Martinez out for justice in title unification fight with Chavez Jr.
LAS VEGAS -- Behind a pair of dark designer sunglasses, Sergio Martinez's eyes smoldered. As he spoke a palpable frustration was evident in his voice. For more than a year Martinez has pursued Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., watched him win the middleweight title he was stripped of, watched him defend it over and over again against fighters who, Martinez says, "aren't ranked in the top 100 in the world." He watched HBO write him check after check and fumed while the WBC refused to order Chavez to either fight him or surrender his belt.
"I don't understand why people think he is a great champion," Martinez said. "He doesn't deserve it. He doesn't deserve to be in this position."
Sitting nearby, Martinez's promoter, Lou DiBella, the man who, along with advisor Sampson Lewkowicz, plucked Martinez from obscurity and watched him blossom into one of boxing's top fighters, shook his head.
"I've never heard him talk like this," DiBella said. "It's like I'm listening to a different person."
Indeed, Martinez (49-2-2) has never been controversial. Throughout his career, Martinez has preferred to let his fists do the talking. Since first popping on the national radar in 2009, Martinez has become one of the most exciting fighters in the sport. He bloodied Kelly Pavlik on his way to winning the middleweight title in 2010 and in his last four fights has knocked out Paul Williams, Sergey Dzinziruk, Darren Barker and Matthew Macklin, each in spectacular fashion.
Yet Martinez has rarely belittled his opponents or, for that matter, spoken of them with anything but glowing respect.
With Chavez, it's different. Much different. At a press conference to announce Saturday night's WBC middleweight title fight (9 p.m. ET, HBO PPV) in July, Martinez told Chavez's father, Mexican legend Julio Cesar Chavez Sr., that he would need DNA to identify his son after the fight.
"He's more chippy than I have ever seen him," DiBella said. "He just doesn't like this kid."
Martinez sees Chavez as someone who was handed everything he has had to work for. Growing up in dangerous barrios in Argentina, Martinez was robbed regularly, wore pants made out of a tablecloth and often came home to an empty dinner table. The son of a wealthy megastar, Chavez didn't want for much. Martinez turned professional at 20 and clawed his way up the rankings by fighting in dilapidated venues all over Argentina. Chavez turned pro at 18 and was almost immediately appearing on the undercards of major pay-per-views and headlining smaller ones of his own. Martinez was stripped of the WBC title when he declined to face Sebastian Zbik because HBO would not approve him. Months later, Chavez won the title against Zbik on HBO.
Martinez treats his body like a temple and, according to associates, has never missed a weight; Chavez has consistently struggled to make 160-pound middleweight limit and in 2010 was suspended by the Nevada Athletic Commission for seven months after testing positive for furosemide, a diuretic that can be used to cut weight. Martinez is a workout maven; Chavez is more aloof, occasionally blowing off scheduled gym workouts and conducting them in his living room.
"Chavez," Martinez said, "doesn't respect the sport."
On Saturday, Martinez will finally have the opportunity to unleash his frustrations. A year ago, Chavez-Martinez looked like a mismatch. Yet Chavez (46-0-1), Martinez admits, has developed significantly since then. Under the tutelage of Freddie Roach, Chavez has become a punishing body puncher who relentlessly stalks opponents in the ring. In June, Chavez stopped hard-hitting southpaw Andy Lee in the seventh round, a strong performance that convinced Chavez's promoter, Top Rank, that he was ready for Martinez.
Moreover, there are signs that Martinez, 37, may be slowing down. His last two opponents, Barker and Macklin, have been competitive deep into the fight; Macklin even scored a seventh-round knockdown of Martinez last March. Martinez is still a brilliant finisher but against the 26-year-old Chavez -- who will have two inches and likely 15-20 pounds on Martinez on fight night -- Martinez will face an opponent with the chin to trade with him and a body attack that can slow him down.
"The advantage that [Chavez] has [are] youth, size and weight," DiBella said. "He is going to be significantly bigger than Sergio."
Martinez understands that against Chavez, he needs perhaps his strongest performance. He will fight in front of a hostile crowd -- DiBella estimates 80 percent of the sold out Thomas & Mack Center will be supporting Chavez -- for a title sanctioned by Chavez's close family friend (WBC president Jose Sulaiman) in a state that has had some shaky decisions handed out by its judges. Which is why Martinez has no plans to allow anyone to have a say in the outcome.
"I want to beat [Chavez] up," Martinez said. "I want justice done."