- Michael Woods, Boxing
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NEW YORK -- On the surface, the theory sounds ludicrous, strange even for the often bizarre world of boxing, the red-light district of the sports world.
New York-based promoter Lou DiBella has a deal with Argentinian middleweight Sergio Martinez, a 36-year-old southpaw who holds the WBC "diamond" middleweight belt. Martinez, seen as one of the three best boxers on the planet, has a genial personality and no behavioral traits that might prompt a stint in prison. To top it off, he is so handsome that if you were told that he is the box office action-hero cinema stud in South America, you'd firmly believe it.
But try as he might -- DiBella has worked the phone, email and even Twitter while trying to lock down a megafight for Martinez -- the promoter hasn't gained traction in locking down a signature bout against longtime marquee names Floyd Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao and Miguel Cotto.
You wonder: If Martinez (47-2-2, with 26 KOs) is as skilled as we've been led to believe and holds those other stellar traits, why hasn't he secured a fight against "Money" Mayweather or Congressman Pacquiao or Puerto Rican legend Cotto?
Because he's too good for his own good.
DiBella is a shrewd but reasonable deal-maker; the fault doesn't lie with him. No, the reason Martinez is going to fight relatively unknown Londoner Darren Barker and not someone in the top tier is because those bright lights of pugilism have comprehended that Martinez's skills are immense -- and that there exists a strong possibility he could topple them from their perches.
"I think Sergio Martinez is the most avoided man in boxing," DiBella told ESPN New York at a Wednesday news conference to tout the Oct. 1 fight, which will take place in Atlantic City, N.J., and run on HBO. "The pay-per-view fighters out there are avoiding him, and for good reason. Boxing is a strange business in that the biggest fights often don't happen. My guy will take short money to fight anyone, but if you end the gravy train, you end the gravy train."
Martinez was asked whether he believes he is the most avoided man in the sport. "I think I am," he said through a translator at 230 Fifth Rooftop Lounge, "because I am too dangerous and I am at a weight class that people don't want to go up to."
He says he holds no animus against DiBella and realizes the promoter has done everything possible to get him into a fight that will help him prove he is the best in the biz. "It's very tough for Lou," said the boxer, who is now training in California. "But my job is just to get into the ring."
Now, it's not to say that everyone out there but Barker (23-0 with 14 KOs) is quaking in their boxing boots at the thought of meeting Martinez. Sure, potential foes saw his one-punch demolition of Paul Williams in November, and that might have cost Martinez a gig.
But there are some nuances involved to explain why Martinez is facing the 29-year-old Barker in A.C. DiBella said Pacquiao isn't avoiding Martinez because he lacks cojones; rather, his team feels that Pacman, even if he is the best or second-best pugilist on the planet, is a bit small for Martinez, that he is best suited to fight at 147 pounds or less.
"The fans would love that fight, and Sergio could make 154 pounds, but I don't think Team Pacquiao believes Manny is big enough for Sergio," DiBella said. "Manny has been carefully matched but is making a fortune and so is his promoter, Top Rank."
Also, even casual fans are more likely to know Cotto; he's been a "name" fighter for more than five years. Martinez's name recognition has been building among the non-hard-core fans for just more than a year.
DiBella has drawn some scorn on message boards for putting Martinez in with Barker, a household name only across the pond. But it wasn't for lack of trying.
"A guy shouldn't be victimized by his own greatness, so the fact that a Darren Barker stepped up to the opportunity, there shouldn't be any criticism of this fight," DiBella said. "We pursued so many fights that Martinez can't get. All you can do is to let him go out and keep showing his excellence."
The promoter said "there is a possibility" that Mayweather might take a Martinez fight, that the Mayweather people have indicated more willingness than the Pacquiao crew.
Martinez's adviser, Sampson Lewkowicz, also has been working OT, trying to lure the big names with the entrenched fan bases to meet his guy, with no luck. He said he thinks Mayweather would sign on against Martinez but made sure to emphasize that his fighter wouldn't give up ground at the scale by agreeing to a catch weight of less than 154 pounds.
"If they say 152, he will not take it. If they say 153, he will not take it. As an adviser, I will not take it," Lewkowicz said.
Lewkowicz said Cotto's people said thanks, but no thanks, for about a year. "Cotto doesn't want to lose; Sergio is too skilled," Lewkowicz said.
A rubber match against Williams, the South Carolina-based hitter, would have made sterling sense up until Erislandy Lara sliced and diced the 29-year-old fighter in their Atlantic City tussle July 9. (Williams was awarded a majority decision, but the three judges who scored the event have been forbidden by the N.J. commission from judging anything more meaningful than a hot dog eating contest.)
So, if Martinez gets past Barker, and the smart money says he will, whom will he fight next? Chances are good that Martinez could face Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., who holds the "regular" WBC middleweight title, if Chavez wins his next fight in the early fall.
Watching the smooth and serene Martinez in person, one wonders whether he might ever get so sick of pursuing elusive white whales that he snaps, loses it and looks to angrily goad the proven PPV studs into accepting a fight. Could that happen?
"If they're scared of me when I'm mild, like this, imagine how scared they're going to be when I get angry," Martinez said. "Yeah, those guys, Cotto, Chavez, they don't want to fight me. I think it's their problem if they're too scared to fight me."
Michael Woods is the editor of TheSweetScience.com.