No Secrets from the Boardwalk

by Peter Owen Nelson 

For two men who have already fought twelve rounds against each other on national television, Paul Williams and WBC middleweight champion Sergio Martinez have kept unusual airs of secrecy. Neither wished to have open workouts during fight week, and neither wished to discuss strategy. When pushed after Wednesday’s press conference on what’s different for him, Williams (39-1) stroked his pharaonic beard and said, “My barber accidentally shaved half the right side off. I’ve been growing this thing for 29 years.”

 Photo by Will Hart

As he ate an egg white omelette at the Caesars Palace buffet, Martinez’ trainer Gabriel Sarmiento said through a translator, “I noticed Williams makes a mistake with his right hand, but what that mistake is I cannot tell you. The only person I’ll discuss strategy with is Sergio.” 

That strategy of Martinez (who weighed in Friday at 157.5 lbs to Williams 156) is not merely honed in the gym. The Argentine and Sarmiento maintain a regimen even through fight week of morning workouts, followed by afternoon bike rides, rounded out by walks at 10 p.m. on the Atlantic City beach. There on the strand, trainer and fighter talk through their crafted game plan. “Just last week, I noticed Williams has trouble with certain lateral movement, but I will never tell anyone what I saw but Sergio,” said Sarmiento, gulping down a cup of coffee.

Any attempt to elicit a comment on strategy from Williams was met with equal evasiveness or a bland mantra: “You’ll see our secrets on Saturday night.” One of his seconds would walk up to eavesdrop on his interviews and pull the fighter away so as to ensure he could not divulge anything too critical. What Williams plans to do Saturday at Boardwalk Hall remains a mystery, but at least he’s copped to what he plans not to do: “This isn’t about cutting off the ring or putting more pressure on him [Martinez]. I’ve just been adjusting little things since the last fight.” 

As veterans Roy Jones picked Martinez and Bernard Hopkins picked Williams, most experts appeared split, proving the outcome of this fight appears as unpredictable as that of the last. Trainer Freddie Roach and junior welterweight titlist Amir Khan have stated that Williams fares better in rematches, which is true, though the only rematch Williams has fought was against Carlos Quintana (to whom Williams lost a unanimous decision before knocking him out in their second bout). Presumably, to help mentally prepare for this rematch as well as to face the southpaw stance, Williams has used Quintana as his principal sparring partner. (Martinez’s camp relied on Austin Trout, who also served as sparring partner to Antonio Margarito for his fight against Manny Pacquiao.) 

Overall, Williams seems to have a slight edge among experts, due to his advantages in height, reach, and youth (the Augusta, Georgia native is six years the junior of Martinez). In all the predictions, strategy is never cited as an advantage of one side over the other. It is possible that there is not as much strategy being worked on as brawling being prepared for. Last year, Martinez was a late substitution for Kelly Pavlik and Willilams’ camp has insisted ever since the close fight against Martinez was a product of being prepared for the wrong type of opponent. A member of Team Williams, Duke Buchanan, who runs mitts with Williams, reduced the rematch to a simple criterion, “Listen, Martinez just isn’t in Paul’s class.” Martinez will offer his rebuttal on Saturday. 

While the top two pound-for-pound fighters in the world today, Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather, stand to generate over $100 million should they ever face each other, Williams and Martinez (arguably three and four on the pound for pound list) won’t make even five percent of that figure. But a win in this rematch is about much more than earnings. The victor cements his place above the loser in the pound for pound rankings. A championship belt is on the line, which was not the case in the first fight. The winner may also delude the press with the fantasy of having earned a shot at either Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather, who are both naturally too small and too smart to fight either Martinez or Williams. Ultimately, respect is what’s most at stake, and that is no secret to either camp.

Williams Ready for Action Saturday Night

It’s always dangerous to hope that a sequel will outdo the original (um, Tommy Gunn streetfight, anyone?), but Paul Williams isn’t afraid to make promises. The boxer says his second bout against Sergio Martinez this Saturday is going to blow the lid off their previous encounter. "This one will be more brutal," he says. "It will be more action and there will be more punches thrown. The same as in the first fight but 10 times more. ... It's going to be a good fight but I know I'm coming out with the win, either with a knockout or even a decision."

USA Today

Jim Lampley Looks Ahead to Martinez-Williams

HBO commentators Jim Lampley and Larry Merchant look ahead to Saturday's match-up.

Fight Week Notes: In Atlantic City, Two Lone Fighters

by Peter Owen Nelson

Middleweight champion Sergio Martinez and Paul Williams share the southpaw stance, a late start to the sport of boxing, four major world titles, a combined record of 84-3-2, top tier in any pound-for-pound ranking list, unusual natural gifts that scare off opposition, and (most noticeably on Wednesday at 12:30 p.m.) complete obscurity from the mainstream media.

Photo by Peter Owen Nelson

In Palladium Ballroom B of Caesars Palace in Atlantic City, NJ, a press conference was proceeding but not one notebook was open because not one reporter appeared to be present. The men on the dais (almost all of whom wore sunglasses) nearly outnumbered those in the audience, as members of Team Martinez and Team Williams picked over ham sandwiches and drained samovars of coffee from the spread. 

Saturday’s rematch at the Boardwalk will be the biggest fight of Martinez and Williams’ careers, over which they have garnered respect, amassed wealth, and now seek to build their legacies — for which they must turn to each other to achieve. 

The lacking attendance did not seem to derail either fighter from some back-and-forth barbs. Martinez (45-2-2) dug into Williams (39-1) for pushing the fight to be at a catchweight of 158 pounds. Williams accused Martinez of “stealing my belts,” referring to Martinez’ landing the middleweight championship bout against Kelly Pavlik (36-2) that Williams never could. 

Though Martinez is now the champion, Williams is the favorite with virtually every advantage going for him: 3” of height, 6” of reach, and has fought tougher competition overall. Williams is also six years younger, and as he flashed a smile behind a diamond bracelet and a $700 Louis Vuitton t-shirt at the press conference, he admitted that he is weighing, “156 or 157” — in other words, he has no more weight to lose. By contrast, Martinez hit the gym that morning in no fewer than five layers of t-shirts and jackets, clearly still draining himself of water weight. 

Though Williams is trained by a former cop who recruited him to box as a 14-year-old through the Police Athletic League, it was the 35-year-old Argentine Martinez who had worked out at 9 a.m. in the Atlantic City Police Athletic League gym. With trainer Gabriel Sarmiento, he did mitts, shadowboxed, and hit the heavy bag. A well-rounded athlete who began boxing at the age of 20 after playing semi-pro soccer, Martinez is also a cyclist, and both begins his daily workout and ends his second workout later that day on a stationary bike.

When asked what he thinks of cycling, Williams smiles, “I actually just bought a bike: a black and chrome High Booster motorcycle. I haven’t ridden yet. But I can’t wait to take it on a victory ride after Saturday night.