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Angulo, Martinez a tale of two fighters

2/12/2009 - Boxing

Sergio Martinez and Alfredo Angulo have a few things in common.

They are, most obviously, both junior middleweights.

They are both appearing on the same card Saturday night, along with lightweight champ Nate Campbell, part of a mouth-watering tripleheader on HBO's "Boxing After Dark" (10 ET/PT).

Both were originally supposed to face fighters other than the ones they will meet Saturday.

Angulo, who faces Cosme Rivera, was planning to meet Ricardo Mayorga before the volatile Nicaraguan abruptly pulled out in a money dispute 11 days before the fight (Angulo was then slated to fight Danny Perez until he dropped out just four days in advance).

Martinez was initially set to square off against Joe Greene on Jan. 17 until Greene withdrew with kidney stones and was ultimately replaced by former welterweight titlist Kermit Cintron.

They both have the experience of sharing the ring with Antonio Margarito, Angulo as a sparring partner, Martinez as an opponent.

But there the similarities largely end.

Angulo is a power-punching prospect just 14 fights into his professional career. Martinez is a 33-year-old boxer-puncher who, following his domination of Alex Bunema on "Boxing After Dark" in October, became an overnight sensation in his 46th paid contest.

Martinez's 18th fight, a seventh-round TKO loss to Margarito on the undercard of the epic first encounter between Erik Morales and Marco Antonio Barrera in 2000, remains his sole reversal; it was also his only appearance on U.S. soil until he gained notice with a fourth-round body shot stoppage of Saul Roman in Houston in April 2007. With the exception of a three-fight sequence in the United Kingdom in 2003 and 2004, the rest of his contests before then had been in either his native Argentina or in Spain, where he now takes up residence.

Martinez says he has no regrets about the fact that his career, until now, has flown under the radar of at least the American boxing public.

"It's the right place at the right time," Martinez told ESPN.com. "This is a golden opportunity. I'm not disappointed at all. It's helped me mature as a person, as a fighter. This is where I need to be right now, and anything sooner would not have made any difference."

Where he is right now is attracting attention and fans.

"I love Sergio Martinez," said HBO's Max Kellerman, who was ringside for his destruction of Bunema and will be helping to call the action again Saturday. "I've liked him from afar for a while. I've always thought he was a very good boxer. I'm a sucker for an athletic southpaw who can box, and Martinez has another dimension."

After scoring just 11 stoppages in his first 31 contests, Martinez has recorded 13 KOs in his past 15 -- and of the two that went the distance, one was a four-round tune-up. It is an evolution that Martinez ascribes, at least in part, to a decision to abandon the welterweight ranks.

"It helped a lot to move up to 154 pounds," Martinez said. "But also my body has matured."

As a result, reckons Kellerman, Martinez is close to a complete package.

"He was so impressive against Bunema, and his only loss took place against Antonio Margarito -- who now has a shadow over his whole career, let's be honest," he said. "I can't wait to see Martinez against the elite of boxing, because based on what I have seen so far, I have a suspicion that, at 154 pounds, you're going to be hard-pressed to beat him, and that goes for everybody."

In conversation, Martinez is expansive and open. He confesses that he was "disappointed" with the switching of opponents, and that training for the orthodox Cintron required adjustments after preparing to face southpaw Greene.

By contrast, a change in opponents hasn't fazed Angulo one bit.

"It doesn't matter who I fight," Angulo said. "I train the same for everybody. I'm ready for anybody who gets in the ring with me."

While not looking past Cintron, Martinez acknowledges that ideally, he would like to face Vernon Forrest, who holds the WBC belt (Martinez is that organization's interim champion).

"I can win that title in the ring and not in the office," Martinez said.

Angulo refuses to look ahead, saying he is focused solely on his next opponent.

Even as translated by his affable wife, Jessica, Angulo can come across as having the same direct, take-no-prisoners personality outside the ring that he has shown inside the ropes with a succession of inside-the-distance victories over the likes of, most recently, Richard Gutierrez and Andrey Tsurkan.

Casual mention of Andy Lee, the once-hyped, once-beaten middleweight who defeated Angulo at the 2004 Olympics earns the sharp riposte that amateur boxing is nothing like the pros.

"As soon as I landed one punch, he started running around the ring," Angulo said.

It is an accusation unlikely to be made anytime soon of Angulo, whose rapidly rising popularity owes much to his penchant for standing in front of his foes and beating them into submission or semi-consciousness. But he emphasizes that there is more to him than a face-first brawler.

"I have a good jab and good defense," he said. "As soon as an opponent prepares to throw something at me, I am in position to punch back. I am an aggressive fighter, but I like to fight a very intelligent fight."

Kellerman agrees.

"He stands in the pocket, he's able to avoid punches just enough, usually, so far," Kellerman said. "He has excellent timing and placement of punches and he hits extremely hard. Even if he comes up against someone with physical advantages, as soon as they get into exchanges, Angulo immediately has the advantage."

That said, Kellerman is a believer in keeping Angulo away from slick boxers who would force him to try and cut off the ring, taking away his natural advantages and perhaps dragging him into a less-than-scintillating snoozefest.

"It's prize fighting," Kellerman said. "Angulo has an attraction for Mexican and Mexican-American fans who like action and knockouts -- as do all of us. For those who appreciate the subtler skills, Angulo has that, too. He has all those things, so why risk him against someone who might beat him and not be crowd-pleasing? Why not always, as much as possible, put him in with another crowd-pleaser?

Match him well, and Angulo is going to be very tough to beat."

That's one area in which Kellerman -- and plenty other observers -- think Alfredo Angulo and Sergio Martinez are very much alike.

Kieran Mulvaney covers boxing for ESPN.com and Reuters.