The night Sergio Martinez stopped Archak TerMeliksetian in June 2008 at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Connecticut it served as his official emergence as a legitimate threat.
Martinez became the #1 contender to Sergio Mora, who would go on to lift the WBC 154-pound belt from Vernon Forrest later that night. I was ringside that evening and served as one of the Showtime press row judges.
What I remember most about Martinez that night is that he was a swift and adept boxer with adroit foot movement and wonderful moves from the southpaw stance. At the time I wrote: He’s not a big puncher but he’s consistent and he has a great variety of punches. He’s busy, has great footwork and seems to have lots of energy. Martinez has only ever lost to Antonio Margarito and that was eight years ago on the Morales vs. Barrera I undercard. At 5’11” tall, Martinez is a southpaw who has good looks and is a happy performer in the mode of Manny Pacquiao. The only real weakness I see is his defense, as he seems a little lackadaisical at what’s coming back at him and he takes chances that he doesn’t have to take. Martinez has that little hop in his step that reminds me of the young Roberto Duran and he really connected with the fans the other night as he stood on the apron of the ring after stopping “The Shark” and soaked up the adulation of the crowd.
The other thing that I remember about that night is Lou DiBella, who had recently begun working as Martinez’ promoter. Immediately after the fight was over, a beaming DiBella stood in front of press row and bellowed: “That’s my next world champion!”
How correct DiBella turned out to be. Not only did “Maravilla” Martinez later win the interim WBC 154-pound title, but he also went on to annex the middleweight championship from Kelly Pavlik in a great fight. He split two bouts with Paul Williams in which he scored the knockout of the year in the second fight. In 2010, the Boxing Writers Association of America named him their Fighter of the Year. Martinez has also landed himself a spot in the top three of the pound-for-pound rankings. All of this has taken place in less than three years.
The only thing lacking for Martinez, who has Hollywood good looks, is a legitimate threat and a worthy adversary. The middleweight division is a wasteland of misfits, has-beens and never-weres. The only interesting fight for him in this weight division that I see is a unification match-up with WBA super-world titlist Felix Sturm.
Saturday night at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, Martinez will meet England’s “Dazzling” Darren Barker who is undefeated at 23-0 (14)KO. While Barker is the bigger guy he is woefully inexperienced. By the time he began his pro career in 2004, Martinez had already been a pro for nearly seven years and had amassed a record of 31-1-1 (13)KO.
DiBella, the lead promoter of Saturday night’s card says, “I believe Martinez is the number one fighter in the world. He’s being challenged by a young man, who has been grossly underestimated by the press – and frankly disrespected – in Darren Barker. Darren is a very good fighter, is undefeated as a pro, was a terrific amateur and he’s the European and Commonwealth champion. I think his credentials speak for themselves. I think Sergio realizes that he is in there with a real fighter and that this is a real challenge. Darren Barker has nothing to lose and Sergio has everything to lose and that makes for a very dangerous fight.”
Come Saturday, we’ll all see if Barker has bitten off more than he can chew.
Final comment on Mayweather vs. Ortiz
Let me say that an overweight, 66 year-old man eligible to collect Social Security benefits does not belong in the ring officiating world class boxers. The only contest that referee Joe Cortez should be presiding over is a game of lawn darts at a family reunion.
Quite simply, “fair but firm” Cortez lost control of the bout. Firstly, he did not properly mandate that Floyd Mayweather, Jr. remain in a neutral corner while he deducted a point from Ortiz and disciplined him for the intentional head butt. Secondly, it was never clear that the action had resumed or was about to resume. Cortez did not keep the fighters separated and there was no clear command from Cortez for the fighters to “box”.
When Mayweather clocked Ortiz with the left hook, Cortez was away from the two fighters, mumbling incoherently and looking directly at the timekeeper. By the time Mayweather loaded up and landed the coup de grace right hand that ended the night, Cortez was pictured with a stunned look on his face gazing at Ortiz as he crumbled to the canvas in a heap.
So, as far as I’m concerned, all the blame should go to the referee that lost control of the bout. Period.
T.K. Stewart has won ten Barney Awards for excellence in boxing journalism from the Boxing Writers Association of America in the past six years. Email him anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org. Friend him on facebook at http://www.facebook.com/people/TK-Stewart/1346840648 and tweet to him on twitter at http://twitter.com/#!/TK_STEWART
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