|07-04-2012, 05:43 PM||#1|
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Great Article on Sergio Martinez def worth a read
He Was Robbed, Then Became Champion
By GREG BISHOP
Published: March 16, 2012
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Before Sergio Martinez became a most unlikely boxing world champion, he spent his formative years as the most likely robbery victim in the small Argentine barrio he called home. Thieves did not rob Martinez once, or twice. They robbed him at least 10 times.
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Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times
Sergio Martinez, after years of fighting nobodies, became an unlikely boxing champion.
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Michael Dwyer/Associated Press
Martinez won his title after defeating Sergiy Dzinziruk last March.
Today, Martinez is a middleweight with 27 knockouts, as feared as any fighter, his left hand his only necessary bodyguard. Back then, neighborhood thugs took, according to his recollection, his watch (twice), sandals, shoes, wallet, cash, documents, bicycle, T-shirt and, once, a single peso.
“One day his computer school was closed,” Martinez’s father, Hugo, said recently in a telephone interview from Calzadilla, Spain. “Someone hit him with a gun in the eye. It was purple, bruised. We joked about his bad luck with robberies. It seemed like, if Sergio left the house, he got robbed.”
Hugo Martinez laughed. “I can tell you more stories about robberies,” he added.
One robbery changed Martinez’s life, led him to Italy, then Spain, then California, into boxing, where he is generally considered the world’s best fighter not named Mayweather or Pacquiao. Martinez is scheduled to fight Matthew Macklin on Saturday at the Theater at Madison Square Garden.
Martinez still remembers the exact date and time this robbery took place: Dec. 31, 1990, 10:22 a.m. Martinez spent the previous night working on his red race bike, a gift, when his mother sent him across town to buy cheaper bread than was available nearby.
He made it two blocks before one assailant fired gunshots at his feet and another grabbed the bicycle. Martinez could no longer dream of professional cycling, not without his wheels. So he shifted his focus toward soccer, a sport he would later train for inside a boxing ring.
He was 15 years old.
Another story: After Martinez, now 37, became an unlikely boxing champion, after years of fighting nobodies for nothing, he partnered with a financial adviser, Miguel Angel de Pablos. They took Martinez’s boxing money and started a security consultation company. They invested in businesses and markets. They entered the volatile world of boxing management.
The thread, throughout, remained consistent. The fearful became the fearsome, the poor boy a rich man. And the cyclist who accidentally became a boxer, who obtained his titles and athletic acclaim far later in life than most, has made more money from investments than from fighting, has made millions outside the ring, according to his advisers.
The unlikely champion is now an unlikely millionaire. Somehow, because this is Martinez, because he is so different from most boxers, his story all makes sense.
“Sergio is un-ordinary,” his promoter, Lou DiBella, said. “He’s an unusual athlete, an unusual fighter. He’s cerebral. Sensitive. Very artsy. Likes fashion. Has his own sense of style, which is extremely Euro. Great recall. He should be in Mensa the way his mind works.”
In his hometown, Quilmes, in the province of Buenos Aires, Martinez first wanted to become a striker, but not the boxing kind. He rooted for the professional soccer club River Plate, imitated the team’s forwards, decided soccer would become his sport. Then he tried tennis. Then handball. Then cycling. Then soccer again. He approached all sports the same way, with aggression, recklessness even, to mask his technical deficiencies.
Hugo Martinez does not describe his family as poor. But there were days, sometimes consecutive ones, when they did not eat. He worked in the steel business, built structures for industrial developments, worked from 5 a.m. until 10 p.m., often seven days a week. When his three boys were old enough, they labored alongside him. Two of them, Victor Hugo and Sebastian, still work in the steel industry. His middle son’s career also resulted largely from his hands.
The Martinez family followed soccer and boxing with religious fervor. The extended clan gathered to watch fights on the small television at the family home, but usually with little food, which they rationed, Sergio Martinez said, “like for horses on a farm.”
DiBella first realized the poverty Martinez came from when the fighter showed him a picture in which Martinez wore neither shirt nor shoes. His mother, Martinez told DiBella, made the pants he wore in the picture from a tablecloth.
“I got beat up a lot,” Martinez, a southpaw, said through an interpreter during a recent visit to New York. “I never actually won any fights then. My neighborhood was not the type of place you wanted to be the tough guy, or the hero, because someone would take out a gun and shoot you. It was better that I took my beatings then.”
Martinez administered pain rarely, at least until he was 20, when he stepped into a boxing gym for the first time. By Day 2, he knew his future was in his fists. In June 1995, he turned professional, though his training level was years behind fighters his age.
If Martinez pursued other sports with white-hot aggression, he took a clinical, calculated approach to boxing, the most aggressive sport of all. He retained an old habit of dropping his hands to invite contact, but otherwise thrived as a technician.
His family offered support. His father and an uncle who also worked in the steel business constructed a ring they could assemble and disassemble easily. They traveled across Argentina to find opponents, rented social clubs and set up their makeshift ring. Yet potential opponents so feared Martinez, he often paid them more than he paid himself.
Eventually, Martinez moved to Rome, then Madrid. Those cities, with their art and culture and women who swooned over him, better fit with Martinez’s Renaissance sensibilities. On his way to Spain, thieves relieved Martinez of items from his suitcase.
His break, or so it seemed, came in February 2000, when he fought Antonio Margarito in Las Vegas. Only Martinez did not break into boxing’s consciousness that day. He broke his hand instead, again, for $9,000.
At the Parlour on West 30th Street, Martinez held out his left hand, the middle knuckle smaller than the others, as if Martinez had sanded it away. He first broke the knuckle in 1996. Doctors did not discover the injury for four years, despite repeated pain that almost forced Martinez to retire. An X-ray after the Margarito bout revealed the break, which Martinez said he fixed with surgery after faking forms on his ex-girlfriend’s insurance.
Martinez fought 29 more times before he hooked up with Paul Williams in Atlantic City in December 2009. Their two fights — a narrow, exciting defeat and a scintillating second-round knockout — elevated Martinez to boxing’s stratosphere.
This, DiBella said, is Martinez’s “moment, his time.” For years, his skills far overshadowed his exposure; in the second fight against Williams, Martinez, the World Boxing Council diamond champion, was sent to the challenger’s corner and introduced first.
Martinez, with 48 victories, 2 losses and 2 draws, the angled face of an actor, the chiseled body and no shortage of female admirers, should be a crossover star, among boxing’s biggest attractions. Yet when he walked the streets of Manhattan, few noticed. DiBella says the anonymity stems from a language barrier (he recently gave Martinez an English version of Rosetta Stone) and the lack of prominent opponents who will agree to face Martinez.
When Martinez visits his old neighborhood, he never steps out of the car. He learned from the robberies, even devoted his philanthropic efforts against bullying and domestic violence. Because of Martinez’s investments, DiBella believes the fighter will soon retire, with millions in the bank. “I don’t want to go back to where I came from,” Martinez said.
Instead, Martinez has already selected his next improbable career path. The former cyclist turned soccer stalwart turned boxer turned world champion turned investor wants to become a stand-up comic. His first bit: the boxer who was robbed.
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