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.