By Mariano A. Agmi
Photos: Ed Diller, Top Rank/DiBella Entertainment
Sergio “Maravilla” Martinez finally gets his wish on Saturday, September 15th, when he faces WBC middleweight champion Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. on HBO Pay-Per-View at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. “We were calm because we knew that at some point things would work themselves out,” states Martinez (49-2-2, 28 KOs) of his state of mind as he waited over a year for the chance to regain his WBC title and land a marquee fight. “It was a matter of patience.”
We should all be familiar with this storyline by now: Martinez won the middleweight championship against Kelly Pavlik in April 2010 and was only able to defend it once before being stripped of the WBC title for not defending it against mandatory challenger Sebastian Zbik, a fighter whom HBO refused to approve as an opponent for Martinez. The WBC subsequently vacated the title, paving the way for Chavez Jr. to fight for it on HBO against the same Sebastian Zbik. In order to appease the frustrated Martinez, the WBC created a Diamond middleweight title that the Argentine won via 8th round TKO against formerly undefeated junior middleweight champion Serhiy Dzinziruk, another relatively unknown fighter that HBO somehow approved. The WBC promised Martinez that the Chavez Jr.-Zbik winner would have to immediately defend the title against the Martinez-Dzinziruk winner.
Immediate was not soon enough, as the WBC strung Martinez along for over a year with numerous promises of a mandatory title shot. Instead of high profile fights he felt he deserved after back-to-back spectacular wins over Pavlik and Paul Williams, Martinez settled for fighting lesser known but dangerous foes Darren Barker (KO 11) and Matthew Macklin (RTD 11) as he bided his time.
Tired of the empty promises of the WBC and upset that the young champion was practically handed the title that Martinez worked for 13 years to win, Martinez has been uncharacteristically outspoken about his lack of respect for Chavez Jr. before and in the lead up to this fight.
“Some ask me why I antagonize Chavez Jr.,” explains Martinez, “but I’m not being aggressive. I’m just telling the truth. I think it’s unjust for [the WBC] to lie to me and for Chavez to remain the champion even after having to fight me a while ago, and for things to be the way they are just to protect this boxer. [Team Chavez] gave their word that they would fight me. That gets me angry, but that’s all it is, and that’s why I say what I say. I’m speaking my mind, which is different from Chavez, who only says what his father wants him to say like some teenager.”
But a funny thing happened as Chavez Jr. was allowed to defend his championship against lesser opposition. The ‘Son of a Legend’ began to take the sport more seriously, hiring hall of fame trainer Freddie Roach and developing his family trademarks: a focused body attack and patiently stalking his opponents.
While Martinez toiled against the likes of Barker and Macklin, Chavez Jr. (46-0-1, 32 KOs) was learning on the job and improving against Peter Manfredo Jr. (TKO 5), Marco Antonio Rubio (W12) and Andy Lee (TKO 7). After 3 defenses against steadily better opposition, the young champion actually earned the right to fight for the Middleweight Championship.
“Thanks to all of his work in training with Freddie Roach, he’s clearly become a better fighter over the past year,” admits Martinez. “He used to be static fighter who would only come forward with a few speeds. Now he knows how to keep his distance in the ring and attempts to use his intelligence. That is important for him because he used to take a lot of punishment before and now he gets hit a little less.”
Rather than facing an undedicated and unpolished fighter who no one gave much of a chance of lasting a few rounds against him, Martinez will face a physically imposing 26-year-old fighter who is levels above what he showed before winning the title.
“I think that’s evidence of Freddie Roach’s work,” agrees Martinez. “Without that evolution as a fighter, he would not have been competitive against me before. At least now, he can enter the ring against me. It doesn’t guarantee him victory, but it does mean that he can give a good account of himself.”
Keys to Victory
Despite Chavez’s improvement as a fighter, Martinez is confident that the physical advantages he enjoys over Junior will make the difference in the fight.
“There is nothing that really worries me about him,” says Maravilla. “I know that he’s a fighter that is improving and is getting better every day, but nothing in particular about him worries me. On the contrary, there are many things that should worry him about me: the physical speed, the mental speed, experience, and the hunger to win that I have.”
Martinez is thought to have a decisive edge in hand and foot speed over Chavez Jr., which he counts among his keys to victory. Across the ring, Martinez expects to be facing a fighter who will likely come in 15 pounds above the middleweight limit on fight night.
“I’ll have to deal with his physical mass, but Paul Williams was taller than me and Kelly Pavlik was much bigger than me. In boxing, size doesn’t matter. He can weigh what he wants, but my advantage will still be speed. The bigger he is, the more of a target I’ll have to hit. He’ll have to move 180 pounds around for many rounds, and that will cost him.”
Martinez imagines a fight that will last several rounds as he pressures Chavez Jr., begins to pick him apart and builds up to a decisive ending.
“I don’t want to end this fight quickly,” states Martinez. “I want him to know what it’s like to be on this level and what it’s like to be against the real champion, and what it’s like to be with a person who will make you exert yourself to the max. I think that will help him to later decide whether he wants to continue fighting or not.”
What Martinez is cognizant of is that he’ll have to use lateral movement to ensure that he does not get caught the way his stable mate did last month.
“I’ll have to move more than Andy Lee, because he didn’t move much,” explains Martinez. “I’ll have to move, because you have to move if you don’t want to get hit. Movement and strategy will allow me to take little punishment while hitting him often.”
Martinez believes that his experience will allow him to make any necessary adjustments during the middle rounds of the fight to take it over, as he has in many of his fights.
“We don’t have a game plan yet. We need a few weeks of work, but if you pay attention to my bouts, you’ll see that I’m always the same and my opponents change. I may take a while to take over the fight and define it, like I did against Darren Barker, Matthew Macklin or Sergei Dzinziruk, but my work is the same.”
What Martinez wants to make sure of is that he ends the bout in spectacular fashion and does not give the judges a chance to take the fight away from him.
“Above all else, I always want to give a spectacular performance. I always look for the knockout, not in one round, but to work and construct the knockout. That’s what I try to do. I’ll knock him out between the 8th and 10th round. The judges can be present, but I won’t give them too much work to do.”
Confident as ever, the 37-year-old insists that Team Chavez’s quips about his age and their equating his movement in the ring to running are just things they say to get themselves up for the task.
“On September 15th, he’ll see that there is nothing old about me. He says things to try to psych himself up. When he says ‘I believe that Martinez is this or that,’ I don’t think he believes what he says he believes. I wouldn’t say the things he says. He’ll say ‘I think Martinez is the best middleweight, but I’ll give a good account of myself.’ That’s because he doesn’t trust his own ability. He’s attempting to convince himself that he can fight me, but he knows that he can’t.”
Martinez believes that Chavez Jr. was boxed into taking this fight because he would never get the respect that he craves as a fighter if he continued to duck the real middleweight champion.
“I think it was too much: if he didn’t take this fight against me, the little credibility that he was getting would be gone. It’s a question of dignity and credibility,” explains Martinez. “A little over a year ago they were hiding in the hen house. Now he’s improving and it’s time for the chickens to come out.”
Only two months to go before we find out whether Chavez Jr. is really up for the task.