If one listens to the oddsmakers, (Martinez is a 20-1 favorite) Saturday's Sergio Martinez-Darren Barker match will be a perfunctory exercise that will end inside 10 rounds. But boxing has always been an animal that can't easily be tamed, for an underdog is theoretically one punch away from reshaping his reputation. And here's the proof: One spectacular overhand left against Paul Williams turned Martinez from a tricky southpaw into one of boxing's most feared knockout artists and a threat to Manny Pacquiao's pound-for-pound throne.
Can Barker change his fortunes the way Martinez did or will the "smart money" be vindicated? Their respective CompuBox histories tell these stories:
Barker's profile: "Dazzling Darren" stands two-and-a-half inches taller than the 5-10 Martinez, but his five-fight CompuBox averages suggest that while he's slightly more active than the typical middleweight he's also less accurate.
Against competition that's far below Martinez's pedigree, Barker averaged 69.8 punches per round (19.4 percent above the divisional norm), 32.8 jabs (27.8 percent above) and 37.1 power shots (10.3 percent above). However, he landed 17.9 punches per round (1.7 percent below the norm), 5.3 jabs (7.1 percent below) and 12.6 power shots (0.8 percent above). Moreover, his accuracy numbers of 25.6 percent (overall), 16.2 percent (jabs) and 33.9 percent (power) are below the divisional norms of 32.0, 24.0 and 37.7 respectively.
Barker vs. Southpaws: Against Affif Belghecham -- the only left-hander of those profiled -- Barker revealed a potential route to victory against Martinez: Suffocating volume. Averaging 96.7 punches per round -- 41 percent above the middleweight average of 57 -- Barker piled up advantages of 1,160-800 (total attempts), 508-191 (attempted jabs), 652-609 (power punch attempts) and 209-196 (power connects). He topped out at 114 in round three and was as high as 97 in the ninth.
Unfortunately for Barker, his defense was too easily penetrated. Despite averaging 30 fewer punches per round, Belghecham (1) equaled Barker in total connects with 237; (2) limited the taller Barker's jab accuracy to 5.5 percent while landing 21.5 percent of his own en route to a 41-28 connect advantage; and (3) nearly equaled Barker in power connects (196-209) and accuracy (32.1 percent to Barker's 32.2 percent).
A Pivotal Flaw?: Against Belghecham and Domenico Spada -- the only two profiled fights that went the full 12 -- Barker's effectiveness waned over time. He out-landed Belghecham 144-121 in the first six, but the tables turned in the final six (116-93 for Belghecham) and a tiring Barker spent the last three rounds on his bicycle. The pattern re-emerged against Spada as Barker was sharp early (a 101-68 total connects bulge) but receded into John Ruiz-like mauling in the second half in retaining a 78-58 edge. To beat Martinez, he must maintain his effectiveness over 12 full rounds.
Martinez vs. Height: Martinez's last four fights have come against men taller than six feet and the lone defeat was a disputed majority decision against Paul Williams in fight one. His rivals' size demanded a dramatic departure from his trademark elusiveness to one of risk-taking aggression and, for the most part, it paid off.
His four-fight averages against Williams (twice), Kelly Pavlik and Sergei Dzinziruk show that Martinez landed at a higher rate (36.8 to 32.4 percent overall, 31.3 to 26.5 jabs and 41.2 to 37.6 power) despite throwing fewer overall punches (58.6-59.7) and jabs (26.1-28.0). He out-landed his rivals 733-658 (total), 278-253 (jabs) and 455-405 (power), and this came against a group with a combined 149-3 record coming in. Against the previously undefeated Dzinziruk, Martinez aveaged 51 jabs thrown per round. He landed 20 per round- more than three times the middleweight average.
Hope for Barker?: For most of his career Martinez was a defensive-minded slickster but in recent fights those abilities have suffered. While "Maravilla" has produced far more compelling fights in terms of action and raised his stock to stratospheric levels, he is getting hit by hooks, crosses and uppercuts at a concerning rate.
The typical middleweight absorbs 37.7 percent of his opponents' power punches, but in three of his last four fights he's been hit with higher frequency. Pavlik landed 44.8 percent of his power shots while Williams connected on 38.3 percent of his in the rematch and Dzinziruk (nicknamed "Razor") landed 47.4 percent. Pavlik, Williams and Dzinziruk were world-class fighters who knew how to utilize their physical and stylistic attributes and if Barker is cut from their cloth he has the opportunity to exploit this weakness. But if Barker is not of the elite, Martinez has the skills to brutally exploit that weakness.
Prediction: Barker will be sprightly early but Martinez's skills will gradually erode his resolve and produce a mid-rounds TKO.