By Chuck Johnson
DETROIT – Taking a cue from the Big Three automakers’ dramatic recovery, promoters of Saturday night’s “Super Fight” at the Silverdome are counting on Detroit-area boxing fans to follow the lead of the car-purchasing public and “Buy American.”
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.
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.
by Kieran Mulvaney
A few thoughts and observations after Wednesday's press conference at Cowboys Stadium for Saturday's bout between Manny Pacquiao and Antonio Margarito:
Photo by Will Hart
Not That The Fight Needed an Extra edge, But It Has One Now
Antonio Margarito has had plenty of supporters, but it doesn't take much scientific polling to establish that the majority of neutrals are going to be cheering for Manny Pacquiao rather than his Mexican opponent on Saturday night. That threatened to b even more so after a video hit the Internet in which Margarito, lightweight Brandon Rios, and their trainer Robert Garcia appeared to be mocking the Parkinson's Disease of Pacquiao trainer Freddie Roach. As outrage began to bubble over, the trio's collective image threatened to morph into one of such cartoonish villainy that it wouldn't have been a surprise if they hit their opponents with folding steel chairs they had hidden under the ring.
Garcia began to offer what seemed like it would be an apology on Wednesday, but instead insisted that not only were Rios' neck-jerking movements not mocking Roach, but that Rios didn't even know the trainer has Parkinson's.
Roach wasn't buying that argument on Wednesday, but by Thursday he was doing his best to calm things down. First Rios, speaking during a press conference for Saturday's undercard, apologized for what he had said and done, and then Margarito made an unscheduled appearance in the media room to explain his actions.
“Some guy showed up at out gym with a video camera, he told me Freddie Roach had said I was going to be knocked out and I shook my hands and said “Ooohh, I'm scared.” I would never make fun of Freddie Roach, or of anyone with that disease. Members of my family have that disease. I apologize to Freddie Roach, if he will accept my apology.”
A few minutes later, Roach told a small knot of journalists that Garcia had contacted him personally.
“Garcia called me, he apologized, he said I'd always helped him, always provided him with sparring partners, and as far as I'm concerned it's over with and let's move on with the fight,” he said. “I think they realize what they did was maybe a bit to much, they went overboard a little bit.”
His biggest concern was to not fan the flames and in the process take Pacquiao's focus off the task at hand.
“Manny heard about it a little bit, but I told him not to worry about it, to stay focused, and he said 'OK.'
Manny can separate that stuff no problem. Some of my fighters I've had – if it had been James Toney, there'd be a fight. But Manny's a calm guy.”
Manny's a politician now
Once upon a time, not so very long ago, Manny Pacquiao would stand at the podium, smile in a slightly embarrassed, little-boy-lost sort of way, say, “I love the people and I want to make a good fight for the people,” and sit down again. On Wednesday, he made clear he still loves the people and wants to make good fights for them. And he still sounds so cute when he talks that you want to stick him in your pocket and take him home, but he is much more composed and expansive now, much more confident as a public speaker. He looks every bit the congressman that he now is. When I sat with Alex Ariza, Pacquiao's strength and conditioning coach, while we were waiting for Pacman to begin his public training session on Tuesday, he offered a similar observation: that it was one thing to be clowing around with Manny in the gym, but another thing entirely to be a guest in the House of Congress, watching Congressman Pacquiao speak to his fellow legislators.
Pacquiao says he has two or three fights left him, but it is now easy to imagine him in another role. The countdown to the end of a great career may be underway.
It's a lot easier to get a handle on how the atmosphere and enthusiasm for a fight is building when that fight is being held in Las Vegas. At Vegas venues, everything – arena, rooms, bars, media center – are all under one roof. Here, you could probably drop Rhode Island between the stadium and the fight hotel and still have room for Delaware. It's a beautiful hotel; but Dallas could be overrun by zombies following a brief thermonuclear war and I wouldn't have a clue.
So is there a big fight buzz in Dallas? Hard to say. But it seems all but certain that attendance on Saturday night will exceed the indoor record of 61,000 for the Muhammad Ali-Leon Spinks rematch at the Superdome in New Orleans in 1978. The press room on Thursday was a veritable A list of boxing press. The third episode of this season of 24/7 was the highest rated since 2007.
The proof, as the proverb has been mangled to say, is in the pudding. We'll know for sure just how big the buzz has been when the stadium lights go down, the main event is ready to get under way and 50,000, or 60,000 – heck, maybe 70,000 – fans roar in anticipation.