Martin Murray came close to ruining middleweight champion Sergio Martinez’s homecoming party in Buenos Aires on Saturday, but fell just short. In front of more than 40,000 singing, screaming Argentine fans, Murray put forward a workmanlike effort on HBO against a champion who seemed to be at a little less than his best.
Martinez, who would complain of a broken left hand after the fight, fought through a knockdown, low blows and a bleeding eye socket to win a unanimous decision by scores of 115-112 across the board. It wasn’t the homecoming that the Argentine champ would have wanted, but he closed the fight strongly to give his adoring public what they wanted.
The man from St Helens might have had a better shot if he didn’t give away the first half of the fight through inactivity. He sheltered behind a high guard in the first three rounds, landing about a punch in each. In the meantime, Martinez was pumping his southpaw jab and landing the odd left to the body.
Murray turned up the pressure in the 4th, starting the round with a huge low blow that had this correspondent crossing his legs in sympathy. More stalking caused Martinez to complain about Murray’s headbutts to the referee. But while Martinez was going backwards, Murray still wasn’t throwing all that much and Martinez probably squeaked the round on mere activity.
The next round was unequivocally a Murray round, with Martinez’ output dropping. Rain had begun to fall in the stadium, seemingly cooling down the action as well as the fans.
In the 6th, Martinez seemed willing to go to the ropes with Murray. He was caught 30 seconds into the round and then again with a minute to go. The second time round he managed to catch Murray’s punches, prompting him to smile and wave the Englishman in again. He didn’t catch as much of that salvo.
By round 7, Murray’s pressure was beginning to tell – Martinez’s left eye socket was a mess and he was eating straight right hands at a rate of knots. In the 8th, one such right hand caught Martinez off balance, sending the champ to the canvas. Up quickly with a sheepish smile, it was clear to all that a real fight had broken out in Buenos Aires.
But Martinez regained some composure in the 9th, with his right hand up-jab keeping Murray in place. The rally was brief, though, as Martinez went to the canvas again in the 10th, legs tangled like a baby giraffe. Martinez didn’t look so flash as he pulled himself up in the corner, but demonstrated his famous second wind, sweeping the last two rounds.
In fact, it was only in the final round that the crowd got something to cheer about, with Martinez pinning the visitor against the ropes and unleashing salvo after salvo of punches. The hometown hero jumped on the corner post and basked in the crowd’s deafening adulation at the final bell.
The scores were about right, though more observers had the fight 114-113 than 115-112. Murray can leave South America with his head held high. Martinez, meanwhile, looks more vulnerable than ever. While he was ever thus, at 38 Martinez’s herky-jerky style leaves him susceptible to both patient counter punchers and effective pressure artists.
It’s been fun while it lasted, but I don’t think Martinez will be middleweight champion of the world for that much longer. I doubt that matters in Buenos Aires tonight, though.