While promoter fumes, Martinez embraces fight vs. virtual unknown
MASHANTUCKET, Conn. -- Not much rattles Sergio Martinez.
Being forced to defend his middleweight title against Paul Williams at a catch weight?
Getting the short end of the cash split against Williams?
Having a no name, jab-happy junior middleweight like Sergiy Dzinziruk shoved down his throat by HBO?
It's all good, man.
Indeed, the last thing to bother Martinez was being forced to miss his mother's birthday, a date that fell right in the middle of the Williams fight week.
"I guess that was frustrating," Martinez said. Pausing, he smiled. "Paul Williams paid the price."
They are boxing's odd couple. Martinez is a free spirit who would blend easily into the lawn at Woodstock. DiBella is an R-rated George Costanza.
"We're a good team," DiBella said. "He lets me do the ranting and raving and he is just laid back. He's the biggest calming influence on me when we're in a fight week. He's a consummate professional. And you know, he weirdly embraces challenges. I've been bitching and moaning about this [Dzinziruk] fight. I still don't like it. But he's like, 'Hey, [HBO] thinks he's the best, this is the biggest challenge for me, bring him in front of me.' That really is his attitude. He wanted the fight."
In a sport where hand-picking opponents has become the standard, Martinez's attitude is refreshing. He pursued fights with Floyd Mayweather, Miguel Cotto and Manny Pacquiao before settling on Dzinziruk. Martinez (46-2-2, 25 KOs) will face the 35-year-old Ukrainian on Saturday (HBO, 10:30 p.m. ET) at Foxwoods Resort Casino for the vacant WBC Diamond middleweight title. Even for some of the more knowledgeable boxing fans, Dzinziruk (37-0, 23 KOs) requires a Google search.
Martinez, however, isn't complaining.
"Boxing is the best part of my life." the 36-year-old Martinez said. "It's hard, but life is hard. If I get to play this sport, I'm a happy man."
Where Martinez acquired such a cool demeanor is a mystery. He grew up in some of the poorest neighborhoods of Argentina, where shoes were considered a luxury. Staving off bullies was a daily chore.
"He literally had to fight to survive," DiBella said. "He experienced being a good kid in a really bad area. He's been through a lot in his life and he rolls with the punches. A lot of his excellence lies in his demeanor. He's a very self-assured, confident man. He's humble, but immensely confident and at peace with who he is. There's a lot of Zen to this guy. He's a very together cat."
Said Martinez: "Being so calm helped me see the bad things I never wanted to do."
Martinez won't be calm in the ring Saturday. He will try to pressure the rangy, 5-foot-10 Dzinziruk and take away the southpaw's long jab. He will throw punches from all angles, the same stinging shots that carved up Kelly Pavlik and flattened Williams. And there will be additional motivation: Martinez is dedicating the fight to Monique McClain, a Connecticut seventh-grader who was forced to leave her school because of relentless bullying by her classmates.
"[DiBella] wants me to knock [Dzinziruk] out," Martinez said. "However, people don't know the quality of this champ. I need to do the job and I'm ready to knock him out or go the distance. I'm ready for either."
A victory for Martinez would mean another buffet of potential opponents. Names like Cotto and Felix Sturm will be tossed around, along with Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., Sebastian Zbik and Andy Lee. DiBella will stress them all. Then he will take the list to Martinez. And DiBella already knows what he is going to hear.
"He'll say, 'Make the [expletive] fight,' " DiBella said. "I'm going to beat his ass and knock him the [expletive] out.' "