- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
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ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- Throughout the buildup to the fight, Kelly Pavlik, trainer Jack Loew and the rest of the team talked about how tough of an opponent Sergio Martinez would be.
They weren't kidding.
Martinez, a junior middleweight titleholder, was born in Argentina and is nicknamed "Maravilla," which is "Marvelous" in English, and that's what he was on Saturday night before 6,179 at Boardwalk Hall.
Martinez, who didn't even begin boxing until he was 20, seized the middleweight championship from Pavlik with a big kick at the end of the fight to win a unanimous decision.
It was almost as though the fight was fought in thirds.
It was Martinez who seemed to dominate the early rounds with his movement, right jab and straight left hand. Then Pavlik came on strong in the middle rounds to edge closer. But then it was all Martinez, who dominated down the stretch and was rewarded with a 116-111, 115-111, 115-112 decision. ESPN.com had it 114-113 for Martinez, who survived a seventh-round knockdown and still took the 160-pound crown.
He did it because he closed as strong as a fighter can.
Like a cool customer, Martinez (45-2-2, 24 KOs) was not worried about Pavlik's midfight rally.
"It was a 12-round fight and I knew it would go the distance," said Martinez, who made a career-high $1 million. "I knew at the end I had to close strong. It was a 12-round plan and since I am the visitor, I knew it would be hard to win a decision. There is a lot of pride and emotion for me."
Martinez had opened a small cut in the corner of Pavlik's left eye in the first round. In the ninth round, he busted open a nasty cut over his right eye.
The dark red blood flowed freely down Pavlik's face from the cut over the right eye, but both were bleeding. While Pavlik (36-2, 32 KOs) looked considerably weaker after that round, Martinez was fresh.
He was bouncing on his toes, throwing quick punches and seemed to know he had the fight when he began twirling his hand in victory with 20 seconds left in the fight.
"We were coming on strong in the middle rounds and after the eighth round it seemed like he gave it away," Loew said. "He couldn't turn it around, and I don't know why."
The numbers speak for themselves as over the final four rounds, Martinez landed 112 blows to Pavlik's 51.
It was that impressive.
"I couldn't feel better," said Lou DiBella, Martinez's co-promoter, who used to promote former middleweight champ Jermain Taylor, whom Pavlik had knocked out in a dramatic comeback to win the title in 2007 at Boardwalk Hall. "I thought he fought a brilliant fight. Kelly fought well in the middle of the fight, but Sergio sliced him up. He was faster and speed kills.
"I thought Pavlik showed great heart and b----, but Sergio is a great athlete. He's the best athlete I've ever promoted. I thought he had a brilliant game plan. He was brilliant in Rounds 9 through 12. what a feeling to have a guy who is now a superstar."
Pavlik seemed to figure out Martinez, a southpaw, in the middle rounds, and finally got to him in the seventh. A short right uppercut knocked an off-balance Martinez down, but he wasn't hurt. Still, it seemed to give Pavlik a confidence boost -- until the bad cut in the next round.
What is ironic is that Martinez only got the fight because of a heartbreaking majority decision loss to Paul Williams in December in the small arena upstairs.
It was a sensational fight, one many thought Martinez, 35, had won. And when Pavlik and Williams could not come to terms to put back together their fight that had been called off twice in 2009 because of Pavlik's nagging staph infection and subsequent surgeries on his hand, Pavlik and promoter Top Rank turned to Martinez.
To his credit, Pavlik, of Youngstown, Ohio, didn't complain about the decision or use the injuries that marred his 2009 as an excuse.
"Martinez is a smart fighter," Pavlik said. "He doubled up on his jab a lot after he cut me. I couldn't get anything going after the eighth or ninth round."
Martinez had gained massive respect after his performance against Williams, and now he's champion.
"It is a great honor for me and my country to fight fighters like this," Martinez said. "When the last bell rang I knew I was the new world champion."
And when that last bell rang, Pavlik seemed to know he had lost his title, which he was defending for the fourth time.
Blood was coming down his face and his body language was not good.
"In the last third of the fight, around the eighth or ninth round, he began touching me a lot," said Pavlik, who made $2.5 million. "I tried but it was very hard to come back at him. I couldn't see out of my right eye after he cut it. I could not see his left hand coming. I wasn't hurting, but he just had a lot of volume of punches."
Pavlik, who turned 28 on April 4, has a rematch clause, but it could be awhile until the fight happens. His cut man, Sid Brumback, said Pavlik would need at least a dozen stitches on the inside of cuts and two dozen on the outside to close the wounds.
Pavlik, who struggles to make 160 pounds, said he wanted the rematch despite that.
"It is hard to make 160, but I hate losing and I want to get those belts back," said Pavlik, whose only other defeat came via lopsided decision to Bernard Hopkins in a 170-pound nontitle fight at Boardwalk Hall in 2008.
Martinez is obligated to the rematch is Pavlik picks up his option. But a rematch with Williams would also be a major fight, assuming Williams turns back Kermit Cintron on May 8.
"I would fight whoever," Martinez said when asked about his preference.
Whomever it is, the marvelous one will enter as the world champion.
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.