ATLANTIC CITY, NJ - NOVEMBER 20: Sergio Martinez celebrates after knocking out Paul Williams in the second round of their Middleweight Championship fight on November 20, 2010 at The Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Sergio Martinez2010 Getty Images
Sergio Martinez - Martin Murray
When you’re voted ahead of near god-like soccer star Lionel Messi as Athlete of the Year in your home country of Argentina, you know you must be something special. Special – Sergio Martinez – unquestionably is. So it comes about on Saturday that HBO will televise a title fight from Argentina for the first time in its 40-year history when Martinez [50-2-2 28 KO] takes on Englishman Martin Murray [25-0-1 11 KO].
Since his breakout, a Knockout of the Year win over former titlist Paul Williams, Martinez has been a regular fixture in the upper echelons of boxing’s pound-for-pound rankings. And why not? His athletic unorthodox southpaw style has been put to great use in dispatching other middleweight behemoths such as Kelly Pavlik and more recently, in one of the biggest fights of the year against Julio Cesar Chavez Jr in Las Vegas.
After the dominant routing of Chavez Jr, for which thousands of Argentines travelled to see Martinez fight, the middleweight champion maintained that for his next fight it was time to return to his native Argentina and fight for the first time there since 2002.
So on Saturday, 50,000 fans will pack into the Club Atletico Velez Sarsfield to watch Martinez attempt to elevate his legend further in the middleweight ranks, emulating fellow Argentine great Carlos Monzon.
Equally, by taking on England’s Martin Murray, it will be a difficult task. It would have been easy for Martinez to pick a soft opponent for his glorious homecoming, but Murray is far from being an overmatched opponent. In fact when Murray fought then middleweight titlist Felix Sturm, many thought he deserved the decision even though a draw was declared.
Murray will prove to be tricky, young and athletic opposition for Martinez who does his best to belie his 38 years. Martinez will be favored no doubt, but the level of competition will make it a more enticing prospect for all concerned.
Martinez may want to fight the likes of Miguel Cotto and Saul Alvarez further down the road, but for now a fight in his native Buenos Aires will suffice and the adulation of his entire nation, where he is a superstar.
Danny Garcia - Zab Judah
If there is one thing that stokes up the excitement for a boxing match and brings it to a boil, it’s a feud. Danny Garcia the unified light welterweight champion will take on former three time titlist Zab Judah on Saturday at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center [televised on Showtime].
Two world caliber fighters should be enough to draw interest, but it has been Judah’s verbal sparring with Garcia and his father Angel that have stoked fires that have captured the fan’s imagination for what promises to be a bloody and finite showdown.
The reason for the tension is that when the original fight was cancelled due to an injury sustained by Garcia, Judah claimed that the injury was fake. Cue a Twitter war.
This week, when Garcia was making an appearance at a sporting goods store in New York, Judah decided to pay an unannounced visit. Cue, thrown tables, shouting and the promise of violence in and out of the ring. Finally, this Thursday at the press conference to preview the fight one last time, the promoter Golden Boy decided that the atmosphere and danger of a potential melee had grown so much that both fighters were told to hold separate conferences. When it was Judah’s turn to take the mic, he claimed he had been locked in the basement with no food or water.
Needless to say, this fight may very well prove to be explosive one way or another.
But if fireworks have been the distinct mark by which the build-up has been judged, it’s perhaps a little more difficult to assess how the fight may turn out. Judah is taking on Danny Garcia, whose previous victory was over former titlist Amir Khan. Garcia ended that fight with a knockout and with relative ease. When Zab Judah fought the same Amir Khan, he was dispatched early with a body-shot. He then proceeded to complain to the referee and anyone who would listen that it was a low blow and that he had been cheated.
In fact, aside from the unquestionable skill that the southpaw from Brooklyn possesses, the one thing that has tainted his career is moments of mental weakness. The incident with Khan was not the first time that Judah has let himself down on the biggest stage. One only has to remember the brawl that took place in the ring during his fight with Floyd Mayweather.
Perhaps you can cast your memory back to his loss to the plodding Carlos Baldomir, who should not have beaten Judah in a million attempts.
Judah says this has been the best camp he’s has ever had. Every boxer says that, sure. But it was also something he was adamant about before his fight with Khan. How much Judah can be trusted to return to his self-proclaimed “old ways” is a conundrum in itself. It’s this often hollow promise that keeps fans coming back for more. Just one more time.
As for Garcia, he’s undoubtedly one of the rising stars of the sport. The Philadelphia native carries huge power, and it was on full show against Mexican legend Erik Morales who he proceeded to beat up round after round. Sure, Morales has been past his prime for close to a decade now but Garcia’s willingness to trade heavy blows makes for exciting fights. He swings wide and wild. Whether Judah can take advantage of that is another issue. But one thing’s for certain. It’s a fight not to be missed.
Igor Guryashkin is a freelance journalist whose extensive work on combat sports has been featured in ESPN The Magazine and ESPN.com. He splits his time between New York and Louisville. Follow him on Twitter @IGuryashkinESPN.