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.”
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.