By Jake Donovan
The placement of a comma in a three word sentence is the difference between an exclamation and the realization of the inevitable.
For now, promoter Lou DiBella’s thoughts on his thoroughbred, middleweight king Sergio Martinez facing an undefeated titlist from Russia is an exclamation not fit for print – “F**k Dmitry Pirog.”
But as long as that fighter continues to win, the boxing landscape could eventually reach a point where his stance is altered to “F**k, Dmitry Pirog.”
While Javier Francisco Maciel is no world beater, the Argentinean middleweight is a serviceable enough opponent to properly gauge just how well Pirog can fight.
What Maciel found out is that the kid can fight very well.
Pirog (18-0, 15KO) showcased his entire arsenal in easily outpointing Maciel (18-2, 12KO) on Saturday in Ekaterinburg, Russia.
Scores were 115-111, 115-112 and 117-112.
It wasn’t a performance that will make anyone reconsider who is the best middleweight in the world. That honor will belong to Martinez until he retires or someone beats him in a fight that takes place at or around the 160 lb. limit.
It wasn’t even a performance that will make anyone what Martinez has recently accomplished, including a dominant eighth round knockout of Sergiy Dzinziruk earlier this month.
What the fight did provide, however, was the ability to generate interest towards a possible future showdown between the two middleweights.
Prior to last July, Pirog was hardly on anyone’s radar. His own title shot was instead viewed by those with an uninformed opinion as an for Daniel Jacobs to cherry pick his way towards scooping up a belt without actually earning it.
Those who had actually seen Pirog beforehand gave the Russian a very good chance of providing a stiff test, if not winning outright. He did just that and in emphatic fashion, controlling the action for as long as it lasted before knocking out Jacobs in the fifth round of their pay-per-view preliminary bout.
It wasn’t the desired result for Golden Boy – Jacobs’ promoter – or HBO, whom distributed the pay-per-view event. The network went out of its way to disrespect Pirog and what he accomplished, not even bothering to interview him after the fight, and not even taking his name into consideration for future fights on its airwaves.
In fact, the very title he won that night – and defended for the first time against Maciel on Saturday – became vacant because Martinez was forced to vacate. Pirog had served as his mandatory challenger, but was deemed by HBO as an unfit opponent.
Martinez and DiBella had expressed its blind loyalty to HBO, and agreed to dump the belt in order to remain in its good graces.
Meanwhile, Pirog went cold after scoring the biggest win of his career, becoming the latest in a long line of high-risk, low-reward fighters at that level.
Thanks to the efforts of ESPN, Pirog was given the opportunity to fight in front of an audience beyond his native Russia. His fight with Maciel – his first in eight months - was streamed live on ESPN3.com, reminding worldwide audiences just exactly what he is capable of in the ring when given the chance.
Missing from the fight was the “Oh s(p)it” factor that came with his knockout of Jacobs last summer. There were no knockdowns in this bout, also no doubt as to the eventual outcome.
Maciel put up a fight when he felt like it, but also made it clear that he had no intentions of getting knocked out. The earmuffs would go up anytime Pirog went on the attack, a smart move by Maciel but also minimizing what he was able to accomplish on offense – not that he was very effective when he did let his hands go.
Part of what had people buzzing about Pirog was his ability to switch gears on a dime. The Russian has the ability to go between offense and defense without missing a beat, and also without fighting in reverse in order to avoid the incoming. Effective use of the shoulder roll always leaves him in position to counter after slipping nearly everything thrown in his direction, although Maciel did enjoy minor success when throwing to the body.
The only hiccup came in the early going, Pirog was a little slow coming out of the gate, and also repeatedly checked his head for blood after a clash of heads occurred in the second round.
Once he bit down and settled into a groove, it was smooth sailing the rest of the way. Pirog dodged head shots and immediately fired back with combinations of his own. Whenever Maciel played peek-a-boo defense, Pirog had the wherewithal to target the body.
All told, it was a steady performance by the undefeated Russian, who continues to gain momentum in the media given the current middleweight landscape.
Martinez is being groomed for something of a gimme defense later this summer after enduring a grueling schedule over the past two years. His past five fights have come against Kermit Cintron, Paul Williams, Kelly Pavlik, Williams again and then Dzinziruk earlier this year. Few if anyone at all in the sport can claim a tougher schedule over that same period, so a tune-up is certainly in order.
However, his handlers are also eying a third fight later in the year. Talks for now speak of the possibility of his headlining a pay-per-view, though that would be a considerable risk considering that Martinez – as talented as he is – is not yet the type of fighter that can carry a show on his own and expect to generate eye-popping ratings.
For the moment, Pirog is barely scratching the surface on the cult level. As long as such remains the case, then promoters like DiBella can continue explicitly dismiss the thought of facing him anytime soon, since such a fight will require a considerable financial investment by whomever is interested.
But as long as Pirog keeps winning and is given the opportunity to prove his worth in regards to relevant middleweight fights, then it will be that much harder to continue to keep him on the outside looking in.
Perhaps ‘just’ winning won’t change what those same detractors continue to say about him, but it certainly change the manner in which it’s said.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to [email protected].