By Jake Donovan
Sergio Martinez flew way under the boxing radar for years before promoter Lou DiBella was tipped off by respected boxing adviser Samson Lewkowicz to take a chance on the southpaw. More than five years later, Martinez has proven to be the best middleweight in the world and among the best five overall fighters in the sport today.
The one thing that was missing was true hometown representation. An Argentine native who has also called Spain and California home, the 38-year old enjoys a homecoming for the first time in 11 years when he defends his lineal middleweight crown against unbeaten Martin Murray this Saturday in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
The bout marks the first time in its history that HBO will travel to South America.
“We look forward to any time Sergio Martinez fights. He's one of the best in the world. It’s always an event whenever he laces them up,” states Kery Davis, Senior Vice President of HBO Sports. “This one is something different, though. It's our first time televising a fight from Argentina. We expect a lively, raucous crowd which always makes for good television.”
Martinez (50-2-2, 28KO) makes for good television almost every time he steps into the ring. His last two fights have seen the defending lineal middleweight king climb off the canvas to retain his crown, escaping potential final round disaster to score a decision win over Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. last September and rallying to stop Matthew Macklin in New York City last St. Patrick’s Day.
Saturday night will mark the sixth defense of his title, though the first time recognized as a genuine superstar. Past backlash of not being able to draw a crowd went out the window after his win over Chavez Jr. took place in front of a massive crowd in Las Vegas to the tune of 600,000 pay-per-view units sold.
There’s the argument to be made that the majority of viewers were on hand due to Chavez Jr’s drawing power. Just don’t tell that to the 40,000 or so who will pile into the soccer stadium hosting this weekend’s event.
“From the cab to the hotel, I passed I don’t know how many billboards and trucks that had Sergio’s image on it. He really is a rock star,” insists DiBella, who arrived in country on Wednesday. “Is he getting the credit he deserves? Maybe not. But come Saturday night on HBO, there will be 40,000 fans in attendance to show Martinez the respect he deserves.”
Even with his incredible recent run - including wins over Chavez Jr., Kelly Pavlik, Paul Williams – it still took a lot of convincing to get Martinez a home game.
“I asked about this two years ago, 'What do you think about putting on a big fight in Argentina?' I was told it was a fantasy,” states Lewkowicz, who ultimately gets the last laugh. “Now, it is a reality.”
And as for Martinez? It’s just another day in the office as far as he’s concerned.
“You come home and you work hard. You feel the love and appreciation. It hasn’t been distracting at all,” insists Martinez. “In fact we moved our camp to Argentina for the last week and it hasn’t been distracting at all. Everything is great and we’re ready to go.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as a member of Transnational Boxing Ratings Board, Yahoo Boxing Ratings Panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox