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.