Martinez rolls with the punches

Tue, 08 Mar 15:50:00 2011

There is no boxer in the world not named Manny Pacquiao who has put on more enthralling fights over the last two years than middleweight champion Sergio Martinez.

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His 2009 match with Paul Williams was the Yahoo! Sports Fight of the Year. The rematch in 2010 was, arguably, the year’s finest knockout. In addition, Martinez engaged in memorable battles with Kermit Cintron and Kelly Pavlik and is ranked third in the Yahoo! Sports Top 10.

His reward? Getting stripped of the title belts he won in the ring and given an opponent against whom it is virtually impossible to look good in an HBO bout that is going head-to-head with a Top Rank pay-per-view.

Martinez should be meeting Miguel Cotto, who is headlining the pay-per-view card on Saturday in Las Vegas. A Martinez-Cotto match would have been a meaningful event that would have created a buzz and made everyone in the industry take notice.

What should happen and what does happen in boxing, sadly, are usually diametrically opposed.

Instead, what we have on Saturday is a pair of main events about which no one is particularly thrilled.

Martinez will meet unbeaten Sergiy Dzinziruk in the main event of an HBO card at the Foxwoods Resort in Mashantucket, Conn., while Cotto will fight the forgettable Ricardo Mayorga in Las Vegas for the World Boxing Association super welterweight belt.

Dzinziruk is a far more credible opponent than Mayorga, whose bluster long ago became a stale, tired act. Dzinziruk is 37-0 with 23 knockouts, and is a credible opponent from a talent standpoint.

Martinez’s promoter, Lou DiBella, has an astute boxing mind and knows full well the challenge that Dzinziruk presents.

“Technically, he is one of the best I’ve seen,” DiBella said of Dzinziruk. “The kid is very sound. This is his toughest fight and probably the toughest fighter Sergio has faced. Sergiy isn’t well known here, but he is the top 154-pounder. It’s a terribly difficult fight for Sergio, but it’s what he wants.”

Dzinziruk is the king of ugly fights and Martinez, who is hoping to land a bout with either Pacquiao or Floyd Mayweather Jr., can’t be thrilled by having to fight someone who is going to make him look bad. Somewhere around the fourth round in most Dzinziruk fights, checking out the special value of the day on QVC seems like a better option.

Dzinziruk is the polar opposite of a television fighter. He won’t get into a shootout with Martinez. He’ll fight at a measured pace, keeping defense foremost in his mind, and rarely, if ever, take a risk. He’ll try to frustrate Martinez and counter him when Martinez makes a mistake.

It’s a smart way to win a fight, but it’s hardly the way to win a television audience.

And, frankly, it’s quite puzzling why Martinez finds himself fighting an opponent like Dzinziruk, who is being massively overpaid by HBO. In order to finalize the Timothy Bradley-Devon Alexander fight, one of the concessions HBO made to Bradley promoter Gary Shaw was to guarantee Dzinziruk a fight on its air. It paid an astronomical $850,000 to land Dzinziruk, which would look like a good deal only if Dzinziruk turns out to be the next Marvin Hagler.

It’s a lot more likely he’ll turn out to be the next Yuri Foreman, though.

Nonito Donaire and Fernando Montiel, a pair of exciting, talented, television-friendly fighters who were each ranked in the Yahoo! Sports Top 10 at the time of their Feb. 19 bantamweight title fight, made $250,000 less combined than Dzinziruk will make on Saturday.

And that, ladies and gentleman, is a major reason why HBO’s boxing programming has come under so much fire and why its ratings are in decline. It’s spending an inordinate amount of money on a guy the odds say won’t make a compelling fight to watch.

Martinez, though, has played the good soldier and hasn’t complained, speaking of knocking Dzinziruk out. However, Martinez understands full well the arduous task that lays ahead.

“Like Lou said, he wants me to knock this boy out,” Martinez said. “However, people don’t know the quality of this champ [and how difficult it is] to knock him out. I need to do the job and I’m ready to fight, whether I knock him out or go the distance.”

The World Boxing Council middleweight belt that Martinez won when he defeated Pavlik last year won’t be at stake because the WBC stripped him of it.

Why, you ask? Well, Martinez wanted to keep the belt, badly. And so, when the WBC made Sebastian Zbik its No. 1 contender, Martinez wanted to fight him. Problem was, HBO wouldn’t approve Zbik as an opponent and, since HBO is putting up the money for his purse, Martinez did as HBO wanted and passed on Zbik.

So, the WBC stripped Martinez and ordered Zbik to meet Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., whose main qualification in fighting for the middleweight title is the fact that his father is going into the Hall of Fame in June.

And then, wouldn’t you know it? HBO is suddenly interested in a Chavez-Zbik fight and may broadcast it in June for the title that was swiped from Martinez.

HBO, of course, is trying to appease Chavez Jr. promoter Bob Arum. Arum took Pacquiao to Showtime for his May 7 bout with Shane Mosley while HBO executives were asleep at the switch.

Pacquiao is one of two cash cows in boxing, along with Mayweather Jr., and HBO would desperately like to get him back. As a result, it’s going to great lengths to play nice with Arum, Pacquiao’s promoter, with whom it has had a decidedly frigid relationship in recent years.

Stuck in the middle of this morass is Martinez, one of the most talented and most exciting fighters in the world.

Hopefully, Martinez will buck the odds and make the fight with Dzinziruk one to remember.

I wouldn’t count on it, though.

The way things are going, if Martinez wins this one, I wouldn’t be surprised if the next time out he has to fight with one hand tied behind his back.

Kevin Iole / Yahoo

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