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The Real Middleweight Champion Sergio Martinez Set to Defend Against Matthew Macklin

(Photo © German Villasenor)
(Photo © German Villasenor)


On Saturday night inside the Theater at Madison Square Garden, middleweight champion of the world Sergio Gabriel Martinez, 48-2-2 (27), kicks off his 2012 campaign against Ireland’s Matthew Macklin, 28-3 (19). In a perfect boxing world, this would be a unification bout of the WBC and WBA middleweight titles- but this is boxing reality. Martinez was stripped last year by the WBC because he was unable to face Sebastian Zbik on HBO. His promoter, Lou DiBella, opted to take the opponent HBO deemed acceptable, Serhiy Dzinziruk, instead of independently promoting an off-TV mandatory defense. The belt was eventually awarded to Zbik and then promptly lost to Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. in an HBO-televised title fight.
 
By all rights, Macklin should be the WBA titleholder. He traveled to Germany last June and took it to WBA beltholder Felix Sturm for all 12 rounds. It is a fight universally seen as a close but clear win for Macklin; however, Sturm, the local fighter, was awarded a split decision victory.
 
While it’s not a perfect boxing world, sometimes there is justice for both the fighters and the fans. For Martinez, fighting Macklin is akin to fighting a fellow champion.

“I do not have a title and I also believe I am the champion. We are in a similar ‘situation,’ Macklin and I, because he fought Sturm and has no title and I gave my title back to the WBC. We are in a similar situation,” agreed Martinez from his training camp just three weeks out from the fight.
 
While it isn’t a unification bout, Martinez-Macklin is for the linear middleweight title and, in terms of styles, it should make for an exciting fight. Martinez is an unorthodox boxer who uses the perimeter of the ring to lead his opponents into traps. Once his opponent begins to follow aimless or recklessly, Martinez darts in with explosive punches, leading to hard-hitting combinations. Then he moves back and resets. It is a style fueled by rhythm, timing and, above all, intelligence.
 
“My boxing school philosophy is for them to do intelligent boxing,” Trainer Pablo Sarmiento told me after the night’s session. “One wins neither with strength nor with punching power. In boxing, one has to be intelligent.”
 
Part of that philosophy, seemingly the cornerstone of it, is conditioning. In order for a fighter to think calmly and intelligently in the ring, he must be supremely conditioned. At their private gym near Oxnard, CA, Martinez and Sarmiento’s team of fighters work together in a rhythmic unison. The beginning of the session sees the fighters jumping rope endlessly. The “whap-whap” sound of the rope hitting the cement floor sounds amplified all around the gym as each man snaps it at the same time. Soon after, the team will move into various stations around the gym and work until Sarmiento, watching intently over each of them, makes the change. It is an up-tempo session full of energy with no wonder as to why Martinez can stick, move and dodge punches at a high rate for all 12 rounds.
 
“We come from a school in Argentina with that style of intelligent boxing and we try to instill that boxing to all boxers that come here,” said Sarmiento. “They see it not only in Sergio but they have also seen it in [light heavyweight Gabriel] Campillo. They have seen it in [featherweight Javier] Fortuna.”
 
In order to defeat Macklin, Martinez will have to be ready both physically and mentally for this fight. The Irishman is a volume-punching pressure fighter who will attempt to be in close for the whole fight. Against Sturm, a classic hit-and-run boxer who relies heavily on his jab, Macklin was able to handle the movement-heavy style. Macklin spent much of the fight digging hard to the body and in the process, neutralized Sturm’s lateral movement. Add in that he can take a punch and keep coming all night and Martinez has a tough test worthy of a champion in front of him.
 
“He is a very tough boxer,” assessed Martinez. “He is the classic Irish boxer, very tough, a brawler for the three minutes. He will want to fight at medium-to-short distance during the three minutes of each round.”
 
One advantage Martinez has in this fight is experience, not just a product of 52 pro fights but in regard to geography. While hailing from Argentina, Martinez has spent a sizable portion of his career fighting in the UK. Regarding style, Macklin, who has spent much of his career fighting in the UK, will be nothing new for Martinez.
 
“Macklin, I see him as all English boxers,” surmised Sarmiento. “I took Sergio to fight in England. We know well how their boxing is and we will do the intelligent boxing that Sergio has and hold back an opponent who comes to play his only card- which is to beat Martínez.” When we spoke before his first fight of 2011, Martinez was fresh off winning “Fighter of the Year” honors and his career-best knockout of Paul Williams. There was talk of fighting the top fighters in the sport and Martinez told me 2011 would be the year he consolidated all of his successes. However, the year went a little different than planned.
 
The big fights never materialized. The WBC stripped him of his belt, promised him a title shot at Chavez Jr. and then balked time and again. Instead of fighting three times or more, Martinez was reduced to two fights due to injury. When 2011 was over, despite two knockout wins in entertaining fights, the bloggers and fans who seemed to love Martinez for being an independent fighter (who bucked the system by first beating Top Rank’s Kelly Pavlik and then Al Haymon’s Williams) turned on him. Suddenly, DiBella and manager Sampson Lewkowicz, the men who expertly maneuvered the 37-year-old Martinez to HBO fights and the title, had not done enough to build him into a draw. The constant talk of Martinez maybe facing two top fighters who won both belts at junior middleweight, his former division, wore on fans (as any story constantly pushed by certain media members usually does).
 
All criticism aside, when asked, Martinez kept his assessment of his successful 2011 simple.
 
“Very good,” smiled Martinez. “Excellent. I fought two fights, won both by knockout against two very tough opponents.”
 
Martinez is a self-made man who believes that the only way to grow is through constant challenges. In boxing, the clearest challenges also happen to be the biggest draws in the sport. While Martinez long ago made it clear that Manny Pacquiao, despite his junior middle catchweight belt at 150 pounds, is too small, he would love a fight with Floyd Mayweather Jr. or Miguel Cotto. Those two will square off May 5th for a portion of the junior middleweight title. Martinez felt that 2011 would be the year for those matches. In his opinion, he has not shown enough weakness to get those fights.
 
“Oh yes. It is clear. It is evident that it is difficult because I still present too much danger,” said Martinez. “I am still too strong, too young ‘too strong.’”
 
“Are they basically waiting till you’re 50?” I asked, half-joking.
 
“Or some more, maybe...” he smiled.
 
Music is a huge part of the workout. Pablo claps his hands to up the tempo as the songs change and turns up the volume. The fighters react in kind. On this night, Martinez’s mission was to work the jab and variations off the right hand. The left was used sparingly. Both Martinez and Sarmiento are mindful of his age and ring wear. As the day before consisted of hard sparring, this day would be about head movement, ring movement and that powerful right jab that jackhammered the heaviest bag in the room all session long. Martinez spent much of the time moving the demolition ball-shaped heavy bag swing close to his head before swiveling away at the last moment. If personality comes out in a fighter’s style, Martinez’s off-rhythm style is indicative of a man who got to this position doing things his own way.
 
Sarmiento is an old-school trainer. No mitt work was done on this day. As far as I know, none is ever done. Instead, it was a chorus of heavy bags as each man worked one over throughout the gym. Sarmiento, like his brother Gabriel, is ever watchful of his fighters. He is not here to hang out at the gym. He is not content to have one champion. He looks over each man, gives pointers as need be and stays focused 100% of the time on the task at hand.
 
While preparing for the Darren Barker fight (Martinez’s second of 2011), plagued by a fractured elbow and an injured leg, this camp has been much better, said Martinez. Watching him work, he appeared 100%. However, one thing about him was revealed physically. He is barely a middleweight despite wearing the division crown.
 
“It is impossible for me to go up to 168 now,” said Martinez. “Today, I am weighing 163 pounds right now and there are still 12 days left till the fight.”
 
Thus far, Martinez has been successful at middleweight. He is making good money fighting on HBO but the big pay-per-view fight eludes him. His drawing ability is growing on the East Coast but he is not yet a household name or an easy ticket seller. Add to that there are no real, true money fights at 160 pounds and the decision to look to 154 makes sense. Mayweather has said he is now going to campaign at that weight class. The winner of James Kirkland vs. Carlos Molina on HBO a week after Martinez fights could yield a solid challenge that would excite boxing fans, possibly even making some casual fan noise. Whether the move down happens next fight or not depends on a few things: winning on Saturday and whether or not the WBC enforces the Chavez Jr.-Martinez title fight it ordered next and if Top Rank, who promoted Junior, will green light the fight or simply have him drop the belt.
 
“It is not known,” said Martinez of the timing of his move south. “Perhaps [next]; could be or not. If the fight for the 160-pound title happens, I would stay at 160 pounds to win the world title back.”
 
There are those who criticize Martinez for wanting the Chavez Jr. fight, claiming he is picking on a fighter who will bring large amounts of money but who is not a challenge for Martinez. Not so, says the champ.
 
“I want to fight because the title was mine and the [WBC] promised me that I was going to fight again in Chavez’s first title defense,” said Martinez. “It would probably be a little bit more...It is not an easy fight. It is not very easy but I am at a great level to win by knockout and beat him with clarity and by knockout.”
 
“Do you think it’s just not going to happen,” I asked.
 
“Let’s hope so!” He said with smiling optimism. “It is a wish I have.”
 
Martinez said he is excited to be heading to New York City and the Garden. Even it’s the small room, hey, it’s still the Garden and every fighter dreams of fighting for a title there.
 
“I’m very happy, very excited and with a lot of desire for the day of the fight to come,” he said..
 
On Saturday, Martinez will kick off 2012 almost a year to the day he kicked off his 2011 campaign. While the PPV fights didn’t happen and he didn’t hit superstar status the way some projected, Martinez, ever the seeker of challenges, has set a new goal for 2012.
 
“This year will be brilliant for me because I am sure I will recover the 160-pound belt,” Martinez proclaimed with all confidence.
 
First things first, he’ll have to get by Macklin.  
 
You can email Gabriel at maxgmontoya@gmail.com, follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/gabriel_montoya and catch him every Monday on “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.



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