By Derek Bonnett
American flyweights are about as common as Mexican heavyweights. They pop up every now and then, but overall there is a long pause between blips on the radar. The last American-born flyweight to really capture the attention of the boxing world was Mark "Too Sharp" Johnson, whose name described him perfectly in his prime. He was just "Too Sharp" for most opposition skill-wise, but he could have also been tagged "Too Powerful" as evidenced by his first round, title fight annihilations of Francisco Tejedor and Arthur Johnson.
Ten years after Johnson stopped Tejedor to win the flyweight championship, San Antonio, Texas native, Raul Martinez, 24-1 (14), attempted to become the next American flyweight champion, but had the misfortune of having to wrench the title away from a pound for pound talent like Nonito Donaire in the Philippines. After four rounds and multiple knockdowns, America’s best chance for a flyweight title was dismissed and handed his first defeat instead of a leather alphabet strap.
It’s been two months since that disappointing night in Cebu and Martinez’ standing in the division has dropped some, but he’s still a viable contender with a lot of potential. If Martinez could be labeled "Too" anything for the Donaire fight, it might be "Too Green". Sure, he worked his way into position with impressive victories against Llido Julio, Isidro Garcia, and Victor Proa, in which he looked "Too Overwhelming", but the jump up to meet Vic Darchinyan’s slayer was a different story altogether.
Secondsout had a chance to interview Martinez, 27, and ask some questions about the circumstances behind his defeat, his opinion of Donaire, and his source of inspiration to fight among other topics. This is what transpired:
Derek Bonnett: Have you been able to process your recent defeat to Nonito Donaire? How much heart did it take to get off the canvas each time?
Raul Martinez: To tell you the truth I’m not thinking of it anymore until someone brings it up again. I got to the Philippines a week before the fight and it was an eighteen hour flight and thirteen hour time difference. I just couldn’t recover in one week with also having to make weight at the same time. I wasn’t in the fight physically. Mentally, I went to win, but my body just couldn’t respond the way I wanted it to in the week I was there. By the time the fight came around my mind was in the fight, but my body wasn’t. Not taking anything away from the great champ Donaire is, but I feel I could’ve done better or beat him if I had got there at least two weeks before the fight. I wasn’t really hurt when I got knocked down, just a little stunned like I have been in other fights. It’s just that my body couldn’t recover after the first knockdown. Oh well, I just have to get back to work now and get going again.
DB: In hindsight, was Donaire too big a step up from your recent opposition to be prepared properly or is Donaire just a P4P talent that would have been difficult regardless?
RM: Donaire is a great fighter with many skills, but like I said my body just couldn’t respond that morning. I can’t say he is pound for pound anything, but he is a great champ. He beat me on my off day. If I felt great and he still beat me it would be a different story. I would then say he is a pound for pound fighter, but I can’t say now.
DB: What lessons did you learn from your IBF world title fight and why will you be a better fighter after this experience?
RM: If you’re traveling overseas, never get there a week before the fight. Try to get there earlier.
DB: Who would you pick in a Darchinyan-Donaire rematch?
RM: I think Donaire would beat him again. He has good power and speed along with great skills. He has the ability to bang and box. I think Darchinyan is missing the boxing ability. If I would have to choose who wins, I think Donaire would.
DB: Is there any timetable for you and your team to get back into action? Will you return as a flyweight?
RM: I’m just waiting for the call to fight. I want to fight at super flyweight and fight again for a world title at flyweight. My goal is to be a flyweight world champion and move up from there.
DB: Once you have had a chance to get back on track, which of the flyweight contenders would you like to set your sights on?
RM: My confidence never went down because my team and I know what we went through that week. You can’t beat a great fighter like Donaire when you’re not on top of your game and I wasn’t. I can beat anyone when I am. So, whoever they put in front of me for that shot, I will be ready.
DB: Which parts of your game will need improvement before you can hope to fight for another world championship?
RM: I just have to keep doing what I’ve been doing, beating whoever they put in front of me and as long as I feel good the day of my fight, I will win. I know I will be in for another shot soon.
DB: Growing up in San Antonio, you have had numerous sporting icons nearby to admire and model yourself after. Who is your greatest San Antonio idol?
RM: There are three former world champions here in San Antonio: Robert Quiroga, Jesse James Leija, and John Michael Johnson. I won the IBA world title, but get no respect for it here in San Antonio, so I want to be the next WBC, WBO, WBA, or IBF world champ to follow in those guys’ footsteps. Those are the guys I admire most here in San Antonio.
DB: What is it going to take to get American fans to pay attention to 112 pound fighters the way they do HW, 160 or 147 pound fighters?
Nothing. It’s up to the people. We do what we have to do. We get knockouts and make exciting fights at our weight, but still get no respect.
DB: Do you have a personal message for your fans?
RM: Yes. I will be back.