Sergio Martinez has dwindling options
Middleweight world champion Sergio Martinez has made the leap from unknown to superstar over the past two years faster than the alarming speed of his rocket launcher left hook.
But after Saturday's impressive eighth-round TKO victory over unbeaten 154-pound champion Sergiy Dzinziruk, Martinez likely will move into a new classification altogether: avoided.
Martinez (47-2-2, 26 KOs) looked fantastic against an opponent with a defensive style designed to discourage just such a performance. He not only floored the Ukraine native five times -- the first time the 35-year-old Dzinziruk (37-1, 23 KOs) had been down as an amateur or professional -- Martinez dominated by beating him with his own weapon, the jab.
So where exactly does Martinez -- in the argument with Manny Pacquiao and the inactive Floyd Mayweather Jr. for the title of world's pound-for-pound best -- go from here?
"I want the best fighters in front of me," Martinez said following Saturday's victory. "Mayweather, [Miguel] Cotto, Pacquiao. ... I want the best. I will not stop until I am recognized as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world."
At 36, the Argentine-born Martinez has a small window to maximize his stock as boxing's hottest rising commodity by taking on the sport's biggest names. The larger problem: His recent run of destruction of the likes of Kelly Pavlik and Paul Williams has made it difficult for rival promoters to put their stars in the ring with him.
"Honestly, we want the biggest fight possible, but we're not going to get a huge fight," said Lou DiBella, Martinez's promoter. "You think that [Top Rank promoter] Bob Arum is ever going to put one of his guys in with this animal? Sergio is a Hall of Fame fighter. He does everything. He is a beast. He has flair. He has power. And he looks like a movie star. He is so talented that it's staggering."
Mayweather's pending legal issues make a fight with Martinez out of the question. And even though Martinez said Saturday he would consider droppring down to 154 pounds to face Pacquiao, he is already too big, fast and dangerous for either Pacquiao or Mayweather to seriously consider as an opponent in the first place.
Talks of a Martinez-Cotto showdown fell apart in December when Arum and DiBella couldn't come to terms on the financials. Arum confirmed reports following Cotto's victory over Ricardo Mayorga on Saturday that fellow Top Rank fighter Antonio Margarito will likely be Cotto's next opponent in a July rematch.
"It's not up to me, it's up to Bob Arum, and my guess is that he would not make a fight between Sergio and Cotto," DiBella said. "Maybe Cotto is man enough to ask Bob Arum to make the fight. Bob Arum's not making any fights with his guys against other people and he seems to be lining up bum after bum after bum for Manny Pacquiao and Cotto. I want the biggest fight that we could get. People should be lining up now to fight Sergio because he is the best fighter in the world."
"Miguel Cotto would be a very good challenger and it would be a big fight for me," Martinez said. "I never ask for an easy one. When my promoter wants to bring an easy one to the table, I say, 'No, I want the best.' So Cotto, if he is man enough, he will say, 'Yes. I want to be like Martinez and I want to take on the best.'"
That leaves Martinez -- who doesn't speak English and still hasn't made the leap toward instant name recognition in the minds of casual sports fans -- with few marquee options.
Martinez said he was interested in facing coddled middleweight Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., and although the fight could do good business considering the unbeaten Chavez's following, he is also a Top Rank fighter. Not to mention, Chavez would first have to get past WBC champion Sebastian Zbik in June.
Meanwhile, European titleholders Felix Sturm, Dmitry Pirog and Sebastian Sylvester would be interesting matchups to some, but they are far from names that move the needle. Crowd-pleasing Irish fighter Andy Lee, who rallied for an exciting KO of unbeaten Craig McEwan on the Martinez-Dzinziruk undercard Saturday, is a possibility considering he's also promoted by DiBella. But Lee and Martinez don't appear to be the same class of fighter.
With rematches against Williams or Pavlik either unlikely or not viable in the near future, Martinez's most entertaining immediate options could come from all-action junior middleweights Alfredo Angulo and James Kirkland. But with Angulo's troubles securing a visa and Kirkland needing more seasoning after his recent release from prison, even those fights aren't automatic. And then there is always the possibility of a faded name to emerge, such as Winky Wright, who pulled out of an April 9 bout with Matthew Macklin because of a hand injury.
Martinez did confirm last week he has no plans to move up to the crowded 168-pound division, because with a smaller, 5-foot-10 frame, he would be giving away too much size. For what it's worth, WBA super middleweight champion Andre Ward tweeted late Saturday of his interest, claiming he "would love a fight with Sergio Martinez. I think it would be great for the fans." But Ward (23-0), who faces Arthur Abraham on May 14 in the semifinals of Showtime's Super Six tournament, also tweeted last month that a move down to 160 pounds for a big-money fight "would be tough, but not impossible. But very tough!"
Brian Campbell is a contributor to ESPN Mobile.