By Jake Donovan
It wasn’t quite the route he planned to take, but Raul Martinez still managed to arrive at his preferred destination.
The San Antonio native puts the finishing touches on his training camp ahead of his September 24 rematch with Rodrigo Guerrero. Their first fight marked the last time Martinez logged an official prize fight, taking a hard-fought split decision.
This time around, the familiar foes tangle for a vacant title strap, marking Martinez’ second crack at alphabet glory.
Being in such a position means that Martinez’ timetable remains intact, as he vowed late last year that 2011 will mark his return to the title picture. It wasn’t a particularly tough prediction as his win over Guerrero earned him a mandatory shot at then-titlist Cristian Mijares.
What wasn’t as crystal clear is the chain of events that followed, including a 10-month layoff and a change in plans in terms of whom he’d be facing for the junior bantamweight belt at stake later this month.
“I've had my sights sets on Mijares ever since the eliminator and when he won the title (three weeks later),” Martinez (28-1, 16KO) says of his long-sought second crack at a major belt, which he thought was coming against the former two-time titlist. “To train for him, get cut, enter another camp and prepare for him, only to watch him vacate the title - the change of opponents was disappointing, but I have to focus on Guerrero. It won't be an easy fight.”
There was nothing easy about his first fight with Guerrero last November, which aired live on Fox Deportes. The bout itself was somewhat lost in the shuffle, as it came on the same night that lineal middleweight king Sergio Martinez flattened Paul Williams to cement his claim as 2010 Fighter of the Year.
For Martinez’ followers, though, it represented the next step in the rebuilding process, as the former amateur standout is still left with something to prove long after falling way short against Nonito Donaire in their April ’09 title fight.
The fight still resonates on Martinez’ mind, mainly due to the strong likelihood of his never receiving a shot at redemption.
Donaire continues to rise in weight and has already announced that his October bout with Omar Narvaez will be his last at bantamweight. Meanwhile, Martinez remains comfortable at 115, one division lighter than where he made his pro debut more than seven years ago.
In the absence of a second crack at Donaire, Martinez instead settles for the chance to emerge as one of the top players in a super flyweight division that has experienced a massive thinning of the herd in recent years.
One of the most recent defectors is Mijares, who recently vacated his belt while announcing his intentions to make a run in the bantamweight division.
The move capped a series of frustrating events for Martinez. The former amateur standout was supposed to face Mijares earlier this year, but lingering cosmetic damage from his bout with Guerrero late last year forced a postponement. The two were slated to square off this summer, and Martinez even returned to training camp for the fight, only for Mijares to pull out of the fight and renounce his title reign.
In came Guerrero, who has fought just once since his loss to Martinez, albeit in a tune-up earlier this year in his native Mexico against a local tomato can.
Martinez doesn’t necessarily mind the switch – “I’m still fighting for the title, regardless” – but his training camp has taken on an entirely new shape, as Mijares and Guerrero stylistically couldn’t be greater opposites.
The upside to facing Guerrero a second time, Martinez believes, is that he can recycle the notes from last year’s training camp, and also improve upon his performance last November.
“I don’t see him changing styles, to be honest," Martinez insists of return go with Guerrero, which will air live on Fox Deportes. "He’ll be in better shape and throw more punches, more determined to win, especially with what’s at stake. The most important thing will be for me to fight smart and stay on my game plan.”
Martinez managed to find his groove in the second half of their title eliminator, but only after suffering a cut early on in the fight and managed to get caught up in a slugfest. A shift in gears in the second half of the fight allowed Martinez to surge ahead, impressively pulling out a victory on a night where he could have easily wilted and proved his detractors correct.
“It was a tough fight last time, and I know a lot of people wanted to see me fail,” Martinez believes. “But I found a way to win that night, and will be better prepared on September 24.”
The title opportunity will take place in Mexicali, marking the first trip south of the border for the Mexican-American. The thrill of fighting in the land of his roots is an added bonus, though the main focus remains on leaving the ring with the title around his waist.
“I’m honored to fight in Mexico, but no matter where the fight takes place – it’s just a crazy feeling that nobody can understand unless they’re going through it themselves. Same for who I’m fighting – Mijares, Guerrero again, whoever.
“This fight is for a world title, so I’m excited to fight anyone for those stakes.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to [email protected] .