Boxing

Martinez-Williams: a fight for the fans

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NEW YORK (AP)

Boxing returned to the mainstream last week, thanks to a pint-sized Filipino fighter named Manny Pacquiao who made even the most casual sports fan pay attention.

Too bad he used Antonio Margarito as little more than a punching bag.

The thousands of fans who filled Cowboys Stadium and the millions more who watched on pay-per-view were treated to perhaps the most impressive boxing display of this era. But they weren't necessarily treated to a great fight, because the only question after the first few rounds was whether Pacquiao would win by knockout or decision.

That won't be the case Saturday night, when Sergio Martinez defends his middleweight title against Paul Williams in Atlantic City, a rematch of one of last year's exceptional fights.

Neither has the name recognition of Pacquiao, which means the HBO broadcast from Boardwalk Hall will draw a sliver of the attention. But they're perhaps the two best fighters in the world after Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr., and they always leave everything in the ring.

''I know there's been a lot of stuff said, people are saying all kinds of stuff to hype up the fight, but I really don't have a whole lot to say,'' Williams said this week.

''I know Sergio will bring his A-game with him, but I've been in there with him, just like he's been in there with me. We know what to expect. There's going to be some fighting.''

If the Pacquiao-Margarito fight was one for the masses, this is one for boxing fans.

When they met last December, Williams and Martinez traded first-round knockdowns before spending the next 11 rounds trading punches, delighting the few thousand fans who made it inside Boardwalk Hall's Adrian Phillips Ballroom to see them touch gloves.

Both of them were bruised and battered, but they never stopped throwing punches until the final bell sounded. Then they both raised their arms in victory, and for good reason - one judge scored the fight even while the other two favored Williams just enough to give him the nod. It was a Fight of the Year candidate that could have gone either way.

''We've read a lot of stories the last few months about the fans, media, everyone wanted to see the biggest and best fights that could be made,'' Williams promoter Dan Goossen said. ''No argument this is one of those fights.''

Perhaps the most incredible part of their first meeting is that it shouldn't have even happened.

Williams was supposed to fight Kelly Pavlik for the middleweight title, but the bout was scrapped after multiple delays. Martinez stepped in as the replacement on short notice.

Williams and Goossen have argued ever since that the three-time champion would have won handily had Williams been able to prepare specifically for Martinez, a slick left-hander whose quickness and style are much different than slow, power-punching Pavlik.

''I've been predicting all along,'' Goossen said, ''he's had a full training camp, prepared for Sergio this time, and that's a big, big difference.''

Despite all the plaudits for their first meeting, the rematch wasn't made right away.

Williams hoped to land a lucrative fight against someone like Pacquiao or Mayweather at welterweight, where he once held a title. But his lanky 6-foot-1 frame creates matchup problems for most smaller fighters, and his relatively unknown stature outside of hardcore boxing fans means he had virtually no shot of luring some of the bigger names into the ring.

Williams finally ran out of time, and alternatives, and agreed to face Martinez, who in the meantime won a bloody decision over Pavlik to claim the middleweight throne.

''He stole my belts,'' Williams said, ''and I'm going to get them back.''

Just about the only criticism of their rematch is rather than meeting at the middleweight limit of 160 pounds, Williams demanded there be a catchweight of 158. He had been training to fight at a lighter weight and felt he was at a disadvantage, even though he's a couple inches taller and has a much longer reach than Martinez.

''As a man, and a fighter, I'm ashamed of them to fight for a title at a catchweight,'' Martinez said through a translator. ''I would never do that. If I need to challenge someone, I would do it the weight of the division.''

Fans hardly care about two pounds, though. Even the most casual observer wants to see back-and-forth action, something that has become increasingly rare these days in boxing.

Williams and Martinez sound like they're ready to provide it.

''I will fight him, I will box him, I will attack him when the time comes,'' Martinez said. ''I'm ready for a war, and that's what we're going to give Saturday night, a real war.''

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