By Mariano A. Agmi
Photos: Marty Rosengarten/ringsidephotos.com
On Saturday, March 17th, World Middleweight Champion Sergio “Maravilla” Martinez (48-2-2, 27 KOs) defends his lineal crown against Matthew “Mack the Knife” Macklin (28-3-1, 19 KOs) at the Madison Square Garden Theater in New York City. For Sergio, it is a thrill to perform at the legendary “Mecca of Boxing” after fighting on the east coast since 2007. “Like any world champion who has fought as long as I have, it is a dream to finally fight at Madison Square Garden,” states the champion. “I’m living a moment in my career that every boxer would like to experience.”
The less magical part of the dream however, is that the champion, who has fought exclusively in the United States for the past five years, will likely have the crowd against him at the venue against an Irish boxer who has fought in the United States only twice before. That is because this fight is taking place on St. Patrick’s Day, and the majority of the sell-out crowd will favor the Irishman from Birmingham, England.
The Argentine champion agrees that most of the crowd will likely be backing his opponent. However, Martinez is unfazed at the notion that the fans might be against him and believes that it will only incite him to fight even harder on fight night.
“It doesn’t affect me in the least bit,” assures Martinez. “I fought in England for a long time where I was always the foreigner and the fans were against me, and it really motivated me.”
Indeed, before reaching American shores, Martinez left his native Argentina in 2002 to fight in Europe. Based in Madrid, Maravilla fought a total of 15 times in Spain and Great Britain, remaining unbeaten for the length of the campaign.
The time abroad not only helped the southpaw become accustomed to fighting in his opponents’ backyards, but Sergio also became familiar with the European style of boxing.
“Macklin is going to come at me in a style that most European fighters employ,” explains Martinez. “He is a very strong and physical fighter, and he is going to apply a lot of pressure. In training, we prepared very well for things that Macklin might do during the fight and we’re ready to offset everything that he brings to the table and be successful.”
It is perhaps his familiarity with the European style that has encouraged his brain trust to choose fighters from the old world for him to face. In fact, this will be the third consecutive fight where Martinez is facing a top European fighter.
Not that these fights have been easy. Martinez had his share of obstacles to overcome in each of his last two fights, both knockout wins in 2011 over previously undefeated fighters Serhiy Dzinziruk and Darren Barker.
While Sergio had to figure out Dzinziruk’s jab and overall technical boxing skills to win their March bout, it appeared as though the top 3 pound-for-pound entrant was a fraction of a step slower in his battle against the defense-minded Barker in October, leading many to speculate as to whether the Argentine was 100% for that bout.
While rumors swirled that Martinez suffered from a fractured elbow and/or a leg injury going into that contest, the Argentine insists that he was in superb shape for the fight.
“I am always in great condition for fights, but there are always a few parts that hurt here and there because we train so hard,” admits Martinez. “But I’m always in great shape and I was not injured.”
Injured or not, it seemed as though Barker’s fortress-like defense presented Martinez with a puzzle that was not easily solved. In fact, the champion credits his trainer with finding the key to finally penetrating Barker’s defense.
“Pablo [Sarmiento] has great technical insight into what is happening in the ring,” explains Maravilla of his trainer. “Pablo saw an opportunity that I was not seeing, so he told me to throw a particular punch, a right hook over the top, and I finally threw the punch that he was asking me to throw for the entire fight.”
The punch, a right hook to the head, put a concussive end to Barker’s stiff challenge as well as the Brit’s night in round 11.
“After the fight I told Pablo that he won it, because it was Pablo who found a weakness in Barker that I was able to exploit. Pablo has a technical insight that few trainers can match,” emphasized Martinez.
Maravilla will also need Sarmiento’s savvy to defeat Macklin, who is as strong and more offensive minded than his countryman. In his last fight, the Irishman lost a highly controversial decision against popular German Felix Sturm, in a battle for Sturm’s WBA title.
“This fight should be a unification fight,” states Martinez. “I did not lose my WBC title in the ring and he could easily be the WBA world champion right now.”
However, Martinez insists that this fight is for the full WBC belt because its current holder, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., refuses to face him and will be stripped of the title.
“This will be for the WBC middleweight title, not the Diamond belt,” asserts Maravilla. “The WBC absolutely guaranteed to me that this is for the full title.”
That is yet to be seen, as the Mexico-based World Boxing Council and its President Jose Sulaiman seem to be stringing Martinez along fight after fight with the promise that next time it will mandate that its champion-in-training, Chavez Jr., to face the lineal champion.
Martinez prefers not to dwell on the matter so close to his next fight, but he admits that it has been frustrating to be promised over and over again that he will be given an opportunity to regain his belt while Chavez Jr. continues to defend it against sub-par opposition.
“I want to fight Chavez because I did not lose that title in the ring – it was gifted to him,” laments Martinez. “The WBC guaranteed that Chavez has to face me next. If he and his team ever find the courage to face me, I will clearly dominate him and knock him out.”
Martinez may or may not get the chance to face Chavez Jr. in the future. But one thing is for sure, the Argentine must first focus all of his skill and energy on beating a tough-as-nails and highly motivated Irishman that will not take ‘no’ for an answer in front of his countrymen on St. Patrick’s Day.
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“The REAL Middleweight Championship: Get your Irish up,” promoted by DiBella Entertainment, will be shown live on HBO from the Theater at Madison Square Garden on Saturday March 17th at 10pm EST.
Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on twitter at @MannyBlanco.