Every fight has taken a little bit more out of Sergio Martinez. He made a big splash on HBO in 2008 at the advanced age of 33. In 2009, he and Paul Williams put on a Fight of the Year contender. In 2010, he dethroned Kelly Pavlik as king of the middleweights, made a case for Fighter of the Year, and smashed Williams in a rematch with one of the most sensational one-punch knockouts in memory.
In 2011, he dominated a pair of credible challengers, yet found himself at the mercy of boxing politics, as his WBC title was stripped away in one of the most bogus and transparent decisions ever, all but gifted to favored son Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.
Then came 2012. Martinez was able to break out as more of a star, beating Matthew Macklin and then Julio Cesar Chavez Jr, the latter fight a very successful HBO pay-per-view event. But the chinks in the armor began to show. Macklin gave Martinez a bit more trouble than was anticipated, and though Sergio stopped his challenger after 11 rounds, the fight dented up the champ a little bit.
The fight with Chavez was 11 rounds of Martinez smacking around a lazy inferior, and then all hell broke loose in the 12th, as Julio woke from his 33-minute slumber and decided to fight, using his rather enormous physical size advantage to march right at Martinez, pressuring away, landing shots, and shaking up the Argentine champ, who hit the canvas, barely survived the round, and while he ultimately won easily on the cards (as he should have), it was a bigger, perhaps more permanent dent.
What was hinted at against Macklin became glaring against Chavez, who could only manage one round of credible resistance to Martinez's technical superiority. Sergio was getting old. He suffered some injuries in that 12th round against Chavez and sat out to heal up and undergo a knee surgery, which led to his April 2013 return at home against Britain's Martin Murray.
This time, Martinez was very, very fortunate to get out with his title. He was down twice officially (three times, really) and though many believed Murray had done more than enough to get the upset win, Martinez got the scores and retained his championship once more. But the red flag on Sergio's future was clear: every fight, it seemed to get just a little worse for him. Every fight seemed one fairly big step closer to the inevitable end of what has been an exciting, admirable run at the top of the 160-pound weight class.
Sergio Martinez will turn 39 in two months. His body is giving out on him, at least as an elite athlete, a very normal aging process for a fighter. And given his style, bad legs aren't going to do him any favors. He sat out the remainder of 2013, and now appears potentially headed for a fight with Miguel Cotto in June 2014. Cotto looked terrific against Delvin Rodriguez this year and is a big star still, and physically speaking, may be the best and safest option for Martinez. Cotto has been small at 154 and will be even smaller at 160, but he's a good enough fighter that he should be able to deal with that so long as it's against someone like Martinez, who's really more of a junior middleweight in his own right.
While Gennady Golovkin beats down the door, the idea of a Martinez-Golovkin fight seems almost pointless or even mean-spirited. It's hard to imagine anybody picking Martinez to survive the power and style of the ferocious Golovkin anymore, so it would be more a fight for fight fans to feel satisfied that they saw a ritualistic passing of the torch than anything. Maybe there's nothing particularly wrong about that, either, but it's certainly not necessary, and I think even Golovkin and his team understand that they're likely to inherit the crown rather than take it from its previous owner.
It may simple be a question of whether or not Martinez will lose before he retires, because both seem just around the corner. If he were to fight and beat Cotto, that might be as good a time as any to get out of the sport before something goes wrong, with a final big-time win over one of the generation's top names.