by David P. Greisman
That headline sitting toward the top of your screen might seem designed to rankle feathers, like it should come off as a knock on middleweight champion Sergio Martinez.
It isn’t. Instead, those words were selected in recognition of reality. They recognize the short-term reality of a sport where the man seen as the best fighter at 160 pounds, and one of the best boxers in the world, is out for the remainder of this year and into the beginning of next year while he recovers from knee and hand injuries he suffered in an April fight with Martin Murray.
They also recognize the long-term viability of the 160-pound weight class, which has enough talent in enough places that it can move on without Martinez.
That’s what we want, after all — not for Martinez to be gone, but rather for the top fighters in a division to stay active. We want them not to be held hostage by the activities, or inactivity, of the champion. We tend to tire of the risk-averse prospects and contenders who hold off on facing each other, choosing instead to remain available for a big fight and a significant paycheck.
The world hasn’t come to a screeching halt while Martinez is away.
Part of that is because the American television network that features him, HBO, has long been interested in showcasing the middleweight heir apparent.
Nine years ago, when Bernard Hopkins was champion, HBO’s storyline introduced a potential (and ultimately eventual) challenger in Jermain Taylor.
Six years ago, when Taylor was champion, HBO brought forth Edison Miranda, who soon was replaced by force by Kelly Pavlik.
Four years ago, when Pavlik was champion, the next name in line seemed like it would be Paul Williams. Instead, Pavlik-Williams was postponed and Martinez soon seized the throne from Pavlik himself.
Martinez’s reign already brought him on a collision course with Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. The two fought nearly a year ago on pay-per-view, with Martinez dominating most of the action but needing to survive a last-round knockdown in order to come out victorious. Now the next name being steered toward a shot at Sergio is heavy-handed and undefeated titleholder Gennady Golovkin, who has been on HBO for three of his last four wins and is expected to be on the network once more later this year.
It wasn’t too long ago that Martinez seemed destined for a rematch with Chavez. That appears less likely now, not with Martinez injured, not with Golovkin ascendant, and particularly not with Chavez probably leaving middleweight behind — not just for his upcoming bout with Brian Vera, but possibly for good — given the extra eight pounds of comfort that super middleweight will bring for his maturing body and immature lack of discipline.
And so we turn our thoughts to Martinez-Golovkin. We speculate over whether Martinez can heal enough to deal with Golovkin. We wonder whether Martinez’s machismo would be suicidal against Golovkin’s power. Martinez has always been hittable. It hasn’t helped that he’s been less mobile of late.
In the meantime, we look forward to Golovkin’s next bout. Curtis Stevens is an unproven middleweight prospect, but at least he could provide entertainment for as long as their bout lasted. Stevens called out Golovkin this past Saturday after his highlight-reel first-round knockout of Saul Roman.
HBO also will be airing a fight on Aug. 17 between titleholder Daniel Geale and former Martinez victim Darren Barker. That bout will take place in Atlantic City, N.J. Geale is Australian. Barker is British. Both represent another reason why the middleweight division has not recently revolved completely around its champion: The foreign scene at 160 pounds has been active for several years.
It helped that Taylor, who won all four major world titles from Hopkins, was soon stripped of the International Boxing Federation and World Boxing Association belts. Pavlik picked up two titles from Taylor, and Martinez did the same from Pavlik. Martinez later was stripped of the World Boxing Organization’s belt.
The IBF, WBA and WBO belts have been defended almost completely overseas since. Geale’s defense of the IBF will be the first defense of that title in the United States since the first Hopkins-Taylor fight eight years ago. Golovkin has brought the WBA title with him to America. The WBO belt is now held by Peter Quillin, back in the States after a few years away.
Quillin is the third reason why the 160-pound weight class doesn’t have to wait for Martinez to return. As a Golden Boy Promotions fighter, he appears in what might as well be a separate universe, featured on Showtime broadcasts and not on HBO cards. His last fight was in April, a seventh-round stoppage of Fernando Guerrero. Quillin’s next bout could come in the final three months of 2013.
Martinez remains the sole claimant to the championship. He’s not the sole focus of our attention, however. The middleweight machine has chugged along with him, and it continues to do so without him. Between the various titleholders and contenders at 160, there are plenty of moving parts. It remains to be seen just where, how, and against whom Martinez will fit in once he returns.
The 10 Count will return soon.
“Fighting Words” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com. Pick up a copy of David’s new book, “Fighting Words: The Heart and Heartbreak of Boxing,” at http://bit.ly/fightingwordsamazon . Send questions/comments via email at [email protected]