By Jason Pribila: On Saturday night Sergio “Maravilla” Martinez returns to the Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, the building where he celebrated his three biggest nights as a professional boxer. First his stock rose as he came up a point short in a fight of the year candidate. Next he started fast and finished strong en route to winning the lineal middleweight championship. And finally he ended a fight with a single punch that earned him “Knockout” and “Fighter of the Year” honors in 2010.
During that impressive run he has agreed to take fights on short notice, catch-weights, and he even accept short money with the belief that bigger pay days would come. He fights whoever is put in front of him, has a fan-friendly style and he even has matinee idol looks (or so I’m told). Each time he fights fans get their money’s worth. However, those fans seem unwilling to invest in his name on the left side of the marquee.
Initial reports indicated that tickets for Saturday night’s title defense against Darren Barker were moving well, but press releases announcing discounted tickets being offered seem to tell a different story.
On September 21, it was announced that in honor of the ten year anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy, discounted tickets would be offered to all members of the armed forces, both active and veterans, and all members of any first-respond units: Policeman, firemen, EMT workers.
Two days later it was announced that those who purchased tickets for the postponed October 29 show at Boardwalk Hall featuring Andre Ward vs Carl Froch are being offered 30% discounts. This was a curious move since neither Ward nor Froch are promoted by Martinez promoter, Lou DiBella.
It is well chronicled that moving the sport of boxing to casino resorts rather than building local attractions has caused promoters to become lazy. Maxboxing’s Steve Kim often affectionately refers to some promoters as “television packagers”. I normally tend to agree, but not so much in the case of Martinez.
Martinez turned pro in December 1997, just shy of his twenty-third birthday. He spent the next ten years fighting mainly in Argentina and Spain, and his fighting style (hands at hi sides) did not mesh well with his countrymen, who preferred a more traditional approach.
I first saw Martinez fight in October of 2008. He was buried on an HBO triple-header behind two other prospects: Alfredo Angulo and Yuriorkis Gamboa. On that night Martinez blew out Alex Bunema in 8 one-sided rounds. The win was something to build on, but at age 33, it was too late for grass-roots promoting.
Martinez returned to the airwaves in February 2009 to face former titlist Kermit Cintron in the main event of an edition of HBO: Boxing After Dark. Martinez seemed to clearly beat Cintron twice, but had to settle for a draw.
Unable to land a meaningful fight, Martinez remained idle until he took the first Paul Williams fight ten months later. This fight took place in the upstairs ballroom and was the first of his three consecutive fights at Boardwalk Hall.
With each fight getting more meaningful than the last; it seemed logical to return Martinez to the New Jersey shore. This time Martinez faced middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik in the main arena. Even though he dethroned Pavlik in an exciting fight, he did so in front of Pavlik’s crowd. A fan-base that was already starting to diminish after Pavlik’s loss to Bernard Hopkins was not likely to gas up the Greyhound busses and travel 6 hours to support the Argentine that robbed them of the closest thing that they have had to a winning sports franchise.
The rematch with Williams was also staged in the main arena a year after their first fight. Despite having the middleweight championship on the line, the fact remained that neither guy had the fan base to fill the arena.
In his only fight of 2011, Martinez’s offer from HBO was to fight the undefeated and ultimate high-risk/low-reward Sergiy Dzinziruk. Martinez made it look easy and dropped Dzinziruk 5 times en route to an eighth round stoppage.
Again Martinez was too good for his own good.
The fact is that Martinez is the king of a division that is void of a true challenge to his throne. Upsets to prospects Danny Jacobs, David Lemieux, and Fernando Guerrero have robbed Martinez of future opponents with name recognition. Titlists Felix Sturm and Dmitriy Pirog would not bring name or the financial gain that Martinez has earned. A victory over Darren Barker is expected, but does little to propel Martinez toward a big money fight.
Martinez is not a natural middleweight and a move up the scale would nullify the advantages he has over any of the big names who have emerged from the Super Six tournament. During fight week, Martinez expressed his willingness to drain himself down to 150 lbs. to try to entice either Manny Pacquiao or Floyd Mayweather Jr. to fight. There is a better chance they would fight each other.
The best thing that Martinez could hope for is an Antonio Margarito victory in the Mexican’s December 3 grudge match against Miguel Cotto. Martinez would have the opportunity to avenge a TKO7 loss from the year 2000. Martinez acknowledged the same in an interview with Diego Morilla on ESPNdeportes.com.
“I hope Margarito wins”, Martinez confessed. “I know he wouldn’t have any problem fighting me, which is something Cotto won’t do. Cotto doesn’t want to face me.”
Martinez continued, “Lately he (Cotto) has been saying that the money is too short. I have to tell Cotto that if all he cares about is money, then I promise to hand over my purse to him if he wins; no problem.”
Once again Martinez is willing to make concessions that prize fighters at his level would never dream of conceding. If his crime is being too good for his own good; this would be a rare occasion that I would like to see crime pay off.
Jason Pribila is a member of the Boxiing Writers Association of America. He could be reached for questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org, or followed on Twitter.com/PribsBoxing