By Jake Donovan

To everyone outside of the Pac Nation, Sergio Martinez was 2010’s Fighter of the Year.

It was an honor he earned by facing the best possible opposition and dominating each time out.

Considering his level of opposition over the past couple of years and his plan for 2011 and beyond, it’s quite clear that the reigning middleweight champion of the world has no intentions of seeking soft-touches. Promoter Lou DiBella is even on record bluntly stating Team Martinez is only interested in high profile (and high paying) assignments from now until the Argentina-born southpaw is ready to call it a career.

Given his track record, why has he become the one with which HBO now takes a hard line stance? 

With any luck, terms will be finalized for Martinez’ next fight. A date of March 12 has been reserved and he will be presumably facing Sergei Dzinziruk.

As was the case last year heading into the Williams rematch, Martinez has been presented with take-or-it-leave-it stance with the American cable giant.

Forcing the issue for last November’s bout was understandable, though it wasn’t Martinez who needed the ultimatum but instead Williams, who held out for as long as possible before finally putting ink to paper. Of course that moment didn’t come until Martinez agreed to all terms, despite the fact that he came in as the reigning champion.

Nevertheless, it was a fight that had to happen, and neither fighter had any business facing anyone other than each other on HBO’s airwaves.

Martinez-Dzinziruk is a solid matchup. But it’s not a fight that absolutely has to happen.

What does have to happen is that a fighter like Martinez is regularly showcased.

It’s true that for the money offered for any given fight that HBO airs, it’s important that it’s of the highest quality. Such has not been the case in recent years, at least not on a consistent basis.

However, Martinez isn’t part of that problem. In fact, his track record is proof enough that he’s quite possibly the most compliant fighter in the game today.

After receiving his first network showcase in late 2008 (an eighth round stoppage of Alex Bunema), the writing was on the wall that Martinez had a future as an HBO house fighter.

But all that he endured in the months that passed was heartache and hard luck.

His very next fight was a 12-round draw with Kermit Cintron on a night in which he robbed of a knockout and a decision win. After that, he was strung along waiting for a bout with Vernon Forrest to materialize. Injuries and excuses were offered for months, though Forrest’s tragic and untimely murder turned out to be the unfortunate confirmation that the fight would never happen.

If not for Kelly Pavlik bailing out on his oft-postponed date with Paul Williams, Martinez would have gone stale for the remainder of 2009 and beyond.

But the proud fighting solider that he is, Martinez stepped in on short notice, despite having to move up in weight to face a fighter like Williams, already a nightmare for which to find sufficient sparring given his physical attributes.

In a way, his 2010 campaign got off to a similar start. If not for past history, it’s possible that Pavlik and Williams could have come to terms for an April showdown. But rather than run the risk of once again being left at the altar, Williams decided to go in another direction.

Had he not, who knows when Martinez would’ve once again seen prominent airtime?

Realizing it to be the case, Martinez made the most of his opportunity, starting and ending strong to upend Pavlik for the middleweight championship.

Suddenly, a star was born – only HBO was suddenly no longer in the nurturing business.

Instead, Martinez’ loyalty and patience was rewarded with a seven-month layoff and the possibility of no fight at all had Williams decided to sit out the rest of the year.

It was thought that once Martinez knocked Williams out cold that he could finally move on with his career rather than remaining at the mercy of his in-ring rival and accompanying team.

Not so fast, said HBO.

Mandatory challenger Sebastian Zbik was rejected by the network, a decision that’s subject to debate but certainly their right. Zbik – while undefeated – is largely unknown among stateside boxing fans, which HBO believes to translate to subpar TV ratings.

Fringe contender Andy Lee was initially approved by HBO, to where the once-promising Irish boxer pulled out of a guaranteed fight on ESPN2. It turned out to be presumptuous on his part, as the network had a change of heart and without explanation changed the light from green to red.

For whatever reason, undefeated middleweight titlist Dmitry Pirog – arguably the most qualified candidate out there – never entered the equation.

Perhaps it’s a matchup that those involved want to see marinate before allowing it to materialize. But at the very least, the Russian middleweight has earned the right to fight for the lineal championship.

Dzinziruk, while a fine fighter in his own right, has not. All that he brings to the table is no different than that of Zbik – an undefeated record and an alphabet belt.

The last time the Ukrainian has fought in a contracted middleweight fight was more than a decade ago, with sprinkles of over-the-limit junior middleweight tune-ups between then and 2005, when he rose to the title level.

His five-year title reign is commendable, although it only consists of six title defenses. To date, the only credible top ten fighter he has beaten was Daniel Santos, on the night in which his title reign began.

Yet somehow, he became the difference between Martinez fighting on HBO in March or forced to take his business elsewhere.

Given its strong close to an otherwise lackluster 2010 boxing season, it’s understandable that HBO would want to finally make good on a near-decade long promise to change the way it does business.

Its purchasing of Tim Bradley-Devon Alexander and Fernando Montiel-Nonito Donaire is clear a sign as any of their newfound commitment to excellence, as is its insistence that past house favorites will no longer be granted any soft touches.

A message clearly needed to be sent to the boxing world, particularly to many of the fighters the network has willingly spoon-fed for far too long.

Only, Sergio Martinez was never the one to whom it needed to be delivered.

Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Follow Jake on Twitter at or submit questions/comments to .