Sergio Martinez’ 2009 was a series of near-misses, of almosts. The talent was obvious to behold: speed, skillful counters, the ability to fight with his hands down below his waist and suffer little consequence. But twice, judges’ decisions that could have or should have gone his way didn’t. He apparently knocked out Kermit Cintron only to have the referee take away that KO, and the ruling of a draw after 12 rounds was laughable — Martinez won that fight. Reasonable people can disagree whether Martinez beat Paul Williams in their first meeting, which was so close a coin-flip might have decided it just as well, but the judges went with Williams in that bout.
In 2010, Martinez didn’t “almost” anything against middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik in a clear decision win, and he definitely didn’t miss the left hand that flattened Williams in a rematch, the clear Knockout of the Year.
Now, you’d be crazy to miss the next time Martinez fights. He’s a bona fide star. Some people don’t keep pound-for-pound lists and think they’re goofy. But you won’t find anyone who disagrees that the four best fighters in the world are Manny Pacquiao, Floyd Mayweather, Juan Manuel Marquez and now Martinez, whatever the order.
A junior middleweight for a long stretch of his career, Martinez was viewed as undersized when he stepped up in the spring to face lineal king Kelly Pavlik, still an inhabitant of some pound-for-pound lists at the time. Despite some difficulties in the middle rounds, it was clear to all by fight’s end that Martinez, pretty face and all, had soundly beaten Pavlik, whose face appeared to be oozing blood out of every pore. Martinez was, no doubt, a full-blown middleweight by the time that fight ended.
We’ve already talked about the sensational punch that put a quick end to the Williams rematch in the fall. With that win over a man some considered the third-best fighter in the world, Martinez gave us a middleweight champion whose reign has already surpassed that of his two predecessors. Jermain Taylor’s best middleweight title defense was a draw against Winky Wright. Pavlik’s best middleweight title defense was against Marco Antonio Rubio, not a top-notch challenger.
It holds a special place in boxing, the middleweight crown. Sugar Ray Robinson, the consensus best boxer who ever lived, once held it. Another noteworthy middleweight champion was Marvelous Marvin Hagler. Martinez’s nickname, “Maravilla,” means “wonder” in Spanish, but it kind of sounds like “Marvelous,” doesn’t it? And while Maravilla isn’t Hagler, it doesn’t feel like blasphemy for Martinez to be the man who carries on the great middleweight tradition of Hagler and the other forefathers of the division.
Some might see Manny Pacquiao as the 2010 Fighter of the Year. From the standpoint of profile, popularity and a touch of history, Pacquiao has an argument. But inside the ring, Martinez was the better man this year, beating the better competition. When Martinez knocked out Williams, he donned a literal crown in celebration. He is the undisputed king of his division, and the king of 2010. Long live the king.