By Mariano A. Agmi
Photos: Emily Harney
Sergio “Maravilla” Martinez (45-2-2, 23 KOs) thrilled spectators and the media at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City on Saturday, bludgeoning Kelly Pavlik (36-2, 32 KOs) over twelve rounds to win the WBC and WBO middleweight titles. The bout was full of ebbs and flows as the fighters adjusted to one another in an attempt to take control of the fight. “Kelly Pavlik was a greater champion that I believed him to be,” said the modest new champion. “Fighting through a bloody mask like that was impressive – he has a ton of heart.”
Pavlik seemed to fight with some of the intensity and freshness he displayed earlier in his career before a loss to Bernard Hopkins at 170lbs stopped his momentum.
Martinez’s promoter, Lou DiBella, agreed: “I don’t think it was a very different Kelly Pavlik. I thought he fought pretty well tonight. He showed unbelievable heart and guts and he’s a great champion. I think he got outsped and outfoxed by a faster guy. If he would have landed flush at some point, it could have been really scary. He was a bigger, stronger man but he was slower and he wasn’t as skilled a boxer. I think [Sergio] beat a really good Kelly Pavlik.”
Martinez used superior speed and defensive prowess to avoid most of Pavlik’s incoming while landing short right hooks and straight left hands in the early rounds.
“Pavlik was looking at movement all night,” explained DiBella. “My guy was moving, giving him angles, making Pavlik chase and stalk. It was a lot of speed to deal with, and Pavlik was gassed from the movement and began tasting his own blood as the bout continued. It was a tough fight.”
Pavlik carried the middle rounds after assessing Martinez’s distance and speed. By round four, Pavlik began to regularly land his thudding right hand, scoring a flash knockdown in round seven. The former champion went straight to the hospital after the fight for stitches and was unable to attend the post fight press conference. Instead, trainer Jack Loew addressed the media.
“I thought after the third round, we were figuring him out, we kind of turned the tide a little bit, even beating him with the jab,” stated Lowe. “I thought we were jabbing real well and as long as we kept him at the end of our punches, I thought we were coming back. That was the game plan: just stay patient and we would start catching him, and we were. I even told Kelly, ‘we don’t have to knock this kid out, just continue doing what you’re doing’. He just had to let his hands go and keep him at the end of his jab and I think we got away from that. We didn’t get frustrated in the first three rounds and things were changing in our favor and for some ungodly reason we just stopped punching from rounds nine through twelve.”
Martinez agreed: “In rounds four to seven, Kelly fought his best. I knew he would be a tough fight, because he’s a great champion and he would not lose without first giving the best of himself.”
Martinez explained that he was not hurt at any point in the fight, and that the knockdown was a result of the fighters getting their feet tangled just as Pavlik landed a right hand. However, the Argentine champion was constantly cautious of his bigger opponent’s power.
“Kelly Pavlik’s power was always a factor in the fight,” admitted Martinez. “But a great champion has to find a way to adjust and overcome that. I was not hurt during the fight, but Kelly can end a battle with one blow, so I had to be careful at all times.”
Martinez turned up his intensity in round nine, blasting Pavlik with quick three and four punch combinations that seemed to overwhelm the former champion.
“It was part of a strategy,” explained Martinez. “Nothing I do in the ring is a coincidence, whether it’s dropping my hands, smiling at my opponent, speaking to them or the referee during the bout, etc. I study every aspect of my opponent and every part of my preparation. From the ninth round on, we planned to intensify the attack.”
The adjustment worked, as Pavlik seemed unable to deal with Martinez’s punch output. The challenger began to land punches that turned Pavlik’s face into a bloody mess with cuts over each eye.
“The cut on his right eye was deep,” stated Loew. “It was going into his eye. There were two bad cuts. There’s no excuses, we were healthy and fought a good fight. Sergio Martinez stuck to his game plan and he came to fight.”
“If I want to be a champion, I have to finish bouts like a great champion, and I didn’t think Pavlik could keep up with my intensity,” continued Martinez. “The strategy was to exploit Kelly’s mistakes and make him pay for them.”
An ecstatic Lou DiBella marveled over the possibilities that lie ahead for his new champion, including whether he should defend his new middleweight titles or return to his more natural 154, where he also owns the WBC junior middleweight title.
“If Kelly wants the rematch, we’re fighting at middleweight,” explained DiBella of a contractually agreed upon option Pavlik has to a rematch. “If Kelly doesn’t want the rematch, then we’ll think about it. Our first choice would be a fight with Antonio Margarito for the 154lb belt. A fight with Margarito would be huge. If Bob Arum wants to discuss that, we would love that fight.”
Top Rank’s Bob Arum, who promotes both Pavlik and Margarito, agreed that a rematch against the Mexican national would be an attractive option: “May 8, Antonio Margarito returns to action and whoever fights Margarito, particularly in Dallas, Texas, is going to be huge at Cowboy Stadium.”
“I feel good in each weight class,” stated Martinez. “But at 154 I couldn’t find any opponents that would fight me. I fought the middleweight king and won, so you can decide which division I’m better equipped for.”
As for Pavlik, the former champion must decide whether he can still make 160lbs or if it would be wise to move into the super middleweight division.
“Kelly can still make 160,” assured Loew. “We’ll sit down with Bob Arum, Cameron Duncan and Kelly’s dad and figure out what we’re going to do. It’s not the end of the world; we lost a fight to a kid who came to fight.”
The classy champion concluded the press conference with a few words about his background and childhood dreams of winning a world title: “growing up in a developing nation, boxing allowed a very poor person to have very big dreams. I excelled at boxing and I knew I’d become a world champion one day for two reasons: it was written, or I’d have to write it myself. But I always knew I’d become a world champion.”