I couldn’t have been more worried for Sergio Martinez when the scorecards were about to be announced Saturday on HBO after a fight I had him clearly winning. Middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik was the adopted hometown fighter in Atlantic City and the Argentian Martinez had been robbed of a victory once on U.S. soil against Kermit Cintron and got edged on the cards in a brawl with Paul Williams. But the judges rightly rewarded Martinez with a unanimous decision in a fight where he showed his speed, smarts and tactical risk-taking were superior to Pavlik’s strength, come-forward style and better-than-expected boxing. It was a really dramatic and entertaining bout if not an action-packed one, with Martinez winning the early rounds easily only for Pavlik to get a feel for Martinez and impose his size in the middle rounds before Martinez exploded late. Finally, the marquee win was Martinez’. Now, those who hadn’t considered him a pound-for-pound player before — and I was one of them — have to rethink that.
Super middleweight Lucian Bute on the undercard knocked out Edison Miranda as expected, but he showed one-punch power once more for those who consider him a boxer who sometimes scores knockouts.
LUCIAN BUTE-EDISON MIRANDA
There’s nothing at all surprising about this outcome, but the way it unfolded was somewhat interesting. Bute was outboxing Miranda for the most part — I thought they split the first two rounds — but Miranda was looking as though he was much-improved, as promised, under the tutelage of Joe Goossen. He was backing up, unusual for a pure puncher, and firing decent counter rights from behind a turtle-shell defense.
In the 3rd, Bute was dialing in his body shots in particular, and Miranda kept posing like none of them were doing any damage. I suspect they were, and later, Bute said he suspected the same. Moments after Miranda’s latest pose (hands on hips, standing erect), Bute connected with a head-snapping right uppercut that put Miranda down, and when he rose, he wasn’t steady enough to continue. So, points to Miranda for fighting smarter early, but minus points for fighting stupid and making a show of how he couldn’t be hurt only to get hurt seconds later.
Bute’s in a weird position because there’s not much out there for him, since he’s not participating in Showtime’s super middleweight tournament. It’s why he ended up with Miranda to begin with. Pavlik became a less interesting option after tonight, too. The talk in the ring afterward was of Bernard Hopkins, and honestly, I don’t know that it’s any worse than any other option, my view of Hopkins’ last performance notwithstanding. The other options are more fights like this, which seem a waste for a talent like Bute, who showed he’s a big puncher as well as a skillful boxer with another tremendous one-shot KO.
SERGIO MARTINEZ-KELLY PAVLIK
Martinez is now the middleweight champion of the world. It’s interesting, isn’t it? He’s probably a better junior middleweight, so I wonder what he’ll do now. We’ll get to that in a minute, though.
Martinez’ speed and movement confounded Pavlik early exactly as I expected, and then Pavlik was able to do some damage in the middle rounds, but Martinez — who’s got a real knack for being in fights that have unusual cycles — rallied late. I gave Martinez the first four, then gave Pavlik the 5th, then the 6th to Martinez (which I regretted after seeing the punch stats), awarded the 7th and 8th to Pavlik and finally gave every other round thereafter to Martinez. Pavlik’s size appeared to be making a difference in the middle rounds, with Pavlik’s whopping 18-pound weight gain from Friday to Saturday making it so even when Martinez landed Pavlik wasn’t too bothered, although some good adjustments also factored in to things. The judges wisely saw it about right, 115-111, 116-111 and 115-112. The pivotal round was the 9th — Martinez busted Pavlik’s face up so bad with some very serious aggression that Pavlik had trouble seeing the rest of the fight.
I wouldn’t be surprised if there were people calling for Pavlik trainer Jack Loew’s head after this. I get it. I offer two counterpoints. One, I think that there were lots of smart, subtle things happening on both sides of the ring, with, for instance, Pavlik beginning to counter with his jab in the middle rounds and making it so Martinez’ lead lefts weren’t as effective; Pavlik also looked improved defensively. (On Martinez’ side, Martinez was able to throw counter rights pretty consistently, but when he had trouble in the middle rounds, he began to jab his way in, and it opened things up again.) Two, Pavlik is a fighter who has physical limitations. You simply can’t deny that he was too slow for Martinez, and it’s hard to imagine a universe where he wouldn’t be. Not only his hands; Pavlik’s plodding and slow of foot, too. I’m not saying Pavlik should or shouldn’t get rid of Loew. What I’m saying is that I’m not convinced a different trainer would have been able to help Pavlik solve this riddle.
Martinez was not the featured fighter here, but you can’t help but be impressed by him. The speed sticks out, but his stamina is amazing. He circled all night long and never really seemed to tire. He is defensively and offensively flawed, but he’s unique and that makes him difficult to fight. It’s great that he’s arrived. People will probably focus on Pavlik’s ongoing fall, and I understand why — he really was the Great White Hope there for a long while, and at 28, it’s not as though he’s not got a chance to rebound. He showed a lot of heart in a losing effort, and was classy and candid afterward about what happened; knowing thyself is important in situations like this. But I think we shouldn’t neglect what a nice fighter Martinez is, and he’ll be highly placed on my next pound-for-pound list.
Pavlik has a rematch clause and likely will exercise it. Does he do better against Martinez if his face isn’t so badly cut and bloodied that he can’t see for the last four rounds? It’s a fair question, and it’s why I’m interested in the rematch if it happens. But let’s also not forget that Martinez cut him in the very 1st round, and with his speed he’s likely to cut up Pavlik again, too. Despite the 7th round knockdown that was as much to do with Pavlik holding and hitting him as anything, Martinez held up to Pavlik’s vaunted power, which needs repeated applications to take effect, so Pavlik would need to connect a lot more on Martinez to knock him out.
The fight I covet more is Paul Williams-Martinez II, either at 154 or 160. If it has to wait, I guess it does. But it’s even more interesting now than before, when I was salivating for a rematch of a surprise Fight of the Year. Now we know it would be two of the top fighters in the world, after Martinez showed his mettle Saturday night.