Lou DiBella didn't expect much that day two years ago when he sat down to watch a DVD of Sergio Martínez's greatest hits. Thirty-three-year-old fighter, DiBella thought. No significant victories. Hell, two other promoters already passed on him. Thirty minutes later DiBella was on the phone with Martínez's manager, Sampson Lewkowicz, asking where to send the promotional contract.
"It was like Christmas," says DiBella. "I didn't understand why no one wanted him. He had a chance to be great."
Greatness, it seems, has arrived. Last Saturday night at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, the Argentina-born Martínez, who goes by the nickname Maravilla (Marvelous), ended Kelly Pavlik's 2½-year reign as middleweight champion with a stunning victory by unanimous decision. Outweighed by 11 pounds on fight night and widely believed to be outclassed, Martínez (45-2-2) used his superior speed and mobility to dominate the early rounds, survived a mid-bout assault by Pavlik punctuated by a seventh-round knockdown, and closed the fight with a flourish. After opening a cut by Pavlik's right eye in the ninth, Martínez homed in on it with rapid-fire combinations that painted Pavlik's face with blood. The challenger won the final four rounds on all three of the judges' scorecards. "He doubled up on his jab," said Pavlik, who fell to 36--2. "I couldn't get anything going after the eighth or ninth."
To think, it was not even three years ago, in the same venue, that Pavlik first gained prominence. His KO of Jermain Taylor on Sept. 29, 2007, capped a meteoric rise that was followed by a precipitous fall: an '08 loss to Bernard Hopkins and a pair of lackluster title defenses in '09 that bookended a long absence due to a staph infection. The gulf between Pavlik and boxing's elite has never been wider. It's not just that he lost; it's that, faced with the adversity of the cut, he couldn't summon the resiliency that defines the greats.
If Pavlik passes on a rematch—and why shouldn't he?—Martínez has options. The public will clamor for a rematch with Paul Williams, who narrowly defeated Martínez in December, but Martínez is eyeing Antonio Margarito, who in 2000 handed him his first loss.
With his charisma and GQ style, Martínez has the makings of a star. But at 35 he has a limited shelf life. DiBella is planning a promotional tour through Mexico, Puerto Rico and Argentina and is scoping sites for fights in heavily Latino areas such as Southern California and Texas.
The more people get to know Martínez, DiBella reasons, the more they will like him. Hard to argue with that. When asked why he fought most of the Pavlik bout with his hands by his sides, Martínez smiled slyly. "If I didn't, I wouldn't be me," he said. "I wouldn't be marvelous."
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