By Matthew Hurley: It was a very good fight, bordering on great, between two highly skilled professionals whose see-saw battle shed light on why neither of them are high on any other fighter’s “to do” list.
Paul Williams and Sergio Martinez tested one another over twelve fascinating, sometimes explosive rounds and when the final bell rang one was left to wonder just how close the judges’ scorecards would be. A draw was not inconceivable.
Each round was evenly contested, including the sensational first stanza that saw both fighters hit the canvas.
Williams, as is his wont, tried to overwhelm Martinez with an endless array of punches on the inside and out. It still seems peculiar for such a tall, lanky guy with an eighty-two inch wingspan to fight so comfortably on the inside.
Martinez, a crafty, quick southpaw, first found a home for his overhand right and then as Williams adjusted mid-bout and appeared to have solved Sergio’s riddle, Martinez adjusted and began banging Paul with crisp, left hands.
It was so close the HBO broadcasting team, perhaps subconsciously anticipating some kind of controversy should the bout go to the scorecards, began offering the caveat, “It all depends on what style you like.”
But this was not simply one guy pressing and the other guy speeding about the ring in a defensive posture. This was two men testing each other in the trenches, backing off, going to Plan B, engaging again, staring at each other in disbelief at the other’s unbreakable will, and then going for broke as the final bell approached.
This was high drama. The type of fight boxing junkies live for.
The crowd may have numbered just under 3,000 at Boardwalk Hall’s Adrian Phillips Ballroom in Atlantic City, but the battle Martinez and Williams put on for them brought them to their feet in raucous celebration of sport conducted at its highest level.
And then came the judges’ scorecards.
Julie Lederman, daughter of HBO’s unofficial scorer Harold Lederman, scored it a draw at 114-114.
Lynne Carter had it at 115-113 for Williams.
“Judge” Pierre Benoist scored it 119-110 for Williams.
That meant, “judge” Benoist gave Martinez one round.
When Benoist’s scorecard was read the look on Martinez’s face was a mixture of shock and mock-comic indignation.
The still buzzing crowd, so loud in appreciation for both fighters, booed with near blood lust for the one individual who put a damper on what had been a great night at the fights.
The right guy arguably got the decision, although a strong case could certainly be made for Martinez or the aforementioned stalemate. But Benoist’s verdict is more than troublesome – it has become pandemic in the sport. Bad judging, always a nuisance in boxing, has become rampant as of late.
“Either he’s incompetent, or worse,” said Martinez’s promoter Lou Dibella. “There’s no explanation for that score.”
Martinez, a more gregarious fellow you could not meet, was certainly put off by the score but seemed to be none to surprised that another misguided judge tallied a scorecard while either blind drunk or sitting with his chair facing the crowd rather than the ring. The idea that he simply preferred Williams’ style over Martinez’s and had to bend over backwards to give Sergio even one round is ludicrous. Hopefully we won’t ever have to hear his excuse for his verdict as he resides comfortably in exile from here on out with all the other members of the boxing judges lunatic fringe.
“It was an error,” Martinez said of the scorecard through his interpreter. “We should have a rematch.”
Not a bad idea.
But Williams’ promoter Dan Goossen will certainly lobby for a bigger name rather than risk another go-round with the supremely talented, but flying-under-the-radar Sergio Martinez.
“It’s too soon to talk about what’s next,” Goossen told ESPN’s Dan Rafael. “But two guys we’ve been chasing for a year and a half are Shane Mosley and Bernard Hopkins.”
That might be wishful thinking on Goossen’s part. Neither Hopkins nor Mosley has shown any interest in facing Williams who, despite his elite status, doesn’t bring a huge fan base to the negotiating table. The money just won’t be there for either Hopkins or Mosley to take the chance against such a dangerous opponent.
“I don’t look for easy fights,” Williams insisted in the ring after the toughest fight of his career. “I had to switch training for a right-hander for a left-hander only a few weeks ago.”
Williams was alluding to his aborted bout with middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik that was called off twice because of a staph infection on Pavlik’s left hand.
“We can do it again,” he added sincerely.
In the end it won’t be up to Williams. As frustrating as it often is for boxing fans to hear fighters constantly deferring to their managers and promoters in regards to their futures, it is just business. It always comes down to money and, if possible, the least amount of risk.
In the case of Paul Williams and Sergio Martinez the opposite rings true. They want the big money, just like anyone else, but find themselves on the outside looking in because they are very good. Perhaps too good for their own good.
Still, as word of mouth spreads as to how exciting this fight was and the uncomfortable reality that both Williams and Martinez present endless problems for any fighter out there, they may eventually have no one else to turn to but each other.
That’s one helluva conciliation prize for boxing fans, if not for the two combatants themselves.
As time goes by these two terrific fighters may actually need each other. Boxing fans were hoping for a rematch before and after the decision was announced. But, should it happen, let’s just keep one Pierre Benoist out of the mix. His services are no longer required – anywhere.