Martinez retained his WBC crown (pic Naoki Fukuda)
By Jason Pribila, ringside in Atlantic City:Middleweight champion, Sergio “Maravilla” Martinez returned to the ring in the building that vaulted him to the 2010 Fighter of the Year, and up to number three on the Pound for Pound list. His opponent, Darren Barker, crossed the pond as an anonymous challenger with a perfect record. Much of the conversation leading up to fight night revolved around who Martinez would like to fight next. Martinez would first have to overcome a broken nose and a fighter determined to seize his moment.
An announced crowd of 4,376 no doubt showed up late because they knew that with Martinez in the ring they would get their money’s worth. They have seen the lineal middleweight champion pick himself up off the floor to deliver action, upsets, and a “Knockout of the Year”. What they did not plan on seeing was a tough Brit with perhaps a blue print for victory.
Martinez started at a measured pace. As he promised, he would use the early rounds to establish distance and timing. Barker fought well behind his jab and showed a tight defense. To the surprise of many, Martinez’s speed did not seem to be an overwhelming advantage.
As the rounds went on it was Barker who was showing the ability to adapt. As Martinez would come forward behind a right – left combination; Barker would block, step back, and counter with a right hand of his own. A significant Barker right landed square and immediately bloodied Martinez’s nose.
“That was a good shot,” Martinez admitted after the bout,acknowledging his nose was broken.
“Every challenger is a strong challenger and has their own way. I knew it would be this kind of fight. I planned on this."
The middle rounds of the fight consisted of Martinez’s activity against Barker’s accuracy. Even though Barker seemed comfortable unveiling his game plan, he simply was not busy enough to make an impression on the judges.
Some observers would think that a combination of a bloody nose and absorbing more punishment than normal would have caused Martinez to begin to fade in the second half of the fight. However, Martinez is an exceptional athlete that always seems to have plenty of energy left in reserve.
“That’s my second wind,” Martinez explained. “That’s what we trained for. I knew I would get stronger as the fight went on.”
Swelling began to show over Barker’s left eye in round 8, courtesy of Martinez’s right hand which was beginning to land more consistently. The fighter’s legs got tangled, resulting in a Martinez trip to the canvas. Martinez rose and comfortably carried the round by landing single right hands.
Many fighters would have been content to fall into a pattern in order to reach the final bell unwilling to absorb further punishment. Barker chose to let his hands go more with the hopes of landing something significant to turn the tide. That aggression played into “Maravilla’s” (right) hands.
With 50 seconds left in round 10 Martinez landed a big right hand that buckled Barker and forced him to cover up. Martinez let his hands go, but he was unable to knock Barker off his feet.
Barker made his last stand one minute into round 11. He threw a combination that caused Martinez to cover up momentarily. It was now Martinez’s turn to throw a combination punctuated with a right hand that sent Barker to the canvas where he remained.
“I kept throwing the right hand because I knew it would land more and more as the fight it went on,” Martinez said of the knockout that came at the 1:29 mark.