With his win last night over Darren Barker, Sergio Martinez is back on the hunt for his next opponent starting now. Will someone come up? Will the middleweight champion go back down in weight to chase bigger money and bigger attention? Will someone at 160 pounds step up and make for a genuinely interesting fight?
Here are ten potential opponents, with reasons they could or won't be Sergio's next opponent, and quick thoughts on how they might fare.
1. Dmitry Pirog
Pirog (19-0, 15 KO) has been in the discussion since his 2010 knockout of hyped prospect Danny Jacobs, and he's coming off of a stoppage win over Gennady Martirosyan on September 25, where he looked much better than he did against Javier Maciel in March, but to be fair Maciel just might be a pretty good fighter. Pirog is talented, he's a southpaw, and he can punch. It's still an open question of whether or not he's really beaten any good fighters, but whose resume is that much better at 160? Pirog and his handlers want the fight. Lou DiBella has told them they have to beat Peter Quillin first.
2. Daniel Geale
Australia's Geale (26-1, 15 KO) is, like Darren Barker or Sergiy Dzinziruk, a quality fighter who wouldn't be an unwelcome opponent, but would be a very heavy underdog. Geale won the IBF belt from Sebastian Sylvester in May, getting the points nod on the road in Germany, and predictably outclassed Eromosele Albert in Tasmania on August 31. Is he ready for Martinez? Like everyone else at 160, that's questionable, but he's got as good an argument as anyone. One plus: Geale is handled Stateside by Gary Shaw, who works frequently with DiBella.
3. Julio Cesar Chavez Jr
Chavez (43-0-1, 30 KO) holds the WBC title that was stripped from Martinez for gloriously transparent reasons, but is still regarded by most as a phony contender who will meet his demise as soon as he faces a true top fighter. After nipping past Sebastian Zbik on June 4, Chavez lined up a fight with Ronald Hearns (a DiBella fighter) on September 17, then pulled out late with a hand injury, thought by many to be more that he couldn't make weight. Though DiBella harshly criticized Chavez along those lines, Junior Chavez is lined up to fighter another of Lou's guys, Peter Manfredo Jr, on November 19. The positives are that Chavez is worth good money and a lot of people would love to see Sergio fight him, if only to end the idea that he's some kind of "champion." But the general feeling is probably right: No matter what the WBC pretends to promise, Chavez will never go near Martinez.
4. Miguel Cotto
Cotto (36-2, 29 KO) holds the WBA "super" title at 154 pounds, and of course is a former 140 and 147-pound titleholder, too, and one of the best and most famous fighters of the last decade. Martinez wants the fight, and it's easy to understand why: At 5'7", Cotto is undersized to face Martinez, even if Sergio dropped back down to 154 to make it happen, and he's considered past his prime and a poor style matchup anyway. The veteran Puerto Rican has dismissed the idea recently, scoffing at the notion that he could make a $5 million guarantee (which he will to face Margarito again) against Martinez. The money may be there, but those who doubt Cotto wants to fight Martinez are probably right, money or not.
5. Antonio Margarito
Margarito (38-7, 27 KO) is responsible for one of the two Ls on Martinez's record, which came way back in 2000 when both were welterweights, and Martinez was a total unknown. Now, Margarito is 33 years old, at the end of his career, and looking for big fights to close out what's left of his relevant years. If he does beat Cotto again on December 3, he's been mentioned as a possible Martinez opponent, with Sergio himself saying he hopes Margarito will win, because he assumes Margarito would actually fight him. Top Rank has said that they'd only take the fight with a 60-40 split in Margarito's favor, which pissed off DiBella, but 50-50 might be doable. The fight looks like a bad style matchup for Margarito at this point, but if he beats Cotto and fights on, what else is he going to do?
6. Felix Sturm
Sturm (36-2-1, 15 KO) is considered by most to be the No. 2 middleweight in the world, but facts are facts, and Felix doesn't leave Germany. Along with that, DiBella has already said there is no way they'll go to Germany to face Sturm. Sturm is a crafty veteran who can fight when pressed (I was in the minority who thought he had a perfectly good argument as winner over Matthew Macklin in June), but Martinez is unlike any of the fighters Sturm has faced in his career. Sturm next fights on December 2, facing Martin Murray.
7. Matthew Macklin
Macklin (28-3, 19 KO) hasn't fought since his close loss to Sturm, and may or may not fight for the remainder of the year. He signed with DiBella in August, and DiBella said that the fight "eventually will make sense." Macklin would love to do it on St. Patrick's Day weekend next year. The fight could happen simply because Macklin is a legitimate contender and the negotiations would be easy with both having the same promoter. It's probably near the top of the list.
8. Andy Lee
Lee (27-1, 19 KO) has been featured on the last two Martinez cards, and featured on HBO in the process. On March 12, he rallied to dramatically stop Craig McEwan in a great fight, and last night, he avenged his only career loss in a largely one-sided, entertaining win over Brian Vera. Lee, 27, is trained and managed by Emanuel Steward, and works with DiBella. He's probably as ready as he's ever going to get for a fight like this, and as a 6'2" southpaw with an uppercut now added to his repertoire, he might be a more interesting matchup than some might think. Steward has seen Martinez fight from ringside on several occasions now, so he's familiar with the champ.
Golovkin (21-0, 18 KO) has gotten some great press this year, largely coming from time spent sparring with Canelo Alvarez in California, impressing spectators who expected a stiff, "European style" fighter, and instead got a guy who is an offensive machine and a risk-taker. But the worry right now is that Golovkin may not be very ambitious. He had some promotional issues with Universum, but he will be a full free agent on November 21, and then we'll see where he goes after that. He wanted away from Universum for the same reason Sturm said he did, but Sturm hasn't done much differently promoting himself. Would Golovkin look to sign with an American promoter, or stick in Europe, perhaps with Sauerland? Golovkin last fought on June 17, beating down faded veteran Kassim Ouma, and he faces Lajuan Simon on October 15, in what will be his last fight before his big career decision.
10. Floyd Mayweather Jr/Manny Pacquiao
They're here because Sergio Martinez is so admirably desperate in wanting to land one of these fights. Not only will he go to 154 pounds, he says, he'll drain himself all the way down to 150. I find the fight with Mayweather at 154 pounds interesting, but Martinez going all the way down to 150 would probably render him as useless as Oscar De La Hoya was against Manny Pacquiao. He hasn't been that low in eight years, and while some guys (Glen Johnson, recently) have shown it's possible to drop down in weight after a long time away from a division, and do it well, it would still be ill-advised for everything but Sergio's checkbook. I am certain that one of these two fights is tops on Sergio's wish list, but it won't happen.
Wild Card: Moving Up in Weight
Martinez seems to have very little desire to move up in weight, so I'll be fair and say that it should be just about as counted out as a fight with Mayweather or Pacquiao. Bernard Hopkins was in Atlantic City last night, and said he'd consider a fight with Martinez at a 170-pound catchweight. I have my doubts Bernard could comfortably hit 170 himself anymore, but Martinez weighed 165 on the HBO unofficial scales last night. I think Sergio could do well as a super middleweight, particularly if he talked some of those fighters into a 165 or 166-pound catchweight. Lucian Bute has said he'd do 166 pounds with Martinez, but talk is talk, so who knows if Bute would actually agree to it?
Martinez isn't moving up, and given that Floyd and Manny are so unlikely to fight him, he's probably not going down any further than 154, either. Most likely, he will stay at 160 and fight one of the middleweights -- if I were to guess an order of likelihood right now, I would say:
- Matthew Macklin
- Andy Lee
- Daniel Geale
- Dmitry Pirog
All of them are real contenders, and they're about as good as it's likely to get. Things could be worse, to be fair.