For years, it's been Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather in a class by themselves atop boxing's pound-for-pound hierarchy.
Make room for Sergio Martinez.
The late-blooming Argentine expat retained the middleweight championship Saturday with a devastating second-round knockout of Paul Williams before 5,502 fans at Boardwalk Hall -- and graduated into the elite club of boxers at the pinnacle of the sport.
The stunning result came 350 days after Martinez's first fight with Williams, a controversial majority-decision loss in a slugfest widely regarded as the best fight of 2009.
In the meantime, the 35-year-old Martinez had outpointed Kelly Pavlik for the WBC and lineal middleweight titles. Saturday's much-anticipated rematch with Williams for the championship was billed as an evenly matched clash between two of the sport's top pound-for-pound fighters. (Williams and Martinez ranked fourth and fifth, respectively, in SI.com's November ratings.)
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Both men came out trading bombs; of their 56 combined connects in the fight, 52 were power shots according to CompuBox. Martinez (46-2-2, 25 KOs), a slick lefthander, beat Williams to the punch consistently in the first round while connecting on a series of lunging lefts.
Less than one minute into the second, Martinez delivered a heat-seeking overhand left to the jaw that caught Williams, who was out cold before he hit the canvas. Referee Earl Morton waved it off before completing the count, while Martinez climbed on the turnbuckle and arched his body toward the crowd in exultation.
Just like that, Martinez turned a bout advertised as a possible Fight of the Year into the Knockout of the Year.
"I was waiting for a mistake, and I was surprised that it happened so soon," said Martinez, who was a slight underdog. "I didn't want the judges to rob me this time."
Lou DiBella, who promotes Martinez, was ecstatic at ringside in the moments after the knockout. He held court over press row before ring announcer Michael Buffer had read the particulars.
"That kind of speed, that kind of power in a middleweight?" DiBella said. "That was one of the great knockout punches against another great fighter I've ever seen, going back to Hearns, Leonard, Duran, Hagler. That punch would have knocked anyone on earth out."
Williams (39-2, 27 KOs) had only taken the rematch with Martinez as a last resort, when negotiations with more attractive options came up empty. When the Williams team of promoter Dan Goossen and manager Al Haymon finally accepted the fight, they insisted on a catchweight of 158 instead of the middleweight limit of 160. Even on Saturday night, the challenger Williams was announced second, as is customary for the champion, instead of first -- another Martinez concession.
As if that wasn't enough, Martinez was battling cold symptoms.
Martinez gave due credit to trainer Gabriel Sarmiento, who handwrote his prediction for the fight on a Caesars Palace notepad in the locker room before the fight -- and nailed it down to the round of the stoppage. (Veteran boxing scribe Thomas Hauser, who was with Martinez before the fight, vouched for the tale.)
When asked what mistake Williams made, Martinez deadpanned through translator and advisor Sampson Lewkowicz: "He took the rematch."
While a rubber match between these two may seem appealing on paper, don't expect it anytime soon. Martinez feels he's beaten Williams twice already. DiBella said there was no rematch clause in the contract, which frees Martinez to go after the opponent of his choosing. The Oxnard, Calif., resident said he wants two or three more fights before he retires -- and he'd like one of them to be against Pacquiao or Mayweather.
At the post-fight press conference, DiBella said he doesn't think either Pacquiao or Mayweather will risk it against Maravilla.
"If you're Pacquiao, would you go near him?" DiBella said. "Martinez will have a problem making fights because that's how f---ing good he is. I know what I got: I've got the best fighter in the world."