Paul Williams-Sergio Martinez II: That’s more like it. Way, way, way more like it.
It’s no secret that boxing is having a pretty terrible year, but Williams-Martinez II represents a meaningful thaw in the permafrost that is the tundra of 2010. Even when 2010 has had its good moments, something’s turned around and screwed it all up. It’s wonderful that we’ve had two Fight of the Year nominees of late (Giovanni Segura-Ivan Calderon, Ricky Burns-Roman Martinez) bouts for two true championship belts (Segura-Calderon, Jean Pascal-Chad Dawson) and a couple nice fights recently signed for December (Showtime’s bantamweight tournament, Amir Khan-Marcos Maidana). Beginning this week, though, we have to put up with a solid month and a half of no truly important fights at all, a stretch that includes the postponement and limbofication of Andre Ward-Andre Dirrell, which was a key bout in the wonderful Super Six tournament that now is on shaky ground.
But Williams-Martinez II, that makes up for plenty. No, not for us losing out on Manny Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather, not by a long shot. But Williams-Martinez II is that rare fight that is both extremely meaningful and likely to feature tremendous action, since it’s a rematch of one of 2009’s best battles. This is the kind of fight that makes boxing fans put up with all the suffering.
I rank Williams the third-best fighter in the world, regardless of weight. I rank Martinez seventh, and he’s the Ring magazine lineal middleweight champion of the world. Everyone in the world who maintains a pound-for-pound list has both men in their top 10. They’re very accomplished fighters, in other words. Both have been ducked by other fighters in their career, Williams because he’s a half-human/half-condor southpaw who never stops throwing and Martinez because he’s a slick, fast, crafty counterpuncher who’s like Loki on wheels.
Their first bout was a brutal work of art, a musical composition in movements with blood. To this day, fans debate who won, although Williams got the official nod. We at TQBR deemed it the best fight of 2009, and I count it as one of the highlights of my short boxing writing career to have been present in Atlantic City for it, and plan to return to AC for the rematch.
It wasn’t an easy fight to put together. Williams wanted to return to welterweight — which he and his team consider his natural division — after struggling with Martinez at middleweight and Kermit Cintron at junior middleweight, and Williams’ team didn’t appear terribly interested in struggling with Martinez again. Before agreeing to a rematch with Williams, Martinez’ team was interested in a less difficult match on HBO after winning the middleweight strap from Kelly Pavlik.
Here’s where HBO gets some love. I know I’m supposed to hate everything they do, but I don’t — just some of it. If HBO doesn’t throw money at Williams-Martinez II, and if it doesn’t insist on that fight for Martinez, Williams-Martinez II doesn’t happen. That’s right, folks. The evil empire, playing the promoter’s role of matchmaker, is directly responsible for giving us one of the best fights in boxing, in every sense of the word “best.”
There will be some griping about the 157 pound catchweight, and I can understand that. Nobody likes catchweights, but if it’s what I have to swallow to get this fight, I can live with it. Williams’ team has some cause for thinking he isn’t a full-blown middleweight, given his recent struggles with fighters who aren’t as naturally slender as he is. Their insistence on a catchweight is understandable, although not preferable.
Given each man’s recent form, I’m inclined to think Martinez is likely to emerge victorious in the do-over. Whoever takes the win, I hope the loser doesn’t get mistreated by the fans. If Williams loses, it will be to a man likely more suited to the division, who also happens to be a tough match-up for everyone in the sport. If Martinez loses, it will be to a higher-ranked fighter who beat him the first time around.
Both sides took considerable risks to their professional standing by signing on the dotted line (and, OK, probably got paid pretty well to do so, but still). As fans, we ought to be grateful that two of boxing’s best are meeting in what is almost certain to be an exciting fight. It’s not the kind of thing that occurs very often in the year 2010.