As stunning as the visuals are for Sergio Martinez’ knockout of Paul Williams in their rematch — the arc and momentum on that left hand, the perfect connection between jaw and fist, Martinez’ closed eyes, the way Williams melted to the ground, the chilling image of Williams’ eyes wide open as he lay unconcious — the sounds are more ingrained in my memory. Someone sickeningly, but accurately, compared the sound of the punch to that of an aluminum baseball bat smacking a home run. But sitting ringside in Atlantic City, the crowd’s reaction was just as vivid to me. Usually when someone scores an amazing knockout, the audience goes wild. Instead, there was a collection of gasps, some surprised utterances of profanity and mostly, the sound of air being sucked out of a building.
This wasn’t supposed to happen. And it didn’t look like it was going to happen, either. For a round and a half, Martinez and Williams were delivering a worthy successor to their 2009 classic, a bout TQBR deemed the Fight of the Year. Both were pitching and catching hellacious shots. Neither man would budge. And Williams had never demonstrated anything less than a stellar chin. This was a fight so evenly-contested going in that bookies set the odds at even.
Martinez made a fool of us all with that counter left. His trainer, Gabriel Sarmiento, said it was by design. He had noticed Williams’ feet would sometimes get out of position when he threw, and so he sketched out some trickeration: Martinez would go to Williams’ body in the 1st round, then fake a right hand in the 2nd and come back with the left. Despite some of the criticism, there was nothing “lucky” about that punch. That Martinez’ eyes were closed and he still landed it hints at more skill and preparation, not less.
It’s now one of the best important punches in the history of the middleweight division. Martinez was the lineal champion, and it had been almost five years since a lineal middleweight champion had made a meaningful, victorious title defense. The conclusive nature of what he did to Williams in November more than qualified. And aside from the historical import, it had an air of zeitgeist about it: Sportscenter played it over and over again, a rare highlight clip for a non-pay-per-view boxing match.
In the 00s, Manny Pacquiao scored the Knockout of the Decade when he took Ricky Hatton’s lineal junior welterweight championship belt from him in 2009. In the 10s, just one year later, Martinez — a relatively new champion himself — already has a hefty head start for his own Knockout of the Decade.