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Martinez-Barker: A Night at the Office Gets Complicated…HAUSER

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In many sports today, the great athletes are getting younger. In boxing, the other end of the age spectrum is being extended. Sergio Martinez is 36 years old. In a sport with multiple phony beltholders, he’s the real middleweight champion of the world.

On October 1st, Martinez defended his championship against Darren Barker in Atlantic City. Sergio was a 20-to-1 betting favorite. The prevailing view was that it would be just another night’s work. Then things got complicated.

Martinez won “Fighter of the Year” honors in 2010 by virtue of victories over Kelly Pavlik and Paul Williams. He began 2011 by knocking out Sergei Dzinziruk in impressive fashion.

But too often in boxing, the right connections matter more than ring performance. The supersized purses continued to elude Martinez. He was placed on a back-burner by HBO. In May of this year, he was approached by third parties who told him that he would be better off without his adviser Sampson Lewkowicz and promoter Lou DiBella. The lobbing peaked in early June, when Sergio was in Los Angeles for the June 4th match-up between Julio Cesar Chavez Jr and Sebastian Zbik. It was suggested to Martinez that he could get a $2,000,000 sighing bonus if he signed with another promoter. Other inducements were offered.

The maneuvering troubled Martinez, who has a strong sense of loyalty to Lewkowicz and felt that DiBella had done a credible job on his behalf. It also raised issues of tortious interference with contract, since Sergio’s promotional agreement with DiBella extended until February 12, 2012.

On June 14th, Martinez put the matter to rest, signing a six-fight contract extension with Lewkowicz and DiBella. Then, with no big-money opponent in sight, he signed to fight Darren Barker.

Barker, age 29, is a likable man with little pretense about him. He hails from London and was advertised as the “undefeated British Commonwealth and European middleweight champion.” His nickname is “Dazzling Darren” and he came into the bout with a 23-0 record against opposition of questionable provenance. To the American public, he was a fungible challenger.

Barker said all the right things during the build-up to October 1st: “If the fight was a formality and the favorite always won, boxing wouldn’t be much of a sport, would it? . . . As much as I respect Sergio, I believe I have what it takes to pull a massive upset . . . He’s underestimating me. If he wants to do that, fine. I’ll make him pay for taking me lightly and looking past what’s right in front of him . . . There’s not many things in life that I’m good at, but boxing is one of them.”

In recent years, the United Kingdom has produced champions like Lennox Lewis, Joe Calzaghe, and Ricky Hatton. It has also produced challengers like Michael Jennings and Gary Lockett. The prevailing view was that Barker fit into the latter category and didn’t pose much of a threat to Martinez.

Sergio gave his opponent the respect that he was entitled to as an undefeated professional fighter. “When I came to the United States,” the champion offered, “nobody knew me and people thought I was nothing as a fighter. I had to prove myself the same way that Barker wants to prove himself now.”

Still, the feeling at the final pre-fight press conference three days before the fight was that Barker couldn’t win without help from Martinez. In that vein, it was noted that the champion had a deep bruise beneath his left eye, courtesy of a punch thrown by sparring partner Israel Duffus.

And there was another potential problem. More on that later.

On fight night, Martinez entered dressing room 119 at Boardwalk Hall shortly after 8:00 PM. The first televised fight of the evening (Andy Lee vs. Brian Vera) was scheduled to start at 10:10. The earliest that Sergio would be called to the ring was 10:20. An eleven o’clock starting time was more likely.

Martinez sat on a folding metal chair with his feet propped up on another chair in front of him. Sanctioning body officials and HBO personnel moved in and out of the room. He had a smile and gracious word for each of them.

At 8:30, the room emptied out as most of Team Martinez left to watch a preliminary bout between heavyweights Magomed Abdusalamov and Kevin Burnett. Abdusalamov, a Martinez stablemate, was 9-and-0 with nine knockouts. Burnett, once considered a prospect, had lost three fights in a row and been reduced to opponent status.

Sergio and three others were now the only people in the room. There was relaxed conversation. Word filtered back that Abdusalamov had won on a first-round knockout. Team Martinez returned from ringside: Sampson Lewkowicz, trainer Pablo Sarmiento, cutman Dr. Roger Anderson, and cornermen Cicilio Flores and Russ Anber.

The mood in the dressing room was light. Heavy metal music played at low volume in the background. By nine o’clock, Sergio had been sitting for an hour, no more active than if he’d been at home watching a ballgame on television.

Anber began wrapping Martinez’s hands, left hand first. Sergio sipped from a cup of Starbucks coffee that he held in his right hand. Sometimes in the dressing room before a fight, he eats nuts and dried fruit. A can of mixed nuts was within reach, but he ignored it.

Anber finished wrapping the left hand, and Martinez nodded in satisfaction.

“Excellent or fucking excellent,” the cornerman queried.

Sergio smiled. “Fucking bueno.”

At 9:30, the right hand was done. Martinez took off his sneakers and put on his boxing shoes. Sarmiento moved a chair beside him and they engaged in quiet conversation.

The preparation continued. Sergio shadow-boxed in the center of the room for several minutes. Then he lay down on a rubdown table in the adjacent shower area. Flores stretched his legs and massaged his upper body for five minutes.

More shadow-boxing.

The HBO telecast began.

Martinez put on his protective cup and trunks. Anber gloved him up. From now until the fight was over, Sergio would unable to tighten his shoe laces, go to the bathroom, or even help himself to a drink of water. The only thing he’d be able to do with his hands was fight.

More stretching exercises.

At 10:20, with Lee vs. Vera in round three, Martinez began hitting the pads with Sarmiento; his first strenuous exercise of the evening.

During the last week of training camp, Sergio had strained a muscle in his left leg. Now, he appeared to be favoring the leg. It wasn’t a debilitating condition. But it was the sort of thing that could shade matters a bit. The straight left hand and overhand left are Martinez’s power punches. If he had trouble planting and pushing off his left foot, those punches would have less power than is normally the case. If the condition worsened during the fight, his timing might be affected.

The padwork ended. Martinez sat down. Flores draped a white towel over the fighter’s head and another across his chest. Roger Anderson put Vaseline on his face.

More padwork.

Flores helped Sergio into his robe. There was nothing to do now but pace back and forth and wait. A heavily-favored champion going to the ring is like a police officer responding to a 911 call that a man with a gun is running down the street. No matter how careful and well-prepared the cop is, something bad might happen.

There were some vocal Barker fans in the arena, but the crowd of 4,376 was largely pro-Martinez.

The first round was quiet and belonged to Sergio on the basis of a ten-to-five edge in punches landed. But it was a good round for the challenger in that it raised his confidence level a bit. Round two was more of a same. Then the momentum shifted.

If a fighter isn’t right in the ring, he’s the first person to know. Then his opponent figures it out.

Martinez’s modus operendi is to stand just outside of punching range with his hands down. As the opponent readies to punch, Sergio moves in and gets off first. More than most boxers, he fights with his legs. And he lures opponents into his power.  Fighting aggressively against him opens a boxer up to counterpunches.

With that in mind, Barker moved cautiously forward for most of the fight, hands held high in a defensive posture. But in round three, he started jabbing more effectively and became more aggressive, landing several lead right hands. Martinez’s nose seemed to bother him. It bled from round four on and looked to be broken.

Sergio regained the initiative in round five. He also won six and seven, fighting the way he often fights; hands down, drawing Barker into punching range before getting off first. But his timing was off. He appeared to be lunging with his punches rather than moving with the fluidity and grace that characterize his art. And the blood in his nose was affecting his breathing.

Twenty-two seconds into round eight, Martinez’s right heel got entangled with the instep of Barker’s left foot and Sergio fell hard to the canvas. Referee Eddie Cotton correctly ruled it a slip. Sergio rose slowly and his corner held its collective breath as he tested his left leg.

Then Barker came on again, doing damage in rounds eight and nine. The challenger was fighting as well as he could. With more power, he might have been able to turn the fight. But he was a heavy underdog for a reason.

Round ten was the biggest round of the fight for Martinez. Halfway through it, he landed a sharp straight left that shook Barker and had him holding on. Forty seconds later, a solid jab landed just right and staggered the challenger. Darren covered up, and, over the next twenty seconds, Sergio fired a barrage of thirty-three unanswered punches before Barker fired back.

The champion came out confidently in round eleven. Barker was weary; his left eye was closing. Now Sergio was measuring his opponent. Seventy-seven seconds into the stanza, a right hook landed partially on Barker’s upraised left glove and partially just above his ear. The challenger went down, struggled to rise, and was counted out.

“I can’t remember the punch,” Barker acknowledged afterward. “I remember, my legs just fell from under me. I was trying to get up, but couldn’t.”

The judges had Martinez ahead 99-91, 97-94, and 96-94 at the time of the stoppage. This writer scored it 96-94, giving Barker the third, fourth, eighth, and ninth rounds.

In truth, Martinez looked flat. After a number of scintillating outings, his performance was less-than-spectacular, more workmanlike than inspired. But he did what a champion is supposed to do, digging deep and gutting it out to win on a night when he was less than his best.

“I must be realistic,” Sergio said at the post-fight press conference. “It was a tough fight and a close fight.” He paused, then added, “It is never an easy fight. There is never a small enemy in the ring.”

As for what comes next; Martinez symbolizes the conundrum that boxing finds itself in today. Boxing fans know how good he is. The rest of the world has no idea who he is; let alone, how good.

Sergio can compete in two weight divisions without sacrificing speed or power. He’s a “small” middleweight, who could go down to 154 pounds with relative ease. As DiBella points out, “He weighed in for Barker at 158 after eating all week like Gary Shaw.” But the fighters with names that generate big money don’t want to get in the ring with him.

Martinez is beatable. Before fighting Barker, he’d faced moments of doubt in each of his five previous fights. At times, Kelly Pavlik, Sergei Dzinziruk, Kermit Cintron, and Paul Williams (twice) fought with him on even terms. But he’s a gifted athlete with a fighting heart. And he can punch. In his last three outings, he has knocked out three opponents with a composite record of 99-and-1.

In sum, Martinez is a symbol of excellence in boxing. “I don’t know how many more fights I’ll have,” he told Gabriel Montoya recently. “But I know I can fight for more. I’m going to continue to work until my body says no more.”

Sergio will be 37 years old in February. He doesn’t have that much time left. Boxing fans should get to know him better before he’s gone.


Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at thauser@rcn.com. His most recent book (Winks and Daggers: An Inside Look at Another Year in Boxing) has just been published by the University of Arkansas Press.

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Saul Sanchez Wins in Ontario, CA

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ONTARIO, CA- Saul Sanchez remained undefeated after a tumultuous battle against Mexico’s Fernando Saavedra to win by majority decision to the dismay of a small crowd on Friday.

In a battle of bantamweights at the Doubletree Hotel, it was Pacoima’s Sanchez (11-0, 6 KOs) who started quicker but San Luis Potosi’s Saavedra (7-6, 3 KOs) closed the gap in the latter half of the fight in front of a boisterous crowd of maybe 400 fans.

Sanchez nearly floored Saavedra in the first 20 seconds of the fight when a three-punch combination had the Mexican fighter wobbled. It spurred Sanchez to go on the attack, ultimately leading to a toe-to-toe battle.

The quicker hands and feet of Sanchez proved troubling for Saavedra, who needed the Southern Californian to stand still. That seldom happened in the first four rounds.

But though neither boxer seemed to tire, Sanchez began getting trapped against the ropes and allowing Saavedra to connect with powerful blows. The last three rounds were especially close and Sanchez was able to slip more blows than Saavedra. But each never ready to quit.

After eight bantamweight rounds, two judges scored it 77-75 for Sanchez and one had it 76-76 a draw. Sanchez was deemed the winner by majority decision.

Many fans were angry by the decision.

Other bouts

Corona’s Louie Lopez (5-0, 3 KOs) remained undefeated with a solid performance over Bakersfield’s Ray Cervera (0-2), a resilient super welterweight. Lopez was able to use his quick left hooks to score in every round but Cervera had a good chin and was able to counter with rights. No knockdowns were scored in the four round fight and all three judges scored the fight 40-36.

Oscar Torrez (3-0, 1 KO) knocked down Richard Soto (0-1) in the last round to assure a victory by unanimous decision in an entertaining heavyweight fight. Torrez fights out of Rialto, CA and is trained by Henry Ramirez who also trains Chris “The Nightmare” Arreola. The two heavyweights seemed evenly matched for the first two rounds, with Soto having his best round in the second when he continually landed one-two combinations with good effect. But Torrez resumed control of the fight in the third by using the jab, then mixing up his attack. In the fourth round, Torrez unleashed a 10-punch barrage that dropped Soto in the corner. The fighter from Northern California got up and survived the round but was unable to turn things around. Two judges scored it 39-36 and another had it 40-35, all for Torrez.

Anthony Franco (3-1-1) took time to warm up before scoring a knockdown and defeating Kansas fighter Antonio L. Hernandez (1-4) by decision after four rounds in a super welterweight contest. In the third round, Franco slipped under a left by Hernandez who tripped and when he turned was met by a perfect left that knocked down the Kansas boxer. Though he wasn’t hurt, it changed the complexion of a close fight in favor of Franco who lives in Redlands, CA. All three judges scored it for Franco 38-35, 39-36, 38-37.

Tijuana’s Rafael Rivera (26-2-2, 17 KOs) ripped into Guanajuato’s Jose Ramos (11-15-1, 8 KOs) with a savage attack to win by knockout in the first round. A barrage of blows sent Ramos backward dangling over the ropes. Referee Ray Corona ruled it a knockdown and let the fight continue. Rivera resumed the attack and blistered the taller Ramos with blinding punches forcing the fight to be stopped at 1:51 of the first round. It was Rivera’s first fight since losing to Joet Gonzalez by split decision last July in Los Angeles.

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Pacquiao-Broner: A Perfect Fight for Pacquiao and the Good Guy Wins

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Various sites are reporting that eight division titlist Manny Pacquiao 60-7-2 (39) will meet four division title winner Adrien Broner 33-3-1 (24) in December or January with Manny’s WBA regular welterweight title on the line. The fight hasn’t been confirmed yet but here’s how you know it’ll happen, and that is the fight makes dollars and sense for the super-star involved and that’s Manny Pacquiao.

Pacquiao signed with adviser/promoter Al Haymon – with the hope of getting a rematch with Floyd Mayweather in 2019. Haymon is tied to Mayweather and Broner and most of the top welterweights in the sport – including world champions Errol Spence, Keith Thurman and Shawn Porter. Manny lost a unanimous decision to Mayweather in May of 2015 and has longed for a rematch ever since. And ironically, neither Mayweather nor Pacquiao want any parts of taking on a young gun boxer in his prime. Both Terence Crawford, the WBO title holder, and Errol Spence, the IBF titlist, would take apart and embarrass both of them and there’s a sound case to make that both would’ve been okay tangling with Floyd and Manny even during their prime.

However, Mayweather and Pacquiao are businessman first and fighters second at this time and that’s been the case for quite a while. Manny only has interest in facing Mayweather again because he seeks revenge and Floyd will be 42 and coming off a long period of being inactive by the time they face off. As for Mayweather, he’d rather partake in big money fiascos where he can continue to gouge the public in WWE gimmicks against elite MMA fighters like Conor McGregor, his last opponent, or McGregor’s recent conqueror Khabid Nurmagomedov.

The only real boxer Floyd would entertain fighting is Pacquiao, who at this stage is only a moderate threat to Floyd because Mayweather hasn’t been in the gym much and has been preoccupied with spending his money. That and Pacquiao has a style that Floyd knows he can handle and Manny holds a version of the welterweight title. Granted, Floyd would probably make more money facing Nurmagomedov and Pacquiao is more or less his plan B if Manny gets by Broner. The problem with Mayweather facing Nurmagomedov is that Nurmagodev’s MMA fights don’t attract big interest and just maybe after the McGregor farce, both boxing and MMA fans are fed up with Mayweather’s faux fights and rip-offs – and with him then rubbing it in their faces by bragging how much money he made. So perhaps fans have wised up and will only consider paying to see Floyd fight another boxer – therefore Pacquiao becomes relevant to him.

With it no longer a secret that Mayweather and Pacquiao are only interested in robbing the public, enter Adrien Broner. If there’s another fighter who has been rewarded with big fights after posting underwhelming performances every time he has faced an upper-tier fighter, I don’t know of him. Broner is 3-2-1 in his last six bouts, having faced two championship caliber opponents in Shawn Porter and Mikey Garcia. He lost on the judges’ cards by a collective 16 points versus Porter and 14 against Garcia….in other words he didn’t compete and after the first third of those fights you could’ve turned to something else and you wouldn’t have missed a thing…other than Broner scoring a knockdown over a coasting and careless Porter in the 12th round.

Broner, 29, is a highly skilled boxer, and when he fights he shows flashes of what he could’ve been but never was. Adrien’s problem is he has a low boxing IQ and never cared to expand it. He’s let his weight balloon up and he’s lazy. Actually, Broner doesn’t like to fight and does it because he’s pretty good at it and he likes the notoriety it brings him. Other than that, he’s a contented loser and that makes him perfect for an aging Pacquiao.

When they get in the ring Manny can count on Broner fighting no more than 30 seconds per round and posing and loafing for the remaining 2:30. Adrien will talk up a great fight, saying he knows time is running out and he needs a sensational showing, but once again his words won’t translate into deeds…they never do. Pacquiao, knowing that a potential Mayweather rematch hinges on how he looks, will show up prepared and ready for battle. Manny has been around the block a few times and knows nothing will escalate the interest in another fight with Mayweather like a good showing and perhaps him being the first to stop Broner inside the distance.

Hopefully boxing fans won’t be asked to shell out PPV dollars to watch Pacquiao vs. Broner. But it’s boxing, so nothing should come as a surprise. The only given here is that Broner doesn’t hold any advantage over Pacquiao in size or skill, which isn’t normally the case with Manny. Moreover, he’s facing a fighter who will fold and break the first-time things get tough, and if we know one thing about Pacquiao it’s that he doesn’t make it easy for anybody. And I expect him to feed off of Broner’s weak constitution as the fight progresses. In addition to that this is the perfect good guy versus bad guy match up.

The one thing that might add intrigue to Pacquiao-Broner is that Broner is an easy guy to root against and a ton of fans would love to see nice guy Manny Pacquiao beat him up and humiliate him. And if the fight comes to fruition, count on that being how it unfolds. Yes, Pacquiao fights the perfect guy in order to set up a rematch with Mayweather and Broner will exit the ring a loser once again, only with a little more money to flush down the toilet.

Frank Lotierzo can be reached at GlovedFist@Gmail.com

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Irish Jason Quigley Keeps NABF Title at Fantasy Springs

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INDIO, Calif.- Jason Quigley returned to fight in Southern California after nearly two years away and found it tough going in defeating Mexico’s veteran Freddie Hernandez by unanimous decision to retain the NABF middleweight title on Thursday.

Nearly every round was contentious.

Quigley (15-0, 11 KOs) had decided to train in England after spending several years in Southern California. Though he beat Hernandez (34-10, 22 KOs) he must have forgot how to fight inside as that’s where the troubles began at Fantasy Springs Casino. The fight was televised on ESPN.

After spending the first several rounds picking apart 39-year-old Hernandez from the outside, when the Mexican fighter crowded Quigley, the Irish fighter found it difficult to maintain his punch advantage.

Hernandez used his crafty inside work to both score and muffle the punches incoming from Quigley. In the sixth and seventh round the Mexican fighter began mounting considerable damage on his foes’ face. Whether it was weariness or some other factor, Hernandez was scoring big with well-placed left hooks and lead rights.

The crowd began shouting “Fred-die, Fred-die” as the veteran landed flush blows. A look of concern crossed Quigley’s face.

Both fighters looked tired by the ninth round, but the older fighter Hernandez somehow seemed fresher especially while fighting on the inside. Then Quigley began separating himself and scoring with pot shots. That seemed to stop the rushes of Hernandez.

In the final round Quigley’s fans began shouting his name and the Irish fighter though weary managed to fire some combinations while on the move. Both fighters were exhausted when the final bell rang.

One judge scored it 99-91, the other two had it 98-92 all for Quigley.

“I feel great, I knew coming in this was a big test for me,” said Quigley.

Yes it was.

Gomez

New York’s Eddie Gomez (22-3, 12 KOs) was supposed to be joined with his dad for the fight against Japan’s Shoki Sakai (22-9-2, 12 KOs) in Indio, but unexpectedly his father passed away this past weekend. The fight still went on.

Gomez won every round against the game Sakai who was trained by Mexico’s famed Nacho Beristain. The welterweight Gomez from the Bronx used his speed and movement to keep away from Sakai’s big blows. After eight rounds all three judges saw it 80-72 for Gomez.

“It was very hard. He (father) was supposed to come out Saturday night. He took a week off of work. He was supposed to fly out and Saturday was the day he had died,” said Gomez after the fight. “I got to bite down. He was in camp with me. He had his input. He would have been proud today. I love you pops.”

Other bouts

Coachella’s Rommell Caballero (4-0, 3 KOs) floored Hugo Padron twice to win by knockout at 1:25 of the first round in a super featherweight match. Caballero, the 19-year-old brother of former super bantamweight champion Randy Caballero, connected with a counter left hook during an initial exchange that sent Pardo to the floor. He got up tentatively and was met with a crisp right through the gloves for a second knockdown. Referee Tom Taylor took a look at Pardo and waved the fight over.

“My first fight on ESPN I just want to thank everybody. All I’m doing is training. I’m getting ready and staying sharp,” said Caballero who was a former sparring partner for Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez. “Training with him (Gonzalez) is one of the greatest experiences I ever had.”

After losing most every round Ray Perez (24-10, 8 KOs) made a stand and connected with an overhand left that staggered Chimpa Gonzalez (19-3, 15 KOs) and then the Filipino fired another overhand left through the guard and down went Gonzalez. Though he beat the count, Gonzalez seemed light headed and when the fight resumed Perez connected with more blows and the fight was called at 2:15 of the seventh round. Perez was deemed the winner by knockout.

It was a rematch of a fight that took place last February at the same venue. In that contest Perez won by unanimous decision.

Gonzalez trained with Joel and Antonio Diaz in Indio for this match. And though the lanky lightweight was far ahead on the score cards, he seldom moved his head and paid for it. Before that, he was ahead by attacking the body of Perez who protected his body for the last three rounds. But once Gonzalez slowed Perez revved up his attack and finished Gonzalez.

In a featherweight clash Edgar Ortega survived a first round knockdown against Recky Dulay (11-4, 8 KOs) and rallied to win by unanimous decision after six rounds by scores 57-56, and 58-55 twice.

Southpaw lightweight Angel Ruiz (11-0, 8 KOs) knocked out Dominican Republic’s Jonathan Fortuna (8-3) at 1:40 of the fourth round. Ruiz, 21, fights out of Tijuana, Mexico.

Super featherweight Elnur Abduraimov (2-0) knocked out Giovannie Gonzalez (5-3) at 2:38 of the second round. Abduraimov, 24, is originally from Uzbekistan.

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