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The Last Round

A lot has been made of light heavyweight champ Bernard Hopkins calling out current lineal middleweight champ Sergio Martinez in a 170 pound catchweight fight. Let’s end this madness here.
In the press conference after Martinez’s 11th round knockout win over Darren Barker in Atlantic City Saturday on HBO, the champ’s manager/adviser Sampson Lewkowicz told the media that neither he nor Martinez’s team will allow a fight at 168 pounds or above.
“We will never let [Martinez] fight at 168. Put it like that way. Ever,” said Lewkowicz. “So whomever comes with 168, 170, my promoter [Lou DiBella, actually Martinez’s promoter], myself, [Martinez’s] team will not allow it. [Martinez] can say whatever he wants,” joked Lewkowicz, “but he will not fight at super middleweight.” 

“Why?” asked ESPN’s Dan Rafael, who said he was playing devil’s advocate while stating Sugar Ray Leonard moved up to face Marvin Hagler and Manny Pacquiao was 130 not too long before he faced Oscar De la Hoya. Lewkowicz went on to explain how Martinez ate all the way up to the weigh-in, enjoying even “The Cheesecake of New York.” I spoke with another source close to the camp during fight week and they told me Martinez ate everyday including dessert [Full disclosure: they never mentioned “The Cheesecake of New York specifically so Lewkowicz’s claim needs confirmation by a third party. I have a crack team on it].
Martinez apparently weighed 158 pounds on the previous Sunday and maintained that all week. He gained seven pounds on fight night from the 158 he weighed in at. Strangely enough, 165 pounds is what welterweight Victor Ortiz weighed the night he fought Floyd Mayweather. Martinez is not a big man who is bursting at the seams to move up to fight 168-pounders like Andre Ward, Carl Froch or Lucian Bute, all fighters who will sooner rather than much later be moving up to 175.
Saturday night’s fight with Barker was entertaining. Any time a 13-1 underdog is giving a champ we all consider too good to lose a second of this fight a good challenge and a broken nose, it’s a good fight. Should it have happened? Who the hell is Darren Barker? Is this an important fight or did Barker “deserve” the fight are all questions I don’t really give too much of a sh*t about.
Was it a good fight? Yes. Was it good matchmaking? The win was not easy for Martinez, who took eight rounds to get a rhythm and had to fight through a badly bleeding nose. I’d say he was matched tougher than anyone expected this fight. In my opinion, Barker was picked for his deficiencies and like few opponents, he realized that and made a game plan using what tape couldn’t show us: his mind. Fighting in a shell defense and a pace and tone reminiscent of Winky Wright’s play-it-safe template, Barker was able to get close while not getting hit too flush to land hard rights into Martinez’s face. Normally, Martinez can get out of the way of most blows but on this night, something seemed wrong with him.
No one is talking but I did notice Lou DiBella quoted in Dan Rafael’s post-fight write-up that Martinez was “a little banged up” leading into the fight.
Now neither Martinez nor myself are ones for excuses but I’ve always believed every fight is significant because it reveals the truth about a fighter at that moment. All the lead-up talk and gym videos calling out Pacquiao are a view of alternate realities that may not exist on fight night. The night is what shows you the truth. What I saw was an aging champ, not as mobile in this fight as his last one and not quite as fluid or active offensively. Martinez had a specific plan that was seemingly geared toward hiding some sort of problem. Will this be the case in his next fight? He is 36 and has 50 fights. What do you think? Is it a crap shoot every time out at this point? I think so.
I wondered this after Paul Williams and Saturday moved me closer to believing it: We may have seen the best of Sergio Martinez. His pickings are slim. Dmitry Pirog is a helluva fight but he is no more well-known in the US than Sergiy Dzinziruk. Matthew Macklin would be fun. Gennady Golovkin? Raw and the same problem as Pirog. Personally, I think Martinez has three wins left in him. The two fights I want to see him in are with Floyd Mayweather and Pirog. I don’t care in which order.
Some will say Martinez showed he isn’t that good after all on Saturday. Others will claim Barker was really good. I say that was the best Barker ever had been or will be and Martinez is beginning to experience diminishing returns. No fault of anyone. The fight wasn’t crappy or a crime against boxing. It was simply one guy having the night of his life and another finding out that night for him possibly happened on some other Saturday. I could be wrong but Martinez’s odometer felt closer to Marvin Hagler’s around his Thomas Hearns win than Bernard Hopkins’ over Felix Trinidad.
The Weekend Wrap-Up
Andy Lee looked more controlled than ever in avenging his loss to Brian Vera. He’ll make for exciting fights but I don’t think he can beat Sergio Martinez. I’d prefer to see him face Matthew Macklin or the winner of Alfredo Angulo-James Kirkland once that fighter gets ducked by Saul Alvarez. That must be a huge weight on Lee’s shoulders but it’s still nice to see him get the win.
Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez looked sensational in knocking out Omar Soto in two rounds on Saturday on the undercard of the Toshiaki Nishioka-Rafael Marquez in Vegas. This kid is the clear and present threat to Giovani Segura. I don’t care who stages this fight or where; I want to be there or at least see it on premium cable. Boxing Gods? You have been put on notice to deliver.
Mike Oliver is a funny looking guy. He has a fighter’s body but boy, did he look weak in that fight, sluggish of foot and slipping down at the slightest pressure. Juan Manuel Lopez had to have wanted something of a challenge for at least a couple rounds. Well, he didn’t get it in Oliver. It’s hard for me to judge anything off this get-back win.
I find it interesting that while Rafael’s brother, Juan Manuel, is becoming more exciting as he slows down, increasing the frequency of his exchanges, the younger Marquez is becoming more of a boxer as he ages. “Rafa” used to be the puncher who would give up technique to get in his big right hand. Against Nishioka this Saturday, Marquez was more boxer/puncher than he has ever been to me. Under former Nacho Beristain protégé Daniel Zaragoza, the Beristain-formed “Rafa” is remembering to use the tools that got him to championship status in the first place. Still, he looked old and slow a lot of the time. He will make for good fights because he can punch and (hidden within the economical approach he is using) still loves to brawl, the latter being a trait waiting to happen as Marquez showed down the stretch of his loss to Nishioka. Whether or not that will be good for him is another thing.
As for Nishioka, can I see him vs. Nonito Donaire please? I like his defense and footwork, both of which are tricky and will serve to keep Donaire guessing. Nishioka is as well-conditioned a fighter as I have seen. He is also open to right hands and can get hurt. None of those add up to a bad fight.
I loved how well referee Kenny Bayless handled the headbutt in the eighth of the fight. He put “Rafa” in the neutral corner, checked on the injured Nishioka and then clearly resumed action after having them touch gloves. Imagine that. Good mechanics by a ref in a title fight.
I thought it was odd that referee Mickey Vann let Steve Cunningham continue after stumbling around following Yoan Hernandez’s left hook from nowhere in their clash on Saturday in Germany. A lot of refs would have stopped it after Cunningham fell down that second time, especially when he got up, jiggling more than Jell-O. But Vann knew a title was on the line and let it continue, I guess. So why did he stop the fight in the sixth when Hernandez, who looked gassed with Cunningham now taking control, was cut over both eyes? They didn’t seem too terrible. There was no blood spurt and Hernandez didn’t seem particularly blinded by them. Well, in the end, Cunningham lost one point because the headbutts were accidental yet the injuries they caused stopped the fight. Go figure. I guess there is more than one way to get jobbed in Germany. I hope Cunningham gets the rematch he deserves. 
You can email Gabriel at, follow him on Twitter at 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, Thursdays at 5-8 PM PST. Gabriel is a full member of the Boxing Writers Association of America.


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