By Jake Donovan
An impromptu press conference in his native Argentina just two weeks ago provided Sergio Martinez the platform to voice out against those he believes have held him back or not yet shown him the proper respect the reigning middleweight king fully deserves.
On the other end of his rant were figures and entities such as unbeaten alphabet middleweight titlist Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. American cable giant HBO and the Mexico-based WBC sanctioning body. Martinez labeled Chavez Jr. a coward for continuing to avoid an overdue showdown, while insisting that he was done fighting for HBO and the WBC.
It remains to be seen whether or not a Martinez-Chavez Jr. showdown ever materializes, but the divorce with HBO certainly didn’t last very long. The Argentine star returns to the network on March 17 in a lineal middleweight title defense against British contender Matthew Macklin in New York City.
The reaction from his handlers indicated that HBO stood up and took notice, as a meeting was subsequently scheduled between the two sides. Whatever took place behind closed doors, Martinez and HBO were back in good graces during a Wednesday press conference in New York to promote his upcoming showdown.
“Sergio recently made some comments about HBO that we’re obviously not going to get into here,” noted DiBella, playing peacemaker for the sake of the promotion. “But the decision to have him on HBO was a no-brainer with Sergio Martinez, because without HBO there would be no Sergio Martinez.”
There would also be no Sergio Martinez without any big wins and noteworthy performances. Those moments have come in spades in recent years, including a three-fight set where he dropped a controversial split decision to Paul Williams in their Dec. ’09 classic, won the middleweight crown from Kelly Pavlik just four months later and emphatically knocked out Williams in their Nov. ’10 rematch.
The latter two entries netted Martinez universal recognition as 2010’s Fighter of the Year, yet HBO remained reluctant to give him the superstar treatment. His first showcase fight was a forced defense against unbeaten super welterweight titlist Sergei Dzinziruk in Foxwoods Casino in Mashantucket, Connecticut. Martinez won in dominant fashion, stopping the unbeaten Ukrainian in eight rounds.
More than six months later came a less-than-desirable showdown with unknown Darren Barker in front of a modest crowd in Atlantic City. The fight turned out to be surprisingly competitive before Martinez rallied late and stopped the Brit in the 11th round.
Neither fight did much to boost his popularity, nor was much marketing effort being put behind his career. These facts were not lost on Martinez when calling a press conference at the end of 2011.
The moment proved to be necessary, as HBO – which had already lost a couple of key fights and fighters to rival Showtime – didn’t want to see any more of its talent walk across the street. Hence, the St. Patrick’s Day showcase against Macklin – a British fighter of Irish-descent – in Irish-friendly New York City, which also includes Irish middleweight Andy Lee in a supporting bout.
The event marks the first step in serious efforts being made to help transform Martinez from a pound-for-pound talent to a dollar-for-dollar attraction. His sincerity and undying loyalty to the sport deserve at least that much.
“Sergio is a stand up guy. He’s the most loyal guy you will ever find,” DiBella insisted during Wednesday’s presser. “There are a zillion people who have tried to break up our team; he’s the reason we’re still together.”
One of Martinez’ more admirable traits – in addition to his fighting ability and blockbuster good looks – is the clean life he lives beyond the ropes - namely, his dedication to those who find themselves in the unfortunate position of not being able to defend themselves.
Martinez has been an outspoken advocate against domestic violence and bullying. It was touched upon during a taped pre-fight segment prior to his title defense against Barker, but was hardly a one-fight deal or something he only does for publicity.
“One of the things about boxing is that it’s about violence, but controlled violence,” DiBella noted in leading into the causes that Martinez champions. “Real men don’t hit women and children.”
What real men do is stand up and defend those who can’t defend themselves. Martinez does his best to play that part, and also reach out to the victims of such cowardly acts.
No matter how often he witnesses the effects, it still gets to him emotionally as if his first interaction.
“I go with him all of the time to the hospitals,” notes Lewcowicz, one of the sharpest eyes for talent in the sport and who brought Martinez to DiBella some four years ago. “I see him when he visits these children. Every time, he still cries in viewing all of the unfairness in the world.”
Every time Martinez steps through the ropes, he battles just not for respect, but those brave enough to stand up to those who feel the need to bully and abuse.”
“I dedicate this fight to my family and to everyone who devotes their time to combat against domestic violence,” Martinez simply stated in his lone public comments during the media session.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to [email protected]