for Pacquiao or Mayweather (who fight at 147 but have fought in the junior middleweight division once apiece), if he would be willing or forced to fight at super middleweight to get the kinds of fights he craves, should those fighters continue to ignore him.
“It’s the same thing with what I am saying about Floyd. Are [the super middleweights] willing to come down in weight?” asked Martinez. “I don’t like catchweights but I would be a true middleweight and giving them advantage in coming to the ring. If they are willing to come down a little bit, it would be the same scenario with Manny and Floyd coming up. They might argue the same thing, ‘Well, he should have to come up to my weight.’ I would be glad to step in the ring with any of those guys.”
For the record, DiBella said he would be willing do the right super middle fight at a catchweight of 166 pounds which, in fairness to Martinez, is less of a catchweight than him moving down ten pounds to 150. In this writer’s opinion, that’s just insane.
If Martinez’s work alone cannot speak for itself and bring Manny or Floyd to the table, there is always Plan B, the business of cleaning out his division.
“Absolutely, Gabriel. That is the plan,” said Martinez. “I am going to stay at middleweight. I feel good at middleweight. My body is maturing into middleweight. I want to clean out the division. If there are opportunities to come down to 154, I will fight at 154. If the opportunity comes to move up to 168 a year or two or three from now, whatever. I will be happy to do it and step up.”
Well, first, there is that pesky Saturday night fight.
You can email Gabriel at email@example.com, follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/gabriel_montoya and catch him on each Monday’s episode of “The Next Round” with Steve Kim. You can also tune in to hear him and co-host David Duenez live on the BlogTalk radio show Leave-It-In-The-Ring.com, Thursdays at 5-8 PM PST. Gabriel is a full member of the Boxing Writers Association of America.