Martinez ready for middleweight king Pavlik

Rarely does a fighter get the biggest opportunity of his career

by losing.

That’s precisely what happened to Sergio Martinez.

The junior middleweight champion dropped a close and somewhat

questionable decision to feared puncher Paul Williams in December,

but Martinez performed so well and made such an entertaining bout

that he was given another chance in the spotlight.

On Saturday night, Martinez will face middleweight king Kelly

Pavlik at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J., in the main event

of an HBO-televised doubleheader. Super middleweight champion

Lucian Bute faces Edison Miranda in the opener from Montreal.

“You will see a great fight and definitely I will take my

championship back to Argentina,” Martinez said Wednesday, during a

final news conference for the event. “All this year I was praying

for this particular fight and everybody knows I’m ready for a

war.”

Martinez has quickly amassed a significant following among

boxing aficionados, and for good reason. The former cyclist and

soccer player is one of the fastest 154-pound fighters in the

world, with tremendous movement and tactical ability that resonates

with purists.

He also exudes charisma.

Martinez showed up for the final meet-and-greet with media and

fans dressed in a dark gray suit, red power tie, and rock star

shades that he wore even in the dimly lit upstairs reception room

of Gallagher’s Steakhouse. He shook hands, cracked jokes and smiled

freely – and laughed uncontrollably when “Don’t Cry for Me

Argentina” played over the sound system.

“He’s got tremendous athleticism and conditioning, he’s always

in shape, he’s always quick,” said his promoter Lou DiBella. “He

fights in a style all his own, and that’s why he’s one of the best

154-pounders in the world.”

Despite so much going for him, Martinez (44-2-2, 24 KOs) has

been stung by questionable judging and scoring when he’s been on

the sport’s biggest stage.

He fought Kermit Cintron last February in Sunrise, Fla., and

managed only a draw despite most ringside observers giving him the

fight handily. Martinez then returned to the ring against Williams

in December, battling one of the most dynamic fighters in the sport

for 12 rounds, this time losing a majority decision in a candidate

for Fight of the Year.

“If they’re worried about the referees and the judges, you

won’t even need to bring the judges that night. They won’t be

needed,” Pavlik’s trainer, Jack Loew, said half-jokingly. “They

can stay home that night, because it won’t go the distance.”

Pavlik had wanted a fight with Williams, but the acrimonious

relationship between the two fighters and their camps prevented it

from happening. So he extended the opportunity to Martinez in what

will still be the most dangerous fight he’s had in more than a

year.

“He wasn’t that known in the States, but that Williams fight

put him on the map,” Pavlik said. “He’s a tough fighter, he’s

slick, pretty good hand speed. But I’ve seen him do a lot of things

wrong in his fights. There’s goods and bads.”

DiBella believes that if Martinez can coax the fight to a

decision, this time it will go in his favor. Martinez typically

throws a high volume of punches, whereas Pavlik (36-1, 32 KOs) will

often wait for openings to land a power shot.

Still, DiBella confided that it is a dangerous matchup and he’s

concerned that Martinez could get caught with a knockout punch if

he isn’t careful.

“This is a matchup that’s about as good as it gets,” DiBella

said. “Kelly didn’t have to take this fight – he could have taken

another route – but he took the toughest guy who wanted to face

him. It’s going to be a great fight.”