Boardwalk Empire: Sergio Martinez KO's Paul Williams
It was there that in December, even as he lost a disputed, non-title clash of southpaws to former three-time titlist Paul Williams in a fight where both boxers were down in the first round, Martinez left his adversary requiring stitches for lacerations around both eyes.
Martinez's stock rose even in defeat.
In April, Martinez dethroned Kelly Pavlik as WBC middleweight (160 pounds) champion by unanimous decision, even though he was out-weighed, 178-to-167, by fight time by a man who was seven years his junior.
Interest grew in Martinez, whose performance against Pavlik not only thrust him into the top 10, pound-for-pound, lists of a number of media outlets, but also made him a candidate for lucrative bouts opposite six-time titlist, Floyd Mayweather (41-0, 25 KOs), five-time champion Shane Mosley (46-6-1, 39 KOs), and, former belt-holder, Antonio Margarito (38-7, 27 KOs), the latter of whom knocked Martinez out in the seventh round in February of 2000.
Mosley, who was coming off of a loss to Mayweather after having stopped Margarito in the ninth round, turned down an offer from Martinez's promoter, Lou DiBella, of a 60-40 split in favor of Mosley "because he would have gotten murdered" by Martinez, DiBella contends.
After Martinez's performance in Saturday night's HBO televised rematch with Williams, it is hard to argue with DiBella's assertion.
Martinez felled the 6-foot-2 Williams like a tree with a single, crushing left hook, knocking him cold at 1:10 of the second round in the first defense of his WBC title before a stunned crowd of 5,502 at Boardwalk Hall.
The sudden end came when both fighters were trying to land left hooks. When Martinez's got there first, with a thud against Williams' lower, right jaw, its concussive force had Williams' eyes rolling long before he had pitched face forward onto the canvas where he lay motionless for about 45 seconds.
"This is the way that the cookie crumbles," said Williams. "He just caught me with a shot that I didn't see. That's the end of the story."
Referee Earl Morton knelt down and reached the count of seven before waving the fight off, even as Martinez donned a golden crown, ran toward a neutral corner, climbed the ropes and thrust his hands skyward in a jubilant celebration.
"This is like a dream. This is just the product of hard work and being in sports all of my life. I get paid to put on a good show, and that's what I do," said Martinez (46-2-2, 25 knockouts), who began his athletic career with his feet as a former cyclist and soccer player, didn't start boxing until the age of 20, and, at 35-years-old, continued to defy his age against the 29-year-old Williams (39-2, 27 KOs).
"This is the third time that Martinez has fought here at the Boardwalk Hall. He has fought Williams here twice, and he fought Pavlik here, and he's the greatest fighter that I have had the privledge of promoting," said DiBella during the post-fight press conference where he also called Martinez's effort a "Fighter of the Year" type of showing.
"It's also nice to see a guy who is Argentinian by birth, who has fought out of Spain, and who is reminding everybody what the American dream is all about," said DiBella. "A couple of years ago, no one knew who this guy was. And now, I believe that he is the greatest fighter in the world."
Martinez hopes to create demand for a potential match-up with Mayweather or WBO welterweight (147 pounds) titlist Manny Pacquiao (52-3-1, 38 KOs), who is coming off of last week's unanimous decision win over Margarito that earned him the WBC junior middleweight (154 pounds) crown that was vacated by Martinez. It was Pacquiao's eighth championship over as many weight divisions.
"Manny Pacquiao is too small. It would be a mismatch. I don't believe that it will ever happen," said Martinez, who wore Reyes gloves against Williams, which are considered to be conducive to scoring knockouts. "But Floyd Mayweather? Most likely, that would be a fight that we could make. He's a great fighter, and I would love to do it."
Martinez's manager, Sampson Lewkowicz, went even further.
"Sergio would never fight Manny Pacquiao," said Lewkowicz, "because [Martinez] would knock him out."
There is also an outside chance that Martinez could face Russian WBO middleweight champion Dmitry Pirog (17-0, 14 KOs), who is coming off of July's fifth-round knockout of Daniel Jacobs (20-1, 17 KOs) that earned him the crown that was vacated by Martinez.
"I'm hoping that it will not be so hard to find me a challenger," said Martinez. "I'm hoping that HBO will help me to find another one."
DiBella, for now, rules out a move to super middleweight (168 pounds) for potential challenges against the likes of Showtime televised fighters such as WBA champion Andre Ward (22-0, 13 KOs)) and southpaw IBF king Lucien Bute (27-0, 22 KOs).
"We'll fight anybody, but Sergio is not yet a 168-pounder. Bute is the big guy who generates the big money at 168 pounds, but frankly, Bute has got a three-fight deal with Showtime, and we're sticking with the people [HBO] who helped us to get where we are," said DiBella.
"So we can't fight Bute on Showtime, and, with respect to being a 168-pounder, if he has an unbelievable opportunity, Sergio would consider fighting King Kong," said DiBella. "But this is a guy who was really a 154-pounder who moved up to 160 out of necessity and grew himself into being a middleweight. Sergio will fight anybody, so don't ask him. I ain't going to let him do it."
Williams had complained that he was not properly prepared the first time around for Martinez, then, after having geared up for a potential bout with the right-handed Pavlik, who twice pulled out their scheduled match up with an injury.
As a result, Williams had only three weeks to train for the first bout against Martinez, who knew long before Williams that they were likely to meet.
Unlike the initial meeting, however, Williams spent the entire training camp knowing that Martinez was his opponent.
Williams even sparred with wily southpaw former world champion, Carlos Quintana, whose unanimous decision handed Williams his lone defeat before being stopped in the first round of their rematch.
But Martinez had discovered some mistakes in his opponent while sitting ringside for Williams' most recent victory, a short-lived, fourth-round, technical decision over Kermit Cintron that was determined by the judges' cards after Cintron fell out of the ring and did not return.
"Paul Williams was too wide open with his defense. I saw this happen, and I saw that as a way to score a knockout," said Martinez. "But I also use my speed in every fight. But there is nothing you can do in a fight without a good trainer."
In addition, on Thursday, Martinez's trainer, Gabriel Sarmiento, was having trouble sleeping -- not because he was nervous about the fight, but because he was anxious to jot down yet another error that he noticed Williams making in a video of their first fight.
Based on a discussion he had the next day with Martinez regarding Williams' newfound flaw, Sarmiento wrote down a new strategy in a notebook that Lewkowicz brought to the post-fight press conference as proof of the story.
The conclusion of the new approach was that Martinez would win by a second-round knockout, said Sarmiento.
"I found out, in the middle of the night, an error -- a very big one -- that Paul Williams was making. It kept me up all night, and then, the next morning, I changed the strategy totally because of it," said Sarmiento.
"All of the errors that he made in the first fight, we knew that he was going to do them again," said Sarmiento. "I was convinced of a new strategy two days ago, and so, I changed our program and wrote it up."
The mistake, said Sarmiento, was that Williams followed his jab by leaning forward and "putting his body in front of his [lead] leg," meaning that Williams' chin was often exposed as the fighter's right, jab-hand dropped after being deployed.
"If he didn't get his [right] hand back fast enough [for defense,]" said Sarmiento, "then we could let go with the left hand."
The strategy worked perfectly and devastatingly for Martinez, who said that he further goaded Williams into in-fighting by engaging in first-round clinches during which he would often bang the challenger to the body or club him to the head.
"We knew that Williams was going to attack us in the first round, so we used his aggression to set him up. And the second that I touched Paul Williams with that left hand shot, I knew that he was knocked out right there," said Martinez.
"After the jab, he puts his right foot way out in front of him. I knew that that would bring him closer to me," said Martinez. "So the only thing that I needed to do was to throw my left hand. It was a flush shot, and I felt it all the way up through my arm."
Williams said that he does not regret getting into a slug fest with Martinez.
"We were doing a lot of clinching, but the referee was breaking us up really good," said Williams. "But we were just going at it. I wasn't going to try boxing him or nothing, I was just going to make it the way that it is. And if we fight him again, I would do it the same way."
Martinez said that he felt "very comfortable" with the Reyes gloves, and that he would continue to use them.
"But really, the biggest error that Paul Williams made was to get into the ring with me and to stand in front of me," said Martinez. "But you know, I can't blame him, because that's what he had to do. I'm the best, and that's why I am the one who has the titles."