NEW YORK -- I like Sergio Martinez. Really, it's hard not to.
He's a nice guy. Not a fake, made-for-TV nice guy. He's a really nice guy. When Martinez, a spokesman for an anti-bullying campaign, heard the story of Monique McClain, a 13-year old who had to leave her middle school because she was being picked on relentlessly, he called her up, asked her to dinner and gave her and her mother VIP tickets to his fight with Sergiy Dzinziruk.
He has visited women's centers and safe houses across the world, using his platform to speak out against violence against women. Wednesday morning, he and New York City councilwoman Julissa Ferreras co-hosted a roundtable with New York organizations working to end domestic violence.
See what I mean?
He happens to be a very good fighter, too. He's universally recognized as the third-best boxer in the world, right behind Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao. He's the lineal middleweight champion, avoided by the likes of Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and Miguel Cotto because, frankly, he's too big a risk. On March 17, Martinez (48-2-2) will look to win his fifth straight fight when he takes on Matthew Macklin (28-3) at Madison Square Garden (10 p.m. ET, HBO).
I mean, what's not to like?
Well, there is one gripe I have with Martinez: He simply won't tell the WBC to shove it.
You all know the story by now, right? In January, Martinez vacated the WBC title. Why? Because HBO had no interest in coughing up a seven-figure license fee for him to defend the title against mandatory challenger Sebastian Zbik. The WBC handed Martinez a diamond belt, named him champion emeritus (which makes zero sense because Martinez did not retire) and sanctioned Chavez Jr.-Zbik which (surprise!) HBO picked up.
Martinez has tried to get the title back, challenging Chavez in the press, on the Internet, everywhere but the men's room. Martinez says he will go to Mexico to fight Chavez. His promoter, Lou DiBella, says Chavez's family members can be the judges.
The WBC? It has been Chavez's willing accomplice. As champion emeritus (again, what?) Martinez should have had the first shot at Chavez after he beat Zbik. Instead, Chavez took a soft touch against Peter Manfredo while Martinez knocked out Darren Barker. The WBC ordered a Chavez-Martinez fight in December, only to backtrack a few weeks later and sanction Chavez's February defense against Marco Antonio Rubio.
Then there was this: Last month WBC president Jose Sulaimán, in defending his decision not to strip Floyd Mayweather of his welterweight title -- a decision that, incidentally, defies the WBC's own rule that says a titleholder will be stripped if he is "convicted and imprisoned for a crime involving moral turpitude" -- reportedly said "beating a lady is highly critical but it is not a major sin or crime," metaphorically spitting in the face of the causes Martinez fights for.
Now, in Martinez's defense, he has lashed out. Two weeks ago Martinez issued a statement condemning the WBC and declaring he would no longer defend the diamond belt. But he was careful to say that he hoped to someday win back his title.
On Wednesday I asked Martinez why, after all the WBC has put him through, after all the lies and detestable comments Sulaimán has made, do you still want anything to do with them?
"The WBC is the most fine belt any champion can win," Martinez said. "It's the most important belt for me."
And Sulaimán's comments on domestic violence?
"I know at the end of the day Sulaimán will do the right thing," Martinez said. "This is the most prestigious belt I can have."
Prestigious? The WBC is, in a word, disgusting. It's a Mexican-based organization that openly favors fighters from that country. Timothy Bradley had the WBC junior welterweight title for six months when Sulaimán stripped him and sanctioned Erik Morales's next fight. Never mind that Morales was 35, had fought just once at 140 pounds (a loss to Marcos Maidana) and was less than two years removed from retirement.
Think the WBC is respected? Reporters snicker when Sulaimán walks into a room. They mock the WBC officials who try to hijack gloves, trunks or shoes from fighters after big events. They roll their eyes when the WBC releases rankings that are blatantly manipulated.
The entire sanctioning body is a sham.
Perplexed, I posed the same question to DiBella.
"Unfortunately, belts are often the reason fights happen or don't," DiBella said. "Sergio is not going to say that he is never going to fight for [the WBC] title. I think they have wronged him but it's not just the WBC that wrongs people. We make a lot of pronouncements in boxing that we don't care about titles and belts but the truth is, everybody does care. International television revenues are almost totally dependent on ratings organizations and world championships. American television networks, the belt is still used in their decision making. It's not so simple to take an authoritative stance against the championships."
See, I think it is. OK, sure, a young, up-and-coming fighter like Saul Alvarez gains something by having a title. So does a faded journeyman like Cornelius Bundrage. But Martinez? He transcends titles. He won't carry one recognized middleweight title to the ring against Macklin but there is no debate who is the top 160-pounder in the world.
Tell the WBC thanks, but no thanks, Sergio. Keep going after Chavez, sure. But don't pay a nickel to the WBC for a sanctioning fee, and when you beat him, let the title go vacant. Go collect the IBF, WBA and WBO belts if you want hardware.
Stop letting them jerk you around, Sergio. Stop being Charlie Brown to the WBC's Lucy, reaching for the title only to have it quickly, abruptly yanked away. You're better than that, Sergio. You're better than them.