Jersey Fight Journal: Sergio Martinez – Kelly Pavlik

Want to see a good fight in New Jersey? Just make your way down to Atlantic City anytime Kelly Pavlik or Sergio Martinez are in town. In 2007, Pavlik engaged in a Fight of the Year candidate with Jermain Taylor at Boardwalk Hall, the venerable AC fight establishment. Last December, Martinez engaged in the TQBR Fight of the Year with Paul Williams, losing a razor-thin decision.

On Saturday, Pavlik and Martinez lived up to the hype – while not quite Fight of the Year worthy, they engaged in an entertaining, unpredictable struggle for the middleweight title. The main event was excellent, the undercard was highly entertaining, and the ring card girls were looking good. That means it must be time for another Jersey Fight Journal.


(OK, so these weren’t our actual ring card girls, but they are a pretty fair substitute.)

6:55 – Loyal readers may remember that punctuality is not one of my strong suits and I have a tendency to miss a significant portion of opening fights because of my inability to punch a clock. That is why this card marks a Jersey Fight Journal milestone – I arrived early! I parked long before the doors opened, grabbed some Nathan’s, and milled around Boardwalk Hall picking up merchandise until heavyweights Dominick Guinn and Terrell Nelson kicked things off.

In the first round, Guinn scored a strong knockdown before the bell to end the round, landing several hard punches before dropping Terrell with an uppercut. For the next 6+ rounds, he and Terrell auditioned for a future Quiet Man Hug feature (sorry guys, but nobody cares). If Floyd Mayweather-Shane Mosley is billed as “Who R U Picking?” this fight might as well be called “Why R U Watching?” Guinn earned a TKO win against a completely uncompetitive opponent when Terrell did not answer the bell for the 8th and final round.

Why was this terrible, meaningless mismatch on the card? Why, in the name of all that is sane and reasonable, was this atrocity scheduled for eight rounds? Maybe Dan Rafael can ask Bob Arum in his next weekly chat.

7:25 – The card picked up significantly with the second bout, as undefeated junior welterweight prospect Jeremy Bryan faced once-beaten Vincent Arroyo in another eight-round affair. As the fight progressed, I was heaping praise on Bryan. Not that he looked like a world-beater of a prospect, but he did a lot of things I liked. Used his jab early and often. Opened up combinations once he got Arroyo looking for the jab. Showed solid technique and punches, knocking Arroyo’s mouthpiece out several times. Good body work mixed in.

For seven rounds, Bryan controlled the fight with this impressive array of tools. In the 8th, he learned that a fight is never over until the final bell rings. Arroyo came out aggressive and landed a huge left hook to rock Bryan. Sensing an opportunity, Arroyo capitalized, unleashing a hellacious flurry on Bryan, who Arroyo trapped helplessly on the ropes. Unable to withstand the barrage, Bryan crumbled, and the victory he had seemingly earned over the previous seven rounds had evaporated by the referee’s count of 10. Arroyo earned a stunning, memorable knockout victory, the proverbial 10-run home run, and a rematch would be welcome on a future Top Rank/DiBella card.

8:05 – Junior middleweight Ronald Hearns was up next, on the comeback trail after his knockout loss to Harry Joe Yorgey last year. He faced Delray Raines, who drew with Carson Jones in his last fight and has faced a number of contenders over the years. Hearns may not have acquired all of his father’s legendary skills but, on this night, he channeled his father’s most fearsome weapon – his powerful right hand. The fight was a tale of one punch, as Hearns threw a three-punch combination punctuated by a monstrous straight right hand that nearly decapitated Raines. I had a visceral reaction to the punch, literally jumping in my seat when it landed. Were it a higher profile fight, it may have ended up on some Knockout of the Year honorable mention lists. I was instantly concerned for Raines’ health after he crumbled, but he recovered relatively quickly. Maybe Hearns is ready for a rematch with Yorgey? Hearns may not be the talent that his father was but, on this night, he added an impressive highlight to his own career.

8:15 – Lightweight Chris Hazimihalis fought next, against Ramon Ellis, an 0-4 fighter who dropped to 0-5 in short order, as Hazimihalis scored the stoppage in the 1st round after a flurry of punches. Not much of interest here, honestly.

8:25 – We have an announced 15 minute intermission before Mike Jones shows us who he is. As I’ve been through some boxing intermissions in the past, I strongly suspect that 15 minutes is an exaggeration…

9:00 – …And I was right. After 35 minutes, we finally get the introductions for Jones and Hector Munoz, his opponent. Munoz was coming off a year-and-a-half layoff after he was stopped by Antonin Decarie in the 12th round in 2008. Jones was coming off his television debut against Henry Bruseles and his biggest name victory to date.

Jones was aggressive from the outset and effective almost immediately. His jab looked sharper than it did against Bruseles and he battered Munoz with it, using it to set up hard hooks to the body. Jones was relentless, stalking Munoz and throwing punches from all angles, not allowing his opponent to settle in. Munoz fought valiantly, trying to punch in between Jones’ flurries, but his effort outsized his success.

In the 2nd round, Jones landed a monster uppercut as the two exchanged on the inside, and I have to give Munoz more credit for his toughness. Jones was clearly a bigger and stronger fighter and he threw everything he had at the overmatched Munoz, but Munoz never backed down. Jones maintained his incredible work rate in the 3rd and 4th rounds, as Munoz began to show signs of the toll taken on him. Still, he kept coming.

As the fight progressed, it was clear that Jones would dominate every second with both punching volume and power, and it was equally clear that Munoz would not quit. In the 5th round, as Jones unloaded vicious shots without relent, the ref stepped in and waved the fight off, showing excellent judgment. We saw everything we needed to see from Jones and Munoz could have faced serious health problems were he allowed to endure such a beating for the duration. Jones faced an overmatched opponent but looked as good as I have ever seen him, showing more fire that I saw from him at times against Bruseles. I’m not sure how far Jones will go, but one way or another he will factor into the welterweight picture in the next few years. I think he is likely to earn himself a sanctioning body trinket someday, at the minimum. He could also develop into a force in the division for years to come. Time will tell.

9:25 – In the next fight, Matt Korobov faced Joshua Snyder in a middleweight bout. I’ve followed Korobov closely after seeing him in the 2008 Olympic games and I think he has tremendous potential. However, he is somewhat enigmatic; some of his performances are spectacular, while others are rather unsatisfactory. This fight would ultimately fall in the latter category.

The fighters started slowly, as Korobov showed more interest in exhibiting smooth defense than attacking in the 1st round. Ultimately, this would be the story of the fight. In the 2nd round, Korobov again exhibited excellent defense and scored a few flurries, but his punch rate was rather low and the fight was uninspired. Korobov controlled the 3rd round and the action briefly picked up in the fourth, as Snyder landed a nice combination that seemed to wake up the Russian and Korobov began to pile up punches.

In the 5th round, Korobov resumed his listless posture and Snyder took advantage, amping up his aggression. Right before the bell, Snyder landed a flush, hard right hand that seemed to stun Korobov, though the end of the round prevented a serious follow-up attack from Snyder. The 6th round was probably the best of the fight, as Korobov unloaded some of his best offense with a series of straight lefts while Snyder demonstrated increased confidence from his success in the fifth. The 7th was close but uneventful, and Korobov closed the show in the 8th with some good body work.

Korobov earned a unanimous decision but the crowd response was very mixed. He often looks like he is struggling with his identity in the ring, giving the impression that he is tentative. With his amateur pedigree and outstanding support team around him, Korobov is still on the road to success. Thus far, however, the road has been filled with more potholes than expected.

10:05 – Glen Tapia takes on James Winchester in a four-round swing bout before the main event. Tapia comes out with his trademark aggression, creating a buzz in the crowd and a look of concern on Winchester’s face. Tapia works the body well in the 1st round. In the 2nd, a tremendous left hook from Tapia drops Winchester, and Tapia tried to end the fight after Winchester rose. Winchester showed a very solid chin, eating several hard, flush shots after the knockdown but staying on his feet. Tapia continued his control of the fight in the 3rd but Winchester would not go away. In the 4th, Winchester showed life, slugging it out in exchanges but ultimately coming up short. Tapia earned a unanimous decision and got some rounds under his belt. Tapia’s style certainly endeared him to the crowd.

10:40 – Before we get to the main event, I have a bone to pick. To the couple that sat in front of me – directly in the view between me and the ring, in fact – please do your best to refrain from making out shamelessly (and tirelessly; seriously, they were all over each other for hours) the next time you go to a fight. Is that really the venue for you to express your love for one another? While thousands of people cheer two men punching each other in the face? I felt like I was in the middle of the Seinfeld Schindler’s List episode. You’re better than that. And even if you’re not, we don’t want to see it.

10:50 – Sergio Martinez made his way to the ring, then the crowd went ballistic for Kelly Pavlik. While the atmosphere didn’t quite match what I remember from Pavlik-Taylor I, it felt pretty damn close.

The crowd buzzed through the fighter announcements, with a mix of cheers and boos for Martinez and a rousing ovation for Pavlik. The excitement was palpable through the referee’s instructions as the first bell rang.

Rather than give a rundown of the action, which I’m sure most of you saw on HBO, I’ll run down my impressions throughout the fight. The strengths and weaknesses of the fighters were so apparent from the opening bell that I felt like I was watching John Stockton against Karl Malone in NBA Jam. Sergio came out moving, and Pavlik came out jabbing and stalking. I did not see Martinez cut Pavlik in the 1st, but I could see the corner working on his eye on the monitors above the ring. (As an aside, Boardwalk Hall needs new monitors ASAP – the ones they have are not even HD and, frankly, they looked like crap.) Sergio was very impressive early with his straight left to the body, a punch I thought was key to his success. Pavlik was able to land some hard straight right hands over the first few rounds but Sergio usually responded like a real fighter, digging right back in with his laser lefts. I thought most of the early rounds were close; while I gave most of them to Sergio, I think I gave Pavlik the 3rd as I felt he cut off the ring well and his straight rights were the best punches of the round. Other than that, I thought Sergio edged three of the first four rounds, though each man had his moments in the 4th.

Pavlik gained momentum and I thought his right hand was starting to pay dividends as the fight moved into the 5th. Martinez looked like he slowed down a little, though he was still far faster than the plodding Pavlik. Pavlik also showed good timing in the 5th and 6th, landing jabs while Martinez was helpless. The knockdown in the 7th looked like a slip to a lot of the guys sitting around me, but I thought he landed a punch and the replay justified that. Still, it had more to do with Martinez being off balance than Pavlik landing a devastating blow.

After the 8th, I had the fight 5-3 for Pavlik in rounds, meaning I had him up three points with the knockdown. Apparently, I was giving Pavlik more credit than most, but I didn’t feel my score was out of line. To me, this just accentuates how hard it is to score a fight, and how – despite being guilty of it myself in the past – we need to be very careful when criticizing judges. A different opinion of just one or two rounds can swing a fight, and a difference in scoring does not necessarily correlate to one side being incompetent. Boxing is often a subjective sport with objective results, which can both heighten drama and lead to a lot of unnecessary rancor when opinions are not shared. I love the sport for the former, and could do with less of the latter.

The 9th was arguably the most thrilling round of the fight and was inarguably the final turning point. When Martinez opened up the cuts on Pavlik and then attacked his vulnerable opponent, the crowd roared. Pavlik, to his credit, showed great resolve, landing significant blows in the round, but Martinez was relentless. The crowd was electrified and so was Martinez, and with Pavlik unable to see Sergio’s left hand, the situation was dire for the champ. Martinez outworked, outboxed, and dominated Pavlik in the championship rounds, despite Pavlik’s gritty, determined effort.

Going into the final round, I had the fight even on points and, like Tim, I was already dreading questionable scores from the judges (yes, I’m pretty being hypocritical based on my earlier caution of criticizing judges, but I contain multitudes). Amazingly, as Sergio battered Pavlik in the final round, he made a gesture with his glove to the crowd that was cheered. Credit to Pavlik’s fans and the Boardwalk Hall crowd for saluting Martinez’s masterful effort.

I have now seen the middleweight championship defended twice at Boardwalk Hall, and twice the championship changed hands in excellent fights. As Martinez prepares for his middleweight reign, he may want to think twice about defending the title in Atlantic City, at least if he wants to keep it. Hopefully, he ignores my advice so I can enjoy another night of outstanding action.


About Tim Starks

Tim is the founder of The Queensberry Rules and co-founder of The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board ( He lives in Washington, D.C. He has written for the Guardian, Economist, New Republic, Chicago Tribune and more.