Sergio Martinez Loses a Step but Retains Title

by Michael Gluckstadt

Martin Murray, Sergio Martinez - Photo Credit: Will Hart (Click for Slideshow)

Sergio Martinez’s triumphant return to Argentina was nearly spoiled by the Englishman Martin Murray in a fight that raises questions about how much the 38-year-old middleweight champion has left. In front of 40,000 of his screaming, rain-soaked countrymen at Club Atlético Vélez Sarsfield in Buenos Aires, “Maravilla” was stretched to his absolute limit, touching the canvas numerous times--though only one of them ruled an official knockdown--en route to a too-close-for-comfort unanimous victory.

After a rough middle patch, Martinez needed the last two rounds to secure the win. He called on his famous reserve strength and received encouragement from the crowd, ultimately taking them both and netting himself scores of 115-112 across all three judges’ scorecards.

The night had started out strong for Martinez, who came out to a frenzied crowd and explosive fireworks display. With heavy bursts of rain and the occasional flash of lightning, he remained unfazed in the ring.  A day earlier with reports of a storm swirling, Martinez had remarked, “The weather won’t bother me; he has to fight in it too.”

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On the Scene: Photos from Buenos Aires

Photos by Will Hart

Click for Slideshow

On street corners and television screens across Argentina, the name Sergio “Maravilla” Martinez is on everybody’s lips. The Argentine fighter has returned home to take on Martin Murray at Club Atletico Velez Sarsfield in Buenos Aires –his first fight on his native soil in over ten years. In the week leading up to tonight’s fight, photographer Will Hart captured scenes from across the city.

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From the Weigh-in: Martinez Carries the Weight of His Nation

by Michael Gluckstadt

Sergio Martinez - Photo Credit: Will Hart (click for slideshow)

The image of Sergio Martinez—arm outstretched in a fighter’s pose, with the flag of Argentina rising behind him—is plastered all over the city of Buenos Aires. His opponent this Saturday night, England’s Martin Murray, is a textual footnote; his name smaller than the event’s tagline, Un Evento Histórico: Por El Honor y la Gloria.  When Martinez removed his track jacket prior to weighing in, revealing a custom-made “Maravilla” jersey in the style of the national soccer team, the implication couldn’t be clearer—come Saturday night, he will by fighting with the weight of his country on his back.

The Salon Libertodor at the Sheraton Hotel felt more like a rock concert than a preliminary boxing event, as hundreds of Martinez’s fellow countrymen eagerly awaited a chance to spot the star. Murray’s fans, for their part, weren’t exactly quiet. An extremely vocal minority, they loudly chanted an altered version of the Ricky Hatton song, itself a take-off on “Winter Wonderland,” that began, “There’s only one Martin Murray.” Martin, the top-ranked fighter in former world champ-turned-promoter Hatton’s stable, has yet to lose a fight, and his high punch output could prove threatening to Martinez, who has shown the slightest signs of slowing down.

But the story here, as evidenced by a two-story poster hanging in the city’s center, is clearly Martinez. Though not quite the prodigal son, Martinez left Argentina in 2002 in search of better opportunities in Spain. Twenty-eight fights later, he’s returned as a pound-for-pound contender and a hometown hero. He’s never had the chance to fight in front of his fans as the reigning middleweight champ, and for most of the nearly 50,000 Argentines who will be at the Club Atletico Velez Sarsfield Saturday night, it will be their first-time rooting on Maravilla on their home soil.

On the scales, Murray weighed in at 159.6 pounds. Martinez is carrying 159.4 pounds and the hopes and expectations of a nation.

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Raskin & Mulvaney’s Fight Week Stat Chat

by Eric Raskin and Kieran Mulvaney

The number getting the most attention as we head into the Sergio Martinez-Martin Murray fight is 48,000 --the estimated number of fans that will be in attendance at a soccer stadium in Argentina. But there are plenty of other numbers worth talking about, and CompuBox has compiled them all and presented the most interesting data to HBO Boxing Insiders Eric Raskin and Kieran Mulvaney. The two fight writers sat down this week to discuss what the numbers mean for Saturday’s showdown:

Raskin: Well, Kieran, it’s that time again—fight week, with the middleweight championship of the world on the line. I’ll start our chat with a self-plug of sorts and reference the overview I wrote for, where I suggested Martinez is getting older (what insight by me!) and won’t have any more easy fights. The CompuBox numbers support that theory, in that in his last four CompuBox-tracked fights, Sergio has shown defensive slippage, getting hit with 5% more of his opponents’ jabs and 5% more of their power punches than in the four fights prior to that. What do you make of that pattern and my theory that he’s done having easy fights?

Mulvaney: He had 11.5 rounds of a fairly easy fight last time out, but then Cheech and Chong were never known for their fighting prowess. But yes, I agree: Macklin and Barker both made him work hard for his wins, and I expect much the same from Martin Murray, who is an active pressure fighter who is well schooled in the fundamentals.

Raskin: Speaking of how active Murray is, in the limited number of fights he’s had tracked by CompuBox, he’s thrown 20 punches more per round than Martinez. However, we’ve seen almost every one of Martinez’s opponent’s output drop against “Maravilla.” Do you think Murray will be able to buck that trend and throw anywhere near his usual 82.6 punches per round?

Mulvaney: That has to be the key to his success, right? Come forward with a high guard, working behind a jab. And with his hands down, Martinez must seem such an inviting target. But I suspect one of the things that causes his opponents’ punch output to drop against him is his terrific movement in the ring, combined with his frequently unorthodox style. I suspect it causes his opponents to have to reset more often than they would like, and think twice about what they’re doing.

Raskin: So if you had to say which aspect of Martinez’s game it is that’s primarily responsible for handcuffing his opponents, would you give the credit more to his offense or his defense?

Mulvaney: It’s his offense, I think, in that his movement—which I think is key—is not just him getting out of the way, it’s him getting into position to launch punches from angles. One thing that surprised me a little actually was how many jabs he throws—not as many as Murray, but higher than the middleweight average. It shows that, even for an unconventional fighter, that most fundamental of punches is important for him to set everything up.

Raskin: Yes, I’m glad you brought up the jab. He threw 41.8 per round against Chavez, and 50.7 per round against Dzinziruk! And he landed 140 jabs over the course of the fight against Chavez—most guys don’t THROW 140 jabs in a fight, much less land that many. But as you point out, Murray has a good, busy jab as well. Can he win this fight without winning the battle of the jabs? Especially in Argentina, where he can’t expect the benefit of the doubt in close rounds?

Mulvaney: What’s interesting to me is that Murray throws a lot of jabs but on average lands relatively few of them—and that’s against lesser opponents than Martinez. It suggests he uses it mostly as a range-finder, and to keep his foes’ guards up so he can nail them with power punches. I don’t think that kind of jab is going to be very effective against Martinez—unless, and here we return to your opening comment, Sergio’s legs can’t move as well as they used to and he finds himself in front of Murray more.

Raskin: You’re right that the jab is there to set up the power punches, and getting back to the winning-a-decision-in-Argentina thing, it’s hard to see Murray winning rounds without landing impactful power shots. A busy jab that doesn’t land a whole lot isn’t going to secure him any points. So, final question: Obviously, Martinez is the favorite, but if Murray is to pull the upset, would you consider a knockout or a decision the more realistic scenario?

Mulvaney: As you said, you have to figure it’s going to be hard to get a decision in Argentina—especially for a British fighter. But Martinez does get hit, as we’ve seen and as the CompuBox figures show. He’s been down a bunch. One of these times, he’s going to walk into something and not get up—and I think that’s Murray’s best hope of winning on Saturday night.

Raskin: And one of these times, I’m going to walk you into a tough question you don’t get up from—but it didn’t happen on this occasion, you were on your game again. Pleasure chatting with you Kieran, and enjoy the tripleheader on Saturday night.


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Martinez-Murray: Undercard Overview

by Eric Raskin

On the undercard of the Martinez-Murray fight in Buenos Aires, another of Argentina's top fighters, Luis Carlos Abregu, takes part in a battle of once-beaten welterweights when he meets Montreal's Antonin Decarie. Abregu's lone loss, a competitive battle with Tim Bradley in 2010, is certainly nothing to be ashamed of. But it's his latest win that is truly eye-catching, a seventh-round TKO of formerly 16-0 prospect Thomas Dulorme last October. Interestingly, Decarie can match that win: Last September, he too upended a 16-0 prospect, stopping Alex Perez in six rounds. Decarie isn't typically a knockout puncher and that, combined with Abregu's hometown advantage, make him the underdog here. But this still has the makings of a fun and highly competitive stage-setter for the Martinez-Murray main event.

And in the broadcast opener, emanating from Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario, California, heavyweight contender Chris Arreola ends a 14-month layoff to start what might be one last run at a title shot when he takes on heavy-handed Bermane Stiverne. This fight has been scheduled and postponed twice already, but the waiting should be worth it once these two aggressive-but-flawed knockout punchers start letting their hands go.


Uneasy Lies the Crown

by Eric Raskin


You might not be familiar with middleweight title challenger Martin Murray, but he poses a very real threat to champion Sergio Martinez—in part because everyone poses a threat to "Maravilla" from here on out.

One fight can be a fluke. Two fights can be a coincidence. But three fights? That's a pattern. That's a trend. In a sport in which the typical championship-level fighter competes twice a year on average, three fights qualifies as a sample size from which meaningful information can be extrapolated.

And based on his last three fights, there's a very real conclusion to be drawn about Sergio Martinez: He's probably done having easy nights in the ring.

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After an 11-Year Road Trip, Sergio Martinez Comes Home

by Kieran Mulvaney

When Sergio Martinez last fought in his native Argentina, he was the country’s welterweight champion but largely unknown outside his native land. Of the 25 professional bouts he had contested prior to meeting compatriot Francisco Mora on February 2, 2002, 24 had been in his home nation. The one time he ventured onto foreign soil, the experience was a negative one: fighting Mexico’s Antonio Margarito on the undercard of the first clash between Erik Morales and Marco Antonio Barrera in Las Vegas, he was dropped early and stopped in the seventh round. It was, to that point, his only defeat; after overcoming Mora via unanimous decision, Martinez boasted a career mark of 24-1-1.

In the decade or so since, he has gone 26-1-1; when he enters the ring in front of his home fans in Buenos Aires for the first time in 11 years on April 27, it will be not as a domestic-level welterweight but as the undisputed middleweight champion of the world and, by general acclamation, one of the three or four best fighters in the sport.

That’s a tribute to the skill and dedication that Martinez has shown since he first pulled on a pair of boxing gloves at the remarkably advanced age of 20. It is also a validation of the decision he made after the Mora fight, to take his talent on the road and leave his homeland behind him in search of greater glory.

Though Argentina can lay claim to genuine greats like Carlos Monzon and highly regarded cotemporary warriors like Lucas Matthyse and Marcos Maidana, it is not exactly a hotbed of boxing fame and fortune. That said, neither is Spain, which is where Martinez headed to take his career to the next level; but it is where he met brothers Gabriel and Pablo Sarmiento, the former taking over his training for many years and the latter working in his corner now.

He fought 12 times in total in Spain, rarely against especially distinguished opposition; but he did make a name for himself in three bouts in England, which netted him a minor junior middleweight world title and played a role in his ultimately being given the opportunity to showcase his skills in the United States, which he has been doing ever since.

The Stateside roll call is familiar: a draw against Kermit Cintron in a fight that he really should have won -- twice; the close defeat to Paul Williams followed by the jaw-dropping one-punch knockout win in the rematch; defeats of Kelly Pavlik, Sergiy Dzinziruk, Darren Barker and Matthew Macklin; and, most recently, eleven-and-a-half utterly dominant rounds against Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., capped by a half-round white-knuckle ride of terror as a desperate Chavez knocked him down and pushed forward in search of a most unlikely win.

So it is, at least in terms of achievement and appreciation, a very different Sergio Martinez who will take on Martin Murray at the Estadio Jose Amalfitani on the 27th than the one who left over a decade ago. This time, his home supporters will cheer him with extra gusto, not just because it has been such a long time since they saw him last, not just because he is now among the best of the best of the best, but because they will know that this engagement will be for one night only. Assuming he defeats Murray --and it will be no easy task -- Martinez will hit the road again, returning to the States for bigger money, higher-profile dates: a Chavez rematch, perhaps, or a mouthwatering clash with Gennady Golovkin.

But such prospects lie in the future. Right now, Sergio Martinez is finally coming home.