By Mariano A. Agmi
Photos: Chris Farina/Top Rank
Sergio Martinez is finally receiving the attention he craves and the recognition his career deserves when he faces Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. (46-0-1, 32 KOs) at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, Nevada, September 15th on HBO Pay-Per-View. After toiling in anonymity for years in Argentina, Spain, and the US, the Argentine fighter delivered a break out performance in his HBO debut against Alex Bunema in 2008, winning the interim WBC junior middleweight title. “Maravilla” (49-2-2, 28 KOs) became an HBO staple since that bout, fighting Kermit Cintron to a controversial draw (a bout he could have won by KO, disqualification and decision), losing a ‘Fight of the Year’ candidate to Paul Williams, defeating Kelly Pavlik (W12), Paul Williams (KO2), Serhiy Dzinziruk (TKO8), Darren Barker (KO11) and Matthew Macklin (TKO11), and winning the Ring, WBC and WBO middleweight titles in the process.
Despite titles in two divisions and a track record of impressive performances, promoter Lou DiBella and advisor Sampson Lewkowicz were unable to lure the stars of the sport into the ring against the charismatic Argentine. Martinez had to settle for tough fights against durable but unknown European middleweights while repeatedly calling out pound for pound greats and box office stars Floyd Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao, and Miguel Cotto, all to no avail. To boot, the middleweight champion was shockingly stripped of his WBC title when HBO rejected his mandatory challenger, Sebastian Zbik. The network added insult to injury when it subsequently allowed the German challenger to face the “Son of a Legend,” Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr., for the vacant WBC middleweight title.
The situation led a desperate and bitterly disappointed Martinez to hold an impromptu press conference in Argentina where he denounced the acts of the WBC, HBO and the powers that be. It also forever tarnished his opinion of Chavez Jr., whom he considers a puppet and a spoiled brat. Martinez was so vocal about his opinion of Chavez Jr. that it ignited a war of words between the camps that included a twitter exchange with Chavez Sr. that was inevitably publicized by other media outlets.
Fast forward a little over a year, and much has changed. Top Rank finally decided that their rising star, Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr., was ready to face the true middleweight champ after the young Mexican thrashed top contender Andy Lee in June. Negotiations between the camps quickly led to a pay-per-view bout for the WBC middleweight championship and a world of attention for the Argentine.
“I feel that they are finally recognizing me for my accomplishments at the highest levels after so many years of hard work,” states a highly motivated Martinez from his training camp in Oxnard, CA on Friday. “It is a little bit taxing physically because I end up having to make appearances when I should be resting, but I know that it’s part of the show. Mentally, I’m as focused as ever.”
The promotion for this bout is unlike any Martinez has been a part of. Rather than the usual press conferences, Sergio has been featured on the popular HBO “24/7” series, a classic “Face Off with Max Kellerman,” and a variety of other promotional events aimed at maximizing attention and revenue for the bout.
The exposure is a 180 degree shift from where Martinez found himself in June 2011, when he was stripped of the WBC middleweight championship he won from Kelly Pavlik.
The promotional effort ensured that Martinez and Chavez Jr. spend ample time together, but it did not assuage Martinez’s negative opinion of his opponent, whom he feels has been the benefactor of political machinations based solely on his pedigree as the son of Mexico’s best boxer of all time.
“With everything that has been said, yes, it became personal and to be honest, that’s a shame, but it’s a good sporting challenge and it provides me with extra motivation,” assures Martinez.
The normally mild mannered Argentine revealed his dislike of Chavez Jr. during their taping of “Face Off with Max Kellerman,” as Maravilla repeatedly goaded Julio Cesar into an intellectual sparring match.
“He came off a bit innocent,” says Martinez of the 26-year-old Chavez. “I tried not to be too aggressive because it was so easy. It was like playing with a child. I would say something aggressive and was expecting him to respond aggressively too. Without insulting each other, but still arguing the point, but instead I saw him staring at the ceiling, at the floor, at Max, at the table. I could have gone all out, but it was too easy and I decided to let him off the hook.”
Intimidation tactics aside, what is not in dispute is that the ‘Son of a Legend’ has improved markedly over the past few years and is as ready as he will ever be to face the division’s best. Naturally, Martinez admits that Chavez Jr. has improved under the tutelage of Freddie Roach but is convinced that it is not enough.
“I think he is one or more levels below where Kelly Pavlik and Paul Williams were,” states Sergio. “If he is a champion, it’s because the title was given to him and I think, and I will prove this on the 15th, he is not at the level that Kelly Pavlik or Paul Williams were when I fought them.”
Martinez believes that it is not technique or skills but size and a pressure style that are Chavez Jr.’s main strengths.
“I think that Chavez will come out aggressively. He does not have any other option than to try to cut the ring off and attack. If he wants to box with me, he’s lost, because he doesn’t have the speed or the reflexes to counter me. The best he can do for himself is to attack and he’ll miss and eat a lot of counters, but at least he’ll improve his chances by trying to go to the body. It’s the only chance he has.”
Maravilla does not give too much credence to comparisons between this fight and the last time he faced a Mexican in Las Vegas, where he fought valiantly but was ultimately overrun in seven rounds by a young Antonio Margarito in 2000.
“He may try to pressure me thinking that he’ll eventually wear me out, but he’s no Margarito, and I’m not the fighter I was 12 years ago,” states a confident Martinez. “If that’s what he thinks, he has another thing coming.”
The major tangible in Chavez Jr.’s favor is his size and weight advantage. Julio has been known to have to lose several pounds on fight week in order to squeeze into the 160 pound weight limit before rehydrating up to 180 pounds or more on fight night. Martinez, who normally walks into the ring in the mid-160’s, could be at a major weight disadvantage at the start of the fight.
“I don’t know how he does it, but that is terrible for his body,” explains Martinez. “It’s fatal, because he starts weighing up to 190 pounds or more before a fight, and then has to come down to 160 during training camp, then gains the weight back up in one day. Such fluctuations of weight are terrible for the your body in the long run, and it also means that he has to move extra weight around on fight night.”
It’s because of the weight discrepancy that Martinez feels that his conditioning, movement and speed will be his keys to victory.
“We had the best preparations so far and I am more motivated than ever,” states Martinez. “My conditioning is great. My mental and physical speed and the force of my punches [are the keys to victory]. I think he’ll be able to take my punches early because he’s young, but he won’t be able to later in the fight.”
THREATS & NATIONAL RIVALRIES
On August 27th, it was reported that Team Maravilla was cancelling a scheduled open media workout after the boxer received threats and his car was vandalized.
Martinez described the threats but explains that he does not know who levied them against him and his trainer, Pablo Sarmiento.
“They were phone calls,” admits Martinez. “The threats were for me and for Pablo. They were telling us to leave, saying that we weren’t welcome here. I really don’t know who it was and I can’t attribute them to Chavez or one of his followers. They didn’t seem to be people that had anything to do with boxing. Perhaps they wanted to rattle my concentration but I wasn’t distracted in the least bit.”
September 15th is supposed to be a highly anticipated match-up between the top two middleweights in the world. But in boxing there is always the chance that a fight between individual competitors becomes more than it should be: instead of two elite athletes competing for glory and a championship, the fight could stir up national pride and tensions between fans of each country.
“Unfortunately, that tends to happen,” admits Martinez. “It’s the same as when a Puerto Rican and a Mexican fighter face off. It’s a shame, but it does happen.”
The hope here is that fans and each camp sit back and let the fighter’s “shoot the fair one” in the ring, so that everyone gets their money’s worth while being treated to the most anticipated fight of the year. May the best man win.