- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
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Middleweight champion Sergio Martinez was feted in a ceremony at the WBO's Puerto Rican headquarters on May 11, when he was presented with his new title belt. Those good feelings did not last long.
Martinez, who took apart Kelly Pavlik to win a unanimous decision and the lineal championship on April 17, has been stripped of his WBO version of the 160-pound title.
In a letter Saturday to Martinez and his handlers, WBO president Francisco "Paco" Valcárcel informed him of the sanctioning organization's decision.
"I learned a while ago that these organizations don't give you a belt," Martinez said. "They loan it to you. When they elect to take it back, they take it back. I thank them for the opportunity to win it and to hold it, but there is nothing I can do about it if they want to take it back. They can match whoever they want below me [for the vacant belt], but in my view, that winner can't truly call himself a champion."
Lou DiBella, Martinez's outspoken promoter, wasn't as diplomatic as his fighter about the decision.
"My attitude is f--- 'em. F--- 'em. He is the people's champion at 160 pounds," DiBella said. "He is the lineal and only legitimate champion."
Martinez still holds the Ring magazine middleweight title and WBC belt at middleweight, as well as the WBC's version of the 154-pound junior middleweight title. He has not yet determined in which weight class he will fight.
However, the WBO said it would no longer wait for him to decide and cited its rule governing the situation: "A WBO champion who wins a non-WBO championship in a weight class that is different than the weight class in which he holds his WBO championship must decide within 10 days of the non-WBO championship which title in which weight class he will retain. No WBO champion may hold a non-WBO championship in a weight class that is different from the weight class of his WBO championship."
"We have so many bad decisions in the ring and now we have another bad one outside the ring," said Sampson Lewkowicz, Martinez's adviser. "I understand they have bylaws, but there must be an exception for an exceptional champion like Sergio 'Maravilla' Martinez."
The rule in section 15 of the WBO's bylaws is one for which there has typically been an exception made when a fighter asks for one in order to allow more time to decide which title he will keep.
"What's troubling is that they have a rule that gives them the right to make an exception, but here, for whatever reason, they elected to strip Sergio even though there is no contender who has been sitting there waiting and waiting for his chance," DiBella said. "A lot of the guys in their top 10 aren't even available to fight for the title. I don't know what their rush was.
"Look at their ratings and try to rationalize their behavior. All you can do is conclude that this is another ratings organization who doesn't give a s--- about boxing and shoots itself in the foot."
Lewkowicz said the WBC has not forced the issue yet. He added that Martinez's decision about which weight class title to keep will depend on his next opponent and HBO, which has backed Martinez's recent fights, although the network has not made his next fight a priority.
Martinez (45-2-2, 24 KOs), who is from Argentina and lives in California, has been mentioned as a possible opponent for Floyd Mayweather Jr. in the event that he does not fight Manny Pacquiao.
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.
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