In a Thursday conference call, middleweight world champion Sergio Martinez was candid about his March 12 opponent Sergiy Dzinziruk and his future in boxing, both in terms of name opponents and where he'll be plying his trade.
Martinez (46-2-2, 25 KO) claimed the legitimate middleweight championship last April by beating Kelly Pavlik, just a few months after a short-notice fight against Paul Williams garnered some attention for 2009 Fight of the Year, making bigger stars of both men. Even after suffering the loss to Williams, Martinez was able to use his newfound stardom to land the fight with Pavlik, and he made the most of the opportunity, bloodying and frustrating the defending champion and taking his crown.
In November, he rematched Williams in one of the most highly-anticipated fights of 2010. Massive anticipation for a great fight would usually turn into serious disappointment with most KO-2 results, but Martinez scored the knockout of the year with an enormous left hand that left Williams down and out.
Now 36, Martinez seemed an unlikely candidate for breakout stardom in '09, when his push really started. After years of fighting less than excellent competition in his native Argentina, Spain, and the United Kingdom, Martinez came to the States in 2007. He started his tour with a body shot knockout of Saul Roman before moving on to easy wins over Russell Jordan, David Torivio and Archak TerMeliksetian. He got his first HBO shot on October 4, 2008, demolishing Alex Bunema. That performance opened some eyes because of the way Martinez dominated, and more heads turned Martinez's way after he largely had his way with Kermit Cintron in February 2009, only to receive a ludicrous draw. Not only had Martinez been the victim of bad refereeing in that fight thanks to Frank Santore Jr. restarting a fight he had appeared to call off (and rightly so), but he then had to deal with bad judging, too.
Undeterred, he landed the Williams fight next. Many felt he won, but it was no robbery, as the two combatants waged hellish boxing war for 12 grueling and often brutal rounds. And here he is today, having beaten Pavlik and Williams, and marching into a fight with Sergiy Dzinziruk.
This is definitely not the fight people would have chosen, I'm guessing. Dzinziruk (37-0, 23 KO) is in fact a very good boxer, and my choice as the current top 154-pounder in the sport. While his record isn't particularly strong, a lot of that can be placed at the doorstep of his former promoters at Universum, long known for trying to milk their top stars for all they're worth by letting them feast on largely inferior competition. Still, Dzinziruk has wins over Lukas Konecny, Joel Julio, Daniel Santos (back when Santos was good), Sebastian Lujan, and others. He's no pushover.
Martinez sounds respectful, but not worried. "The fight was officially made by HBO and HBO got the best available opponent, Dzinziruk, because he has the credentials. ... I never want an easy fight. I want to fight the best. Mayweather cannot fight me. Manny Pacquiao cannot fight me. So, I need to fight somebody very challenging and the best opponent, or the best challenger, is Sergiy Dzinziruk. Nobody else is left."
"I've fought similar guys several times in Europe, but the problem is, no press in America know them. I'm used to it and he will use all of his intelligence against me and wait for me to make a mistake to counterpunch. I know what I need to do to avoid any complications. So, I have no problem with that."
Martinez also credits his current training camp as the toughest of his career. "Really, this is the hardest training camp I've ever had. Former two-time champion, Daniel Santos, is with me, who fought Dzinziruk, and the other, Austin Trout, is the WBA 154-pound champion. I have the best sparring partners I can get."
Dzinziruk recently said that Martinez isn't "special," but the champ responded, "I'm surprised that he talked like that. But he'll find out on March 12 that he was wrong. I believe I have something special."
When it comes to the subject of his boxing future, Martinez has been an open book. He and promoter Lou DiBella said after the win over Williams in November that Martinez isn't looking to stay in boxing forever, as he doesn't want to sacrifice his health for the sport. While he is a young 36 in the ring, he's still 36. And he's not looking to move up in weight, even though the super middleweight division is one of the hottest and most competitive in the sport.
"I'm not thinking of going up to 168 because I'd be too small physically. So, I plan to stay at 160 for the rest of the year and then see what it takes for the future. I believe I'm too small for '68. I will give too much of an advantage to 168-pounders."
He is still thinking of Miguel Cotto, saying it would be a good fight for both men and the fans, and hopes it can happen in 2011. Cotto also fights on March 12, facing Ricardo Mayorga on Showtime pay-per-view. DiBella is in favor of a fight with Cotto, but isn't looking past Dzinziruk.
"Obviously, Sergio is looking for the biggest fights possible. We pursued the possibilities with Cotto and had conversations with Arum but the fight didn't materialize. He wasn't interested in reaching out beyond his stable. But this is the most difficult fight; this is the toughest fighter out there. I said it's a no-win situation, but if Sergio knocks this guy out at least intelligent people in boxing and the people who've seen Dzinziruk fight will know what an accomplishment it is.
"It's just unfortunate that with a fight of this degree of difficulty, that the public doesn't know the opponent. The opponent is a champion in his own right. He's in his mid-thirties and never lost a fight and has had loads of successful title defenses. He's a very, very good fighter. And this is consistent with Sergio's pattern: from Kermit Cintron to Paul Williams, to Kelly Pavlik, to Paul Williams, and now to Sergiy Dzinziruk. There's not a single fighter in the sport, not one, that's gone through a ‘Murderer's Row' like that in recent fights. And like I said, that's a credit to the greatness of Sergio Martinez.
"One thing that makes Sergio so unusual is, yeah, I felt the way I felt, but his attitude was, ‘if they think this is the hardest guy, put him in front of me.' There haven't been guys like that I've had. I've promoted guys before that don't shy away from challenges, but I've never had a guy like this whose attitude is: if you think this guy is the hardest, then that's who I want to fight."