By Mariano A. Agmi
Two of the most avoided boxers in the world collide on Saturday, December 5th, when Sergio “Maravilla” Martinez meets Paul “The Punisher” Williams at the Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City. The bout will be televised live on HBO Championship Boxing beginning at 9:30pm EST. In an age where multiple alphabet titles virtually ensure that the best fighters in each division avoid facing one another, this twelve round non-title middleweight affair is a bout between two of the best, most avoided fighters in the world. The bout, which promoter Dan Goossen said may as well be for the unofficial title of “Most Feared Fighter in Boxing,” is set to produce a legitimate threat to Kelly Pavlik’s supremacy in the middleweight division.
“This fight will open up the floodgates for us,” anticipates Gabriel Sarmiento, Maravilla’s up and coming trainer. “After we win on Saturday, we’re looking forward to fighting Kelly Pavlik at middleweight or returning to 154 to defend against Antonio Margarito or [Alfredo] ‘Perro’ Angulo.”
While the prospect of facing Pavlik appeals to Team Martinez, Paul Williams (37-1, 27 KOs) wants nothing to do with the Youngstown, Ohio star. “Kelly’s actions speak for themselves,” stated the Augusta, Georgia native, who was scheduled to meet Pavlik before a staph infection on Kelly’s left hand postponed the bout for a second time this year.
Rather than risk a third postponement, a frustrated Williams opted to move on with his career and look for a new opponent. “It’s obvious [Pavlik] doesn’t want to fight me. If he did, why did he sign to fight [Miguel] Espino two weeks after we were supposed to fight?” Instead of enjoying a lucrative pay-day, the 28-year-old former WBO welterweight and interim jr. middleweight champion spent months preparing for a fight that never materialized. “I wasted five months training for nothing. Unfortunately for Martinez, I’m going to have to punish him for that, cause somebody has to pay.”
Sergio Martinez (44-1, 24 KOs), an Argentine native now living in Spain, is unusual in that he jumped at the chance to fight the 6’2” Williams. Since his only loss to Antonio Margarito in 2000, the WBC jr. middleweight champion has been on an impressive 28-fight win streak, his only blemish a disputed draw against Kermit Cintron in February 2009.
In round seven of that bout, the 34-year-old Martinez landed a monstrous straight left hand squarely on Cintron’s face, dropping the stunned fighter to his knees. The impact was so hard that Cintron insisted he was the victim of a head butt. Witnessing referee Frank Santore appear to reach a ten count, Martinez began to celebrate a knockout victory. “I started to celebrate, but when I saw all the commotion in the ring between Cintron’s people and the referee, I knew something weird was going on,” exclaimed the Argentine champion. Instead of declaring Martinez a winner by knockout, Santore ruled that he had waved the round off, not the fight, and ordered Martinez and Cintron to continue fighting. Martinez was subsequently robbed of a clear-cut win a second time when two judges somehow scored the bout even after twelve rounds.
While Cintron went on to fight twice more this year, Martinez was left on the sidelines, anxiously awaiting an opportunity. “What I found out about boxing is that no one wants to fight anyone who has a chance to beat them,” stated an exasperated Martinez. “I’m willing to get into the ring with anyone, but today, very few fighters sign the dotted line to face an opponent they consider a threat.”
Finally, an opportunity came up on the undercard of the Pavlik-Williams card that was scheduled for Saturday night. “We were originally on the undercard, but we knew from the beginning that we’d end up fighting Williams,” claims Sarmiento. “No one knew this, but we started training to fight Williams two months ago.” The extra preparation time and the fact that Williams had to shift his focus from an in-your-face orthodox fighter to a slick southpaw boxer-puncher convinced the quietly confident Martinez that he will win decisively on Saturday. “I had the best preparation of my entire career in the past two months and I expect to knock Paul Williams out in this fight.”
As HBO’s Kerry Davis noted, it seems that every time Williams appears on his network, it is against another fighter whom no one is willing to face. “That was certainly the case when Paul fought Antonio Margarito,” stated the network’s Sr. Vice President of Sports Programming. “It was the case when Paul fought Winky Wright, and it’s the case again on Saturday. However,
I’m excited that here we have a fight that can stand on its own as one of the best matchups in all of boxing.”
Promoter Lou DiBella is not surprised that his South American champion accepted the challenge: “Paul Williams is a beast, a guy capable of beating anyone from 147 to 168. He has the wingspan of a heavyweight and with his height, he looks like a forward. He’s got every physical attribute, and most people have good reason to be afraid of him. But on Saturday night, he has a guy in front of him that at 5’11” is tall enough to look him in the eye and is not afraid of him,” observed the promoter. “Paul will face a guy who I think is the world’s best fighter at 154lbs. This is a far more difficult fight than Kelly Pavlik would have been, and they know it. I respect Williams and his trainer, Mr. Peterson, for taking this fight for that reason. It’s the mark of a true champion.”
In addition to his fighter’s fearless attitude, DiBella is also encouraged by the fact that the only person to defeat Williams to date is Carlos Quintana, a southpaw boxer-puncher who seems like a smaller version of Martinez. “Carlos Quintana laid out a game plan for how to beat this animal,” stated the New York City based promoter. “Sergio is a stronger, bigger and actually faster version of Carlos.” Davis agrees: “The only fighter to give Paul Williams trouble is Carlos Quintana, and Sergio Martinez is like Quintana on Red Bull”.
While Martinez’ status as an elite fighter is constantly questioned by a loss he suffered when he was a 17-fight prospect with only two years experience against Margarito, team Williams seems equally tired of fielding questions about the loss to Quintana. “He’s a tad bit faster than Quintana,” concedes trainer/manager George Peterson. “Quintana had the plan to beat Paul. Well, of course, Quintana must have omitted that plan on the second fight, because it didn’t work. If Martinez is gonna plan off that, then this fight is going to be shorter than I thought it was gonna be.” The veteran trainer continued: “I overheard that he’s gonna stop Paul Williams. Well, I’ve been around Paul Williams long enough to know that everyone that says they’re gonna stop Paul got stopped.”
For his part, Williams seems genuinely irked that Martinez had the nerve to predict a knockout. “He said he was going to knock me out. I love that, it motivates me even more. It just means that I’m going to punish him more and impose my will on him.” Team Williams believes that despite an impressive record of 44 wins against only 1 defeat, Martinez has not faced the caliber of opponent that will be staring at him from across the ring on Saturday night: “He’s been beating guys who let him do what he wants to do,” stated Williams. “They let him establish his comfort zone. My thing is to take him out of his comfort zone and make him fight my fight. He’s going to have to fight me. I’m not going to let him box and move all around the ring the way he normally does. We’re going to get down to business and fight. On Saturday night, I’m going to have a pig roast, and I’m going to stick an apple in his mouth.”
While Martinez is a man of few words, his trainer is not afraid to engage in his share of verbal warfare. Sarmiento, who also trains 140-lb prospect Victor Cayo, insists that this is a vastly different fighter from the one who wilted under Margarito’s pressure style eight years ago. “Welcome to the evolution of an athlete,” states the confident trainer. “We’ve been working for eight years to get here, and we’ve been undefeated for those years. We’re convinced that we’re going to show that Paul Williams is only a mortal on Saturday night, and we’ll win based on Sergio’s speed.”
Martinez concluded: “I’ll show the world that the wins against Bunema and what should have been a win against Cintron were not a fluke – I’m working very hard and I’m stronger than ever. I’m letting everyone know now that I will win by knockout this Saturday – don’t be surprised.”
Let the fireworks begin.
The HBO co-feature is an exciting bout between two heavyweight brawlers who are not afraid to engage in all out warfare. 28-year-old Chris “The Nightmare” Arreola, returning to the ring after only two months away from a courageous losing effort to Vitali Klitschko, takes on Brian “The Beast” Minto, who is best known for his spectacular back and forth knock out victory in 2004 over the much bigger Vinny Maddalone in Atlantic City.
“Right after the [Klitschko] fight, I told [advisor] Mr. Al Haymon: ‘I don’t like this, I hate losing. Get me a fight – the sooner the better,” stated Arreola (27-1, 24 KOs). “I’m fighting a really tough guy in Brian Minto. There’s a reason why they call him a beast – cause he’s a beast! I love fighting a guy that’s coming to win and isn’t just coming for a paycheck. Brian has something to prove and so do I – I never want to lose again.”
Minto hopes to make the most of this huge opportunity. The 34-year-old blue collar fighter always gives his all, compiling a record of 34-2 (21 KOs) over a seven year career. “This is the stiffest test to date for me. Arreola is a warrior, a tough kid. I’m the same way. It’s going to be a great opportunity. Luckily, I’ve been at the gym since my last fight in August, so I’m well prepared and can’t wait until Saturday night so I can prove to people why I’m here.”
Goossen-Tutor Promotions and DiBella Entertainment have collaborated to put together an impressive undercard for this event. In another intriguing heavyweight battle, Philadelphia’s Chazz Witherspoon (26-1, 18 KOs) battles 6’5” southpaw Tony “The Tiger” Thompson, of Washington, DC, in a ten round bout. Carlos “El Indio” Quintana (26-2, 20 KOs), who helped Williams prepare for this bout, faces the tough Jesse Feliciano (15-7-3, 9 KOs) in a ten round welterweight matchup. Rounding out the undercard are prospects Jorge Diaz (10-0, 6 KOs), a New Brunswick jr. featherweight managed by the late Arturo Gatti’s career-long manager, Pat Lynch, and Virginia jr. middleweight Jeremiah Wiggins (6-0-1, 3 KOs) in separate bouts.