- Dan Rafael, Boxing
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MASHANTUCKET, Conn. -- Promoter Lou DiBella, who promotes middleweight champion Sergio Martinez, was, as usual, a nervous wreck before Martinez stepped into the ring to face junior middleweight titlist Sergiy Dzinziruk.
DiBella never liked the fight when it was made, one essentially forced on Martinez by HBO. DiBella was concerned with Dzinziruk's tremendous jab, his defense and his durability.
Martinez, however, never whined once about his opponent. If Dzinziruk was whom HBO thought was the best man for him to fight, well, so be it. He embraced it, even though by taking the fight it caused him to be stripped of his alphabet title for not facing his mandatory challenger, Sebastian Zbik.
None of that matters now, as Martinez took away Dzinziruk's jab, penetrated his defense with ease and knocked him down five times en route an overwhelming eighth-round knockout on Saturday night at the MGM Grand Arena at the Foxwoods Resort Casino.
"I had to nullify his boxing, nullify his jab, nullify his punches," Martinez said. "Little by little we did that. [The fight] didn't worry me at all. I had my highest level of motivation ever."
Is there any doubt that Martinez, who retained the lineal middleweight championship, is one of the best two fighters in the world pound-for-pound, next to Manny Pacquiao?
There is none.
It is that mantle that drives Martinez (47-2-2, 26 KOs), who did not even start boxing until he was 20 but has risen to the top of the sport, as he made his second title defense. And Martinez turned in such an impressive performance, despite the absence of trainer Gabriel Sarmiento, who missed the fight because of an undisclosed personal problem and was replaced by his brother, Pablo Sarmiento.
In 2010, Martinez was the consensus fighter of the year and authored the knockout of the year when he erased Paul Williams with a huge overhand left in the second round in November.
Now Martinez is off to a good start for the award in 2011. But what he really wants is to be recognized as the No. 1 on the pound-for-pound list.
"It's a dream of mine," said Martinez, 36. "It obsesses me. I will be the pound-for-pound best. I want the best fighters in front of me. I want [Floyd] Mayweather or Manny Pacquiao. I want them."
DiBella was ecstatic with the victory, and why shouldn't he be?
Martinez, who earned about $1.2 million, is on a great run, having knocked out Dzinziruk and Williams in the November rematch, and outpointed Kelly Pavlik to win the title this past April.
"I really believe you can say Sergio is the best fighter in the world," DiBella said. "He is a f------ beast. He does everything. With Manny fighting soft touches and Mayweather on ice, this guy is the best in the world. I have never had a fighter like this. He is so good, it's frightening."
Even if Martinez was the favorite, Dzinziruk (37-1, 23 KOs), 35, of Ukraine, came to the dance with good credentials and a good reputation. Dzinziruk, whose side was paid $850,000, had defended his 154-pound title six times since outpointing Daniel Santos in 2005.
But Martinez made him look as though he did not even belong in the same ring as him. Dzinziruk seemed shocked by what had happened.
"I was 100 percent ready to win," he said. "I know I can beat him. I could've won. I needed to open up more, and I did so in the later rounds, but it didn't help. [The knockdowns] were not from hard punches, just from perfect shots, and I got caught. I may come back down to 154, where I still have a belt."
Martinez avoided Dzinziruk's jab and piled up points with a variety of punches. He scored the first knockdown in the fourth round when Dzinziruk's touched his knee to the canvas after taking a shot on top of the head.
In the fifth round, Martinez scored a clean knockdown when he put together a right-left-right combination that sent a stunned Dzinziruk to his knees.
Dzinziruk simply could not deal with Martinez's hand speed or variety of punches. Although he rallied a bit in the seventh, scoring with combinations and opening a small cut by Martinez's left eye, Martinez remained in control and ended it in the eighth with three clean knockdowns.
The fight was more or less over with the first knockdown of the eighth round, however. Martinez landed a tremendous overhand left in the first minute -- the same shot that knocked out Williams -- and Dzinziruk went down to his knees and was badly hurt.
Moments later, he was down again. And then again. And then it was over at 1 minute, 43 seconds, as referee Arthur Mercante Jr. called it off with Dzinziruk in bad shape.
Martinez, who is from Argentina but lives in Oxnard, Calif., celebrated, and DiBella came to the ring ropes, leaned over and shouted to the media, "That's the best fighter in the world."
A few minutes later, DiBella stood by his dislike of the match, but was in a bit of awe about what Martinez had done to a very skilled opponent.
"Yeah, I'm surprised a guy with this kind of defense was on the ground five times. I am surprised," DiBella said. "What do we do next? We want the biggest fight possible. But we're not going to get a huge fight. You think [Top Rank promoter] Bob Arum is putting one of his guys in with this animal? [Dzinziruk's] style wasn't great, but my fighter was. This was like Secretariat against another thoroughbred."
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter @danrafaelespn.
Sergio Martinez took away Sergiy Dzinziruk's jab, penetrated his defense with ease and knocked him down five times en route an overwhelming eighth-round knockout.