“Fighting Words” — Sergio: A Bad Night, or a Bad Sign?

by David P. Greisman

There will not be a rematch this year between Sergio Martinez and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. Perhaps there shouldn’t be one at all.

It all depends on how well Martinez can recuperate from the injuries he suffered Saturday night against Martin Murray in what turned out to be a tough fight for the middleweight champion.

It was a tough fight because Murray, a capable contender, clearly had learned from the success that some of Martinez’s past opponents had found before they succumbed to defeat.

It was a tough fight because barely seven months had passed since Martinez had broken his left hand and torn ligaments in his right knee against Chavez last September. Surgery on that knee came in November, just five and a half months before Martinez stepped into the ring amid heavy rain and surrounded by tens of thousands in a soccer stadium in his native Argentina.

And it was a tough fight because Martinez might not have healed fully beforehand. He broke his left hand once again against Murray, and the normally mobile boxer appeared to be much slower and less fluid in his movement.

“Likely out remainder of the year,” wrote Martinez’s promoter, Lou DiBella, on Twitter mere hours after the bout. He then suggested that arthroscopic surgery could follow: “May scope knee.”

Martinez and DiBella can find solace in victory, in a determined fighter energized by adrenaline and motivated by adoration, his pride mattering more than the pain. It matters less that CompuBox statistics showed Murray outlanding Martinez both in total punches as well as power shots, or that Martinez landed far fewer than he had in his four most recent wins against Chavez Jr., Matthew Macklin, Darren Barker and Sergiy Dzinziruk.

As with team sports, winning — no matter the ease or aesthetic quality by which it comes — is of utmost importance. The extenuating circumstances are more important to the observers as they analyze the results, and for the networks and fans as they decide whether a fighter is worth showing and seeing again.

Those thinking back to the main event in Buenos Aires will recall that Sergio Martinez was injured and that Martin Murray was good.

Murray kept his gloves up, picking off shots with his hands and arms. DiBella believes Martinez’s injury came from hitting this high guard: “Landed shot to Murray’s elbow in the 2nd,” he wrote on Twitter. “Winced in pain and shook his hand.”

The emphasis on defense meant Martinez had to loop his punches around Murray’s guard. Martinez often remained in range, his hands dangling down by his side from the opening round on. It was the same cocksure approach he has taken time and again, tempting fate in a pugilistic form of Russian roulette that relies on a boxer’s belief in his ability to dodge most of the incoming fire and handle all the rest that hits.

Martinez has relied on his athleticism, on legs that once were devoted to cycling and soccer and still could move him smoothly and swiftly around 400 square feet of canvas. He was less smooth and less swift against Murray, who capitalized and connected. Murray knocked Martinez down in the eighth and appeared to do so again in the 10th, only for the referee to rule it a slip.

Despite the bad wheels and the bad moments, Martinez made it to the finish line. All three of the official judges saw the bout 115-112 for Martinez. Some of those watching and keeping unofficial tallies believed the scores could have been closer.

Five years ago, Martinez was battling in a non-televised undercard bout at a Connecticut casino. His 10 fights since have all been on HBO, with the Chavez bout spotlighted as a pay-per-view main event.

These performances have showcased a man performing at his highest level despite being in his mid-to-late 30s, who could garner respect from his often-larger opponents with the power in his left hand, the speed at which he threw his fists, and the matador-like manner in which he directed his foes around the ring before piercing them with punches.

He controlled the ring for 11 rounds against Chavez last year before a tense final stanza, three dramatic minutes during which Chavez hurt and floored Martinez, and Martinez rose and stood his ground on his hurt knee with what can either be described as brave stupidity or characteristic hubris.

Martinez could not put together another masterpiece against Murray. This may merely have been a bad night. It might also be a bad sign.

If Martinez cannot turn to a left hand that is increasingly fragile, then he will have less of an ability to discourage his opponents.

If he cannot count on his legs to move him around and away, and if age and injury have finally caught up with him, then soon his opponents will be able to do so, too.

Whether either or both of those will prove to be true depends on how much Martinez will benefit from undergoing further surgery and having more time to heal.

He either will return as an older fighter — or he will be restored to old form.

The 10 Count

1.  This coming Saturday might be seen by most as the biggest boxing weekend of the year so far, what with us getting the traditional Cinco de Mayo pay-per-view, and with that pay-per-view featuring Floyd Mayweather headlining against Robert Guerrero.

But this past Saturday was remarkable for fight fans, featuring big boxing matches on three continents.

April 27 began for many with the afternoon spent watching a British main event that saw Amir Khan in trouble once again, this time in a battle against Julio Diaz. The undercard included heavyweight prospect Deontay Wilder scoring a first-round stoppage over disappointing former Olympic gold medalist Audley Harrison.

The evening then brought the HBO show with Sergio Martinez vs. Martin Murray and an entertaining heavyweight tilt between Bermane Stiverne and Chris Arreola.

And on Showtime, we got Peter Quillin dispatching Fernando Guerrero with four knockdowns (bringing Quillin to a total of 10 knockdowns in his past two appearances) before a main event between Danny Garcia and Zab Judah that had Judah putting forth far more competitive an effort than some expected. (Khan-Diaz was then shown on tape delay to conclude the broadcast).

Thanks to Internet feeds and DVR, this past weekend brought plenty of bang for our bucks, all without an additional $60 to $70 on our cable bills.

2.  Amir Khan will never be Wladimir Klitschko.

Klitschko once needed rebuilding himself, needed to overcome his defensive flaws and shaky chin, which had collectively proven to be his Achilles’ heel despite his physical gifts. The rebuilding worked. Nine years have passed since Klitschko was last knocked out. He is a dominant heavyweight champion.

A similar transformation might never occur with Khan.

Khan, like Klitschko, has lost three times: a first-round knockout against Breidis Prescott, a close and controversial split decision defeat against Lamont Peterson, and a stoppage loss to Danny Garcia. He also was badly wobbled by Marcos Maidana but survived en route to a victory.

Khan is only two fights removed from the Garcia loss, and has only had two fights under trainer Virgil Hunter. For all of his talents, however, the flaws remain so far. Against Julio Diaz this past Saturday, Khan once again left himself vulnerable to far too many flush punches, and once again he was hurt, knocked down and forced into survival mode. He beat Diaz, but the bout was much more difficult than it needed to be, and the decision was much too close for comfort.

That doesn’t mean we should write Khan off. While he very well could end up being knocked out again soon, he makes for fun fights. The inevitable cracking of his chin only adds drama to the action.

Klitschko’s successful rebuilding made him so much better than his opponents that many of his fights have been boring. Khan’s inability so far to improve doesn’t bode well for him, but it’s great for us.

3.  With that said, it’s completely silly for Golden Boy Promotions to in essence position Khan as a “grand prize opponent” for the winner of its unofficial tournament at 140 pounds, which saw Danny Garcia topping Zab Judah this past weekend, and will have Lucas Matthysse facing Lamont Peterson this May. Khan reportedly will not be fighting again until December.

It is easy to bristle about the fact that Khan’s past two fights have come against Diaz and the undersized Carlos Molina, all while the other top junior welterweights face far more difficult opposition. It’s a silly reality, but it’s also smart. Khan brings British money to the table. There will either be a lucrative rematch with Garcia or Peterson, or a battle with what would be a rising star in Matthysse.

Sometimes we just need to accept that boxing will be run as a business, not merely as a sport. We will know who the best boxer is at 140 pounds before he ever steps into the ring with Khan. The Khan fight will merely be his next outing — and one last chance for Amir.

4.  I didn’t see James Toney’s unanimous decision loss this past weekend to an undefeated Australian heavyweight named Lucas Browne.

I didn’t need to.

We’ve long known that Toney was done as a contender, that he was carrying on with this charade because he is a proud fighter who just cannot admit that his time in the sport is over.

Toney lost a wide unanimous decision. It almost would have been better had he been knocked out instead — something that has never happened to him in his 87-fight career.

Toney is turning 45 this August. He is approaching his 25th anniversary as a pro boxer. There’s no need for him to continue on. The Klitschko brothers haven’t been avoiding him, not when Toney hasn’t done anything to earn a shot.

He won’t ever earn that shot. He can’t anymore. There’s no shame in that. But there’s no reason to continue fighting. These losses won’t tarnish his legacy, but they could endanger his enjoyment of his eventual retirement.

5.  Victor Ortiz lasted longer than every other male boxer ever to appear on “Dancing with the Stars” — though it would still be difficult to conclude that he did better than them.

Ortiz was eliminated last week after six weeks on the show, the fifth contestant out. This wasn’t much of a surprise. He hadn’t done too well in a majority of his performances, and he never had much support from the viewing (and voting) audience. Ortiz isn’t a big boxing star, and his sometimes-awkward personality likely didn’t do much to win the non-boxing public over.

There was only one round in which he wasn’t in danger of being eliminated. Nevertheless, good for him. He put himself out there in front of millions each week, increased his name recognition out in the mainstream, and got paid to perform without taking any punches to the face.

He lasted longer than Evander Holyfield, who was the second contestant eliminated in his season; Sugar Ray Leonard, who was the third to be eliminated in his season; and Floyd Mayweather, who was the fourth to be eliminated in his season. Laila Ali remains the best boxer yet to appear on the show. She made it to the finale of her season and finished in third place.

6.  Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson’s stint as a boxing promoter suffered another blow nine days ago, when Panamanian featherweight Celestino Caballero returned to the ring after 16 months away and proceeded to drop a split decision to a 17-9 fighter named Robinson Castellanos.

Of the rest of the stars in his stable:

Billy Dib lost his featherweight title in March to Evgeny Gradovich.

Andre Dirrell returned in February from his own long layoff, winning his bout — but then dropped out of an April appearance on ESPN2’s “Friday Night Fights.”

Yuriorkis Gamboa, meanwhile, will fight Darley Perez on June 8 on HBO.

It’s been an inauspicious start for 50 Cent. That doesn’t necessarily mean his hopes for success are dead in the water. In this sport, it only takes one opportunity for one of his fighters, or for one signing to develop from a promising prospect into a capable contender.

If he can produce a winner, and if he can get airtime and big paydays for his boxers, then future signings could come. Of course, the problem he will continue to confront is that there are other promoters who have far more sway than him, and far more proven track records.

7.  A nice gesture from Adrien Broner last week, with the lightweight titleholder donating a new ring, gloves and headgear to the Cincinnati gym where he got his start, according to a press release posted on several boxing websites.

Given the amount of money that Broner earns, it was a small gesture on his part that will mean a lot to the boxers who will benefit from it.

Broner’s shtick and alleged misbehavior has brought him several negative headlines. This is something positive for which he deserves plenty of credit.

Professional prizefighters and promoters have the wherewithal and, frankly, an obligation to support the amateur system. The boxers themselves would not necessarily have careers if not for these coaches and community centers. And with a strong amateur program, promoters will have more (and better) prospects that someday could end up in their stables.

But beyond that, these gyms are often an oasis from the turmoil of troubled childhoods and neighborhoods — and many of these boxing programs need financial assistance just to stay open.

8.  Speaking of struggling amateur boxing programs, we should pay close attention to where the International Amateur Boxing Association, or AIBA, puts its biennial world championship tournament in 2015.

According to an Associated Press report last week, AIBA has received bids from Qatar, Russia, Thailand, Vanuatu and Venezuela.

This year’s junior world championships will be held in Ukraine this August, with the world championship tournament taking place in Kazakhstan in October.

AIBA needs to pick a country that is both accessible and affordable, or the host nation needs to pay for transportation and lodging.

9.  Boxers Behaving Badly: Masamori Tokuyama — a retired fighter who twice was the lineal champion in the 115-pound division — was arrested in Japan last week after allegedly assaulting two men at a gas station, according to The Japan Times.

The 38-year-old “punched a 24-year-old man who turned his vehicle in front of the former champion after exiting the gas station,” the article said. “He also punched a 53-year-old manager of the station, who had been guiding the man’s vehicle onto the street.”

Tokuyama won the lineal championship in 2000 with a decision win over In-Joo Cho. He then won eight title defenses, including two victories over Gerry Penalosa. His reign came to an abrupt end, though, when Katsushige Kawashima knocked him out in the first round in June 2004.

Tokuyama avenged that defeat and regained the championship by outpointing Kawashima 13 months later. He fought once more, taking a decision over Jose Navarro in 2006 and then retiring with a record of 32-3-1 (8 knockouts).

10.  It’s fitting that alcoholic drink Jägermeister has donated $50,000 to the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame.

After all, there’s nothing like a good shot to the liver…

“Fighting Words” appears every Monday on David P. Greisman is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Follow David on Twitter @fightingwords2 or send questions/comments via email at [email protected]

Tags: Sergio Martinez image  
User Comments and Feedback (Register For Free To Comment) Comment by Alpha & Omega on 04-29-2013

I would say a little bit of both. People need to understand that boxers who rely more on speed, reflexes and athleticism as opposed to actual skill and fundamentals go downhill fast once their reflexes slow down. RJJ and Pac…

Comment by PRchamp on 04-29-2013

Sergio needs to go down to 154 and fight Canelo. Martinez will beat the living **** out of Canelo and end the hypejob, Martinez was never a 160 fighter to begin with. I want to see Martinez to fight Canelo…

Comment by Ringlife on 04-29-2013

I think it was a bad night and a bad sign the way he was getting hit way to much agains't Murray.

Comment by deanrw on 04-29-2013

Martinez in much like Roy Jones Jr was, in the way he is heavily dependant on his reflexes. Once they slow down a notch, his entire game will start to unravel and do so quickly as opponents will be able…

Comment by KickAzz on 04-29-2013

its a bad sign, not a bad night... better cash out soon

Post a Comment - View More User Comments (35)
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