Sergio Martinez Gunning for Manny Pacquiao's Pound-for-Pound Title

James FoleyCorrespondent IMarch 13, 2011

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)
Al Bello/Getty Images

Turned out the gap between Sergio Martinez and Sergei Dzinzurik was a lot bigger than anyone expected. Martinez methodically dismantled the Ukranian champ with superior quickness, footwork and relentless combinations.

In the end, he put the previously undefeated (and supposedly never knocked down) Dzinzurik on the canvas five times. Dzinzurik arose on four occasions, looking dazed twice, but determined (or at least willing) to continue.

The vastly superior skills of Martinez were just too much for him to overcome. Martinez broke through Dzinzurik’s defense early on, looking positively Pacquiao-esque in moving around his opponent and finding angles with quick three-punch combos.

Dzinzurik’s well-regarded jab connected a few times throughout the fight, but he could never follow up with anything of substance. Martinez would take a couple hits, then shift aside and get back on the offensive, giving back plenty more than he took. It was a dazzling showcase of ring wizardry.

Martinez has delivered high entertainment value in five straight fights against top-notch competition. The upside to the fact that he won’t find a big-name quality opponent anytime soon is that his bouts will probably continue to air on regular HBO.

Martinez is arguably the world’s second best pound-for-pound, even with Floyd in the game, and closing the gap on Pac-Man quickly. At what point do we stop gushing about Pacquiao’s amazing demolitions of Hatton and Cotto and start assessing his recent work, admittedly dominant romps against Clottey and Margarito, and his upcoming match with a faded Shane Mosley?

Martinez’ record over his last five fights is 3-1-1, but that draw against Cintron was absolutely laughable. Sergio was first robbed in the seventh round when it appeared Cintron missed the 10-count on a knockdown, and it looked like referee Frank Santore called the fight over.

Cintron furiously protested and suddenly the ref allowed it to continue, saying that Cintron had been up at nine and claiming he had never waved the fight off. The explanation was murky at best.

Then Sergio was docked a point in the final round for a rabbit punch, which was bizarre as the infraction was minor, probably incidental, and he hadn’t previously been giving a warning.

The end result was another smack in the face, a majority draw in a fight where Martinez had both outboxed Cintron and inflicted the most damage. So forget about that blemish on his record, it’s a joke.

Many also believe Sergio deserved the nod in his loss to Paul Williams in their first fight. Pierre Benoist’s ludicrous 119-110 scorecard aside, I have no problem with Williams winning that fight.

I gave Sergio a narrow edge, but it was a hotly contested battle, with neither fighter showing any real dominance. What if the judges had tilted in his favor that night, and the Cintron fight had been properly scored?

Martinez would be sitting at 5-0 in his last five, just like Manny. Would that change our perception that Martinez is at best No. 2, but clearly there’s no argument for him usurping Manny from the top spot? Perhaps. Regardless, I believe there is an argument for Sergio Martinez, right now, as the world's best.

Pacquiao rightfully gets a lot of credit for taking on bigger fighters and even more credit for routinely destroying them. But the man is a welterweight now. He can’t be judged on a different standard than any other 147-pounder out there.

The novelty of the little guy beating up the big guy is over. They are all on the same playing field. With opponents like Margarito and Mosley, he’s not taking on the best challenges at his weight. These are gimmick fights with big names well past their primes.

I love watching Manny Pacquiao fight. He brings an intensity and a warrior’s heart with the technical precision of a Swiss watch. It is beautiful to watch. But this is a sport, and any great champion has to take on the best. Sergio is unfailingly willing to do that. He would fight anyone at 154 or 160, ANYONE, and everyone knows that (if Martinez-Cotto ever takes place, Miguel is in BIG trouble).

And this isn’t all on Manny, no doubt Top Rank’s machinations have led to an unsatisfying load like Pacquiao-Mosley being billed as the “fight of the year.” Manny’s quality of opposition in the past cannot be questioned; he has the strongest résumé of any active fighter. He needs to insist upon that same level of opponent in the present.

Clearly, the No. 1 guy for Manny to fight was Floyd. He couldn’t fight Floyd, so he should have fought Berto. Berto is the No. 1 guy at Manny’s supposed weight. But what is Manny’s weight, anyway? 147? 154 (where he’s never fought, yet held a title)? Some advantageous catch-weight, perhaps?

I’m tired of seeing this guy circus jump between weights that don’t have divisions against opponents with fading names in over-hyped PPV events. If Pacquiao wants to maintain his pound-for-pound No. 1, he should pick a division and dominate it. The fighters will come to him.

Sergio doesn’t have that luxury, but that’s exactly what he’s done. There’s not a middleweight in the world who belongs in the ring with him right now. That’s dominating a weight class.

Pacquiao deserves extraordinary credit (and he has gotten plenty) for engaging in some of the most entertaining, compelling battles in the ring over the last 10 years, largely against world-class opposition. Over that time, he has been exciting and dominant.

Out of respect for that, if I had a vote right now, sure, I’m granting Pacquiao his No. 1 spot. But does the Clottey-Margarito-Mosley trifecta (and Clottey was a deserving contender, I don’t criticize Manny for taking that fight) really trump what Sergio has done against Pavlik, Williams and Dzinzurik in his last three? 

The gap is closing my friends, and the world’s No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter might be back on HBO sooner than we think.