Saturday night, Sergio Martinez defends his middleweight belt against English fighter Martin Murray on HBO in Martinez' home country of Argentina. It's Sergio's first fight since his victory over Julio "Puff, Puff, Give" Chavez last September.
Martinez dominated Chavez for nearly every second until Chavez finally caught an exhausted Martinez and nearly stopped him in that incredible 12th round. Martinez suffered an injured knee that required surgery and some rehabilitation. This is his first fight in Argentina in over 11 years.
For Martin Murray, this is by far the biggest fight of his career and his first test against an elite opponent. He is a massive underdog fighting in the champion's homeland. He has only fought outside of England one other time, when he traveled to Germany to take on Felix Sturm in a fight that ended in a draw.
Here we take a look and analyze the upcoming fight between the heavily favored champion and the unheralded challenger.
"Maravilla" is a 5'10" southpaw with a record of 50-2-2 with 28 knockouts.
Martinez uses an unorthodox "gamecock" style attack, where he will often stick his head directly into the line of fire while keeping his hands at his side. It works incredibly well for him, as he's able to time his opponents' attack and land perfectly placed counter punches.
He has superb reflexes and excellent hand and foot speed. His power was never considered a strong attribute until later in his career, but he has proven to be a formidable puncher. He has wrecked opponents with one punch, or used a variety of shots to slice and wear down other challengers.
His stamina is the stuff of legend. He also has a champion's heart, climbing off the canvas on multiple occasions to claim victory.
As superb as Sergio has been, he's not invincible. He is prone to lapses in concentration, especially in the middle rounds of fights. He has gone into auto-pilot mode on occasion, losing rounds in the process. He has made things more difficult by letting his opponents climb back into the action.
His fights against Matthew Macklin and Kelly Pavlik are perfect examples. He was in complete control before shutting down and allowing Macklin into the fight before he woke up and eventually stopped him.
Though his reflexes are good enough for him to avoid most punches, he is often willing to stand and trade, eating unnecessary punches in the process.
Martin Murray is 6' tall, with a record of 25-0-1 with 11 knockouts.
Murray is similar to Mikkel Kessler. He stands straight up, using a stiff jab to set up the straight right hand. His jab is his best weapon. He goes to the body well, using looping hooks to connect downstairs.
He has a high guard, preferring to block and parry shots rather than using movement to avoid punches. At 30, he is a relatively unscathed fighter; he's been in few wars.
The only blemish on his record, a draw against Felix Sturm, is a fight many thought he did enough to win and was considered a hometown gift. He doesn't waste energy in the ring. Showed a killer finishing instinct in his last fight when he stopped Jorge Navarro.
Murray is solid all around, but doesn't excel at any specific aspect. He has average hand speed and he lacks power. His peek-a-boo defense can be penetrated up the middle.
He does not throw punches when his opponent is on the attack. He goes on the defensive to block the shots instead of countering. Hasn't fought any elite opponents, so he's completely untested at this level.
This goes to Sergio all day. He is faster at everything: hand speed and footwork. It's actually his biggest asset. He can sting and freeze opponents with lightning-fast lead left hands or counter punches. He flicks the jab upward from his waist so his opponent doesn't see it coming from an orthodox position.
He can throw rapid-fire combinations that hurt and confuse his foes who aren't used to the hand speed he brings or the bizarre angles he throws his punches from.
With the unbelievable run Martinez has been on for the last few years, many people forget that his career knockout percentage has always hovered around a very average 50 percent. It's somewhat paradoxical that the majority of his decision wins came early in his career, with the knockouts coming later.
Most fighters are the exact opposite, with the vast majority of stoppages coming early on against inferior opponents. Regardless, Martinez can punch. His punches are magnified by the fact that he frequently throws them to counter his opponents' shots.
Many fighters like Paul Williams and Kermit Cintron come to mind, never see what they're hit with. The most dangerous punch is the one you don't see coming. Cintron was so dazed he claimed he was headbutted, and then elbowed, and then hit over the head with a steel chair WWE-style.
Murray has only 11 stoppages in his career, though he did score a TKO in his last outing against Jorge Navarro. His best power punch is the straight right hand, something southpaws are vulnerable against. Still, Martinez has more knockouts against FAR BETTER opposition.
Advantage: Sergio Martinez.
Martin Murray can box, and he has a solid defensive shell. He doesn't open himself up for many counter attacks, because he throws few looping punches. He prefers to keep everything tight and controlled, which is the typical European style.
Sergio Martinez at his best can be maddening to hit. He embarrassed Chavez Jr. by not staying in one place for more than a few seconds. The much larger Chavez was never able to set up his shots, because he was constantly chasing after Martinez. It didn't help that while bouncing from side to side, Martinez was hitting him with anything and everything.
But Sergio isn't like that all the time. In the Chavez fight, there was genuine concern from the Martinez camp that if Chavez caught Sergio, he might not be able to stand up to the blows. They were right to be concerned. Murray is not Chavez, however, and Sergio won't be as quick to avoid shots, especially in front of his home country.
When he's not using his legs, Martinez isn't as effective defensively. In fact, he can get downright sloppy. He's been dropped numerous times in his career, from Kelly Pavlik and Paul Williams to Matthew Macklin, another English fighter. Which Martinez will show? For a while at least, we're betting on the sloppy one.
Again, this one is Sergio all the way. Before he defeated Pavlik to win the middleweight belt, he took on Paul Williams twice, along with Kermit Cintron.
He defended against Macklin, dominated and then crushed difficult and previously unbeaten challenger Sergio Dzinziruk, and though he was badly hurt in the 12th by Chavez, he embarrassed and exposed him in the previous 11 rounds.
For Murray, this is it. He's taken on a tough and solid Felix Sturm, but aside from that, he hasn't been in the ring with an elite fighter. He's clearly never been in a fight of this magnitude, headlining an HBO fight card, something Martinez has been doing for a few years now.
For Sergio Martinez, it doesn't get better than this. The Argentinian champion gets to fight in his home country in front of thousands of adoring fans. He's gone from unknown challenger to the top of the sport in a meteoric rise at an age where his career should be winding down or over.
He's a different breed of fighter; the exception to the rule, like Juan Manuel Marquez and Bernard Hopkins. Hopkins is still excellent at 73 years old and if Marquez gains any more muscle with age, he'll look like The Incredible Hulk when he's fighting Pacquiao for the 12th time. Sergio can add his name to that list. The SPECIAL ones.
While Martinez is fighting for his country and to retain his title, Murray finds himself with the shot of a lifetime. He'll be the severe underdog, but that's something he can use to his advantage. The pressure isn't as intense when no one expects you to win.
One can assume he's been getting advice from his promoter, some English guy named Ricky Hatton. Hatton has been in a few of these fights. Can Murray find a way to take advantage of the opportunity to shine under the HBO lights?
For Martinez to win, he needs to do what he usually does: confuse and frustrate his opponent while attacking. He'll need to open Murray's guard by staying in the pocket and throwing the straight left hand up the middle. He'll need to avoid overlooking Murray, something that may not be easy for him to do.
Finally, he'll need to stay focused for the entire fight and not give Murray an opportunity to climb into the fight. The best way to do this is by keeping his hands moving. Again, Murray seems to prefer to defend rather than trade. If he keeps Murray on the defensive, he's winning the fight.
Clearly, this would be a massive upset, mainly because Martinez is so good but also because little is known of Murray outside the U.K. But for Murray to have a chance, he absolutely has to establish and maintain his jab.
He won't have to land it that frequently, but he has to get Martinez thinking about it enough that he can set up the straight right. Also, he should go to the body.
Sergio is usually bouncing all over the ring, so in the beginning at least, it may be hard to catch him cleanly in the head. If he can hit him to the body, he may slow him down enough that he'll be able to land some shots in the second half of the fight.
This isn't a fun option for anybody, but Murray will have to be willing to trade shots. Sergio is certainly more than willing to engage, sometimes to his detriment. Murray will be taking a risk here, but if he doesn't come out of that shell, he'll have no chance at all. The last thing he needs to do is to take a page out of Chavez Jr.'s book and keep Sergio moving.
He's an incredible athlete, but let's not forget the obvious: he's 39 years old. At some point, Martinez' legs will betray him. Perhaps it will be Saturday. Murray needs to put those legs to work.
If Sergio Martinez fights long enough, he's going to be bested by Father Time. It's inevitable, but it won't be Saturday. Martinez is simply too good and too determined not to lose.
Murray is going to surprise a few people here, mostly because he isn't the easiest guy in the world to hit, but Martinez will eventually open him up and stop him.
The result will be an entertaining fight and a 10th-round stoppage for Sergio "Maravilla" Martinez.