By Chris Mannix
March 14, 2011

MASHANTUCKET, Conn. -- Sergio Martinez didn't deserve this. After moving up in weight to claim the middleweight title against Kelly Pavlik last year and having to drop a couple of pounds to defend it against Paul Williams, Martinez had earned a fight on his own terms, preferably one against a cushy would-be contender who ran his mouth outside the ring and stood and took a beating in it.

He didn't get that, of course. While junior middleweight champion Miguel Cotto was pummeling Ricardo Mayorga -- the embodiment of that type of opponent -- some 3,000 miles away, Martinez was staring down Sergiy Dzinziruk, a jab-happy 154-pound titleholder with a solid chin and slick defense.

Not that it mattered. In eight crushing, mostly one-sided rounds, Martinez dissected Dzinziruk, penetrating his defense with his own stiff jab and sending the previously unbeaten Ukrainian to the canvas five -- count 'em, five --times before referee Arthur Mercante Jr. stopped the fight.

"That's the best fighter in the world," Martinez's promoter, Lou DiBella, bellowed at press row, before catching his breath to yell it again. "The best f---ing fighter in the world!"

Hyperbole aside -- and in boxing, there is no shortage of it -- DiBella has a point. For years, Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather have occupied the top two spots in the pound-for-pound rankings; voting for them has almost become a reflex. But Mayweather hasn't fought in nearly a year and has no plans to return anytime soon, while Pacquiao spent 2010 feasting on Top Rank's hand-picked opponents, Joshua Clottey and Antonio Margarito, and, if May's date with Shane Mosley is any indication, looks to be spending 2011 doing much of the same.

Martinez? He just continues to roll through the top competition. Pavlik was the unified middleweight champion when Martinez outpointed him last April. Williams was ranked high on everyone's pound-for-pound list when Martinez laid waste to him in November. Against Dzinziruk, Martinez out-jabbed (147-80) arguably the sport's most accomplished jabber while tantalizing the near-sellout crowd at the MGM Grand Arena with another spectacular knockout.



Technical skills?


A willingness to fight anyone?

Check. Check. Check.

So what are we missing? Maybe nothing. The only thing that could conceivably stop Martinez from climbing to the top of the pound-for-pound list is a lack of credible opponents. DiBella acknowledged on Saturday that Martinez's spectacular showing made already improbable showdowns with Pacquiao or Cotto far less likely.

"We're not going to get a huge fight," DiBella said. "You think Bob Arum is putting one of his guys in with this animal?"

Uh, no. If Pacquiao defeats Mosley, he is probably penciled in for a November date with Juan Manuel Marquez. Cotto is headed for a summertime rematch with Antonio Margarito and may not fight again until 2012.

That puts Martinez and DiBella in a bit of a bind. There are titles to be won -- Martinez was actually stripped of his WBC belt for refusing to face HBO-rejected mandatory challenger Sebastian Zbik -- but titleholders with Q ratings that barely register. Felix Sturm (WBA) and Sebastian Sylvester (IBF) don't move the needle, while DiBella dismissed WBO champion Dmitry Pirog, who won that belt after the sanctioning body stripped Martinez of it for having the audacity to contemplate staying at middleweight following his win over Pavlik.

"That's our belt," DiBella said. "F--- Pirog."

One intriguing name to consider is Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. Martinez said after the fight that he wants the WBC belt back, and Chavez, who will challenge Zbik for his belt in June, could be the one in possession of it. Chavez has drawn healthy crowds in San Antonio and Las Vegas -- along with the robust ones he fights in front of in Mexico -- and has generated solid returns headlining Top Rank's Latin Fury pay-per-view shows. A Chavez-Martinez fight in, say, Los Angeles -- where DiBella has long hoped to tap into the Spanish-speaking fan base -- would be a natural fit.

Long term, there could be even bigger options. DiBella has no intention of allowing Martinez to move to 168 pounds, where he would be fodder for big and long super middleweights like Andre Ward or Carl Froch. He may not have to, either. HBO is working feverishly to build up James Kirkland, the bruising 154-pounder whose career was derailed by two recent stints in jail for gun possession and a subsequent parole violation. Kirkland won his first fight in two years earlier this month and is scheduled to fight two more times over the next four weeks. If Kirkland -- whose 2009 fight against Joel Julio drew 1.4 million viewers on HBO -- can pump up his résumé, a late-2011 or early-2012 showdown with Martinez could be huge.

That's the kind of fight Martinez deserves. He's bent to everyone's demands and fought whomever HBO put in front of him. He's done it with style, grace and the kind of class rarely seen in an elite champion. He's already proved he's the best fighter in the world north of 154 pounds. It may not be long before he's called the best fighter in the world, period.

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