By Eric Raskin
With nearly 100 different “world” title belts floating around out there in various corners of boxing’s diamond-, super-, and interim-infused universe, unofficial titles that aren’t accompanied by belts have taken on increasing significance in recent years. One such title is the designation of “Most Avoided Man in Boxing.” It’s a label that’s debated among hardcore fans like the mythical pound-for-pound throne -- and brings similar pride to the fighter who wears it.
In the mid-2000s, Antonio Margarito was the near-unanimous choice for boxing’s most avoided fighter. When Margarito lost a close decision to similarly risk/reward imbalanced Paul Williams on July 14, 2007, “The Punisher” became the new poster boy for elite fighters who can’t find elite opponents. And when Sergio Martinez iced Williams on November 20, 2010 with a second-round left hand that earned a spot on boxing’s all-time desert island highlight reel, “El Maravilla” instantly transformed into the sport’s most avoided combatant.
But here’s what makes Martinez unique: He’s a legit champion of the world. He’s THE MAN at 160 pounds, and everybody knows it; he beat Kelly Pavlik, who beat Jermain Taylor, who beat Bernard Hopkins, who beat Felix Trinidad, William Joppy, Keith Holmes, and everybody else who mattered at middleweight at the start of the current millennium. Martinez has what everybody else (theoretically) wants.
Yet, somehow, only a select few are stepping up and trying to take it.
On March 17, Irishman Matthew Macklin will become Martinez’s fourth world-title challenger. Like Darren Barker and Sergei Dzindziruk immediately before him, he’s facing long odds. But Macklin is perfectly worthy of the opportunity (ESPN.com ranks him third in the division, behind only Martinez and Felix Sturm, to whom Macklin dropped a highly controversial decision last June).
And just as important as being worthy, Macklin is willing.