World Middleweight Championship, 12 Rounds
Sergio Martinez (c) v. Paul Williams
In 2009, Paul Williams, a former welterweight and junior middleweight titlist with a freakish height of around 6'3" and an absurd 82" reach, signed a deal to fight middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik. Pavlik had been signed to face Sergio Mora in the summer, but didn't do it. Then a fight with Williams was made for October. Again, Pavlik bailed, citing staph infection in his hand. Those who saw Pavlik's hand know that the injury was not a lie.
So the fight was rescheduled for December 5 in Atlantic City, Pavlik's boxing home away from home. It was a highly-anticipated fight that HBO was very much behind -- they even moved around potential fights in December to accommodate the bout. But then Pavlik pulled out once again, claiming the staph infection was still too severe to fight Williams, though they did ask for a short window to postpone the fight another week or two.
Rightly fearing that Pavlik had no intention to show up and fight Williams any time in December, the Williams camp moved on and signed a fight with junior middleweight contender Sergio Martinez. Both southpaws who weren't known for brawls, Williams and Martinez were expected to put on a fight that might be interesting, but surely wasn't going to be spectacular.
Then they put on something spectacular. Both fighters went down in the opening round, and tore into each other with savage brutality over 12 incredibly competitive rounds. Many scored the fight close for Williams, who won by decision. Many had it close for Martinez, whose stock only shot upward with the great fight. Many felt it was a draw. Ringside judge Pierre Benoist had it 119-110 for Williams, which was the worst scorecard of the year, and not even possibly excusable by the age-old (and often quite right) explanation of "well fights look different ringside than on TV." Nobody could have felt Williams won 11 of those 12 rounds, considering many of them were quite clearly Martinez's rounds.
There was some brief talk of a rematch, and some brief talk of Pavlik-Williams finally happening, but neither fight came to pass. Instead, Pavlik fought Martinez in April, and despite Pavlik's best performance since his rematch win over Jermain Taylor in February 2008, Martinez was too good for him. At the age of 35, Sergio Martinez claimed the middleweight championship of the world. Just months prior, no one would have even pegged him as being in line for the title, let alone the man who would dethrone Pavlik.
After Pavlik passed on a rematch he could have claimed contractually, and Paul Williams picked up a bizarre and mostly meaningless four-round technical decision win over Kermit Cintron, the time was right. Much haggling ensued, but in the end, the rematch was signed.
So here we are, with Sergio Martinez and Paul Williams ready to square up again. They thrilled us last year, and in a month packed with great fights and big events, this awesome rematch is nearly lost in the shuffle. But believe me, it shouldn't be.
Grading the Fighters
I think both of these guys displayed champion-level guts last December, and there's more to their A's in heart than just that fight, too. Martinez has followed an odd career path, coming out of his native Argentina in 2002 to start fighting in Spain and the United Kingdom. Prior to his move out of his home country, he had just one loss, which was to Antonio Margarito in 2000. In the UK rings, he claimed the lightly-regarded IBO junior middleweight title, and then picked up one of a million WBC trinekts, mostly staying in Spain through 2007.
I say all that to get where I'm going here. Martinez could have been largely written off as a guy with a fluffed-up record built on cans and mediocre opposition. I admit, and have admitted before, that I did just that with him. I remember seeing him fight on Vs. once in 2007 against Russell Jordan, and wondering why he was fighting that level of competition at such an advanced stage of his career? But then he got a shot on HBO in 2008 against Alex Bunema, and tore him apart. He was matched then with Cintron, and clearly won the fight, only to be screwed by poor refereeing and the ringside judges scoring it a majority draw.
His heart, though, came through. He didn't whine after the loss to Cintron, he simply moved on with his career. He took a fight with Williams on short notice and made the best of it. He then went into Kelly Pavlik's other house in Atlantic City and slashed the champion en route to a convincing 12-round win. His heart has been displayed in the way he's carried himself. He's incredibly confident.
Williams, on the other hand, has shown it in the ring. It's easy to forget that he got cracked hard by Walter Matthysse in their 2006 fight, but recovered and came back to stop Matthysse in 10. He then went through a good brawl with Antonio Margarito in 2007, winning by decision and claiming his first major title. And when he was upset in his very next fight, he came back a few months later to knock out the man who beat him (Carlos Quintana) in the first round. Through it all, Williams has stayed pretty active, despite the fact that many of the top opponents for him simply don't want to fight him. (There are two sides to that, as always, but we'll acknowledge that he's not exactly high on a lot of lists for name fighters.)
Both of them can take a good shot. Williams was really hurt in the first round against Martinez, and battled through the pain, often seeming like he was fighting on instinct. Martinez is so slick (B+ defense) that he often doesn't get hit much at all, but showed against Williams he can take punches, and against Pavlik, too.
They have high hand speed ratings from me, but have completely different types of speed. Williams is at his best when he's volume punching. He's never really learned to use his height and reach to the advantage it should be, but frankly he just fights better inside. Williams is an awkward, odd fighter. He really doesn't fit the stereotype of his body at all, and he can fire off a ton of punches before opponents retaliate. Martinez is a cutie who keeps his arms down and still manages to out-quick most guys; he's not Roy Jones Jr., but he's not one of the many bad imitations, either.
Williams' power would rate higher at 154 or 147, but as a middleweight his power is just pretty good. Same for Martinez, though Martinez's power is better than his KO mark (24 stoppages in 45 wins), and he's a slashing puncher, which always gives him an elevated chance to open up cuts on his foes.
It's for the legitimate, lineal middleweight championship of the world, and a fight between two guys you can argue as top five pound-for-pound in the world.
Good Fight Potential:
I know, I know. The first one was a FOTY candidate. But the way that fight played out was truly stunning. Nobody expected a toe-to-toe war from these two last December, and even though we've seen that happen when they fight one another, I think it's still a little crazy to expect it to happen again. That fight's first round led to an ultra aggressive outing from both men. It seemed like a fight where corner advice and gameplans were thrown out the window after the opening round knockdowns, and both men just started going 100mph the whole way. They knew they could hurt their foe, and saw the openings being presented. Defense was abandoned. That's not likely to happen again. Both have been involved in other good fights, and their styles just might lead to another war. But I'd advise to temper expectations so that a good, tactical fight with some nice exchanges doesn't seem like a letdown.
Overall Pre-Fight Score:
It's a rematch of a FOTY contender for all the marbles at 160 pounds, one of the most celebrated weight classes in boxing history. You can't ask much more.
This is a fact, and cannot be argued: Almost every time two fighters rematch, the winner of the first fight wins the second fight. That's just statistical analysis. That's why great trilogies (or beyond) are so special and unique. Generally speaking, the man who wins the first time will win the second time.
But this one's a little different than usual. They were fighting each other on short notice last time around. Williams had trained to fight Kelly Pavlik, who is nothing like Martinez. Martinez had not trained to fight a massively tall southpaw, either. Both of them came in far less prepared than you'd ever want a top-level fighter to come in for an HBO main event. And both of them, you might argue, showed weaknesses that you won't see this time around. And I think that's mostly because they're training for each other this time, and not so much because they've fought before. That first fight was such a drastic and radical departure from what was expected that I almost feel like you can throw that out when trying to analyze this one before the bell.
Williams seemed a little lackluster in his three-plus rounds against Kermit Cintron this year, but it was three rounds and change. Paul might have turned it on after, or maybe not. He's had some performances where he didn't seem like such a big deal, frankly, and others where he's been pretty sensational. Martinez, since rising into the top flight of the sport, has been impressive pretty much every fight to one degree or another, and actually seems like he's getting better every time out since the Cintron fight.
This is one of those fights where I really do not have a concrete pick in mind. I'm going to go with Sergio Martinez because I think right now, he's simply the better fighter. I scored the last fight just barely in his favor, and I just feel he's the better man at this stage of the two careers. That could mean a third fight, and at that point, maybe Williams will seem like the man with more momentum. Right now I think it's Sergio, though. Either way, we're talking about a world-class fight, so enjoy it. No promotional bulls**t, no melodrama, no nastiness. Just two top-ranked fighters fighting for a real championship. Rare enough to savor. Martinez SD-12