Sergio Martinez is fighting Darren Barker on October 1st. Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. takes on Ronald Hearns September 17th. Unless Martinez has rapidly deteriorated overnight, Barker has little chance of pulling the upset.
Chavez should get the job done against Hearns, a slightly lower class of opponent than Sebastian Zbik, his previous foe. Hearns certainly has a better chance than Barker at upsetting the odds, but for the sake of argument, let's assume both men prevail.
Chavez will again have a wealth of options, one of the emerging big names in the sport with a legitimate following and guaranteed HBO dates. Martinez will again have a dearth of them, a fighter perceived as too big of a risk with not enough name recognition to make it financially viable for a big-name fighter to take him on.
Some quick back story: Martinez is the legitimate middleweight champion of the world. He beat Kelly Pavlik who beat Jermain Taylor who beat Bernard Hopkins and so on. He has not lost since beating Pavlik, knocking out Paul Williams and Sergei Dzinzurik over the past year. He is still active and fighting in the division.
There is no question, he is the rightful middleweight champion of the world and the only man with that claim. However, he does not currently hold any of the four alphabet belts. In beating Pavlik, he took the WBC middleweight championship as well. He defended that belt against Williams. When it came time for his next fight, Zbik was the WBC mandatory challenger. But HBO refused to accept Zbik as an opponent.
If he fought Zbik, they would not air the fight. Instead, they bizarrely insisted on Dzinzurik. The WBC could have allowed that as an acceptable defense. Let's face it, these are the alphabet bodies, they can basically do whatever they want.
Instead, they wouldn't budge on Zbik and threatened to strip Martinez if he didn't take the fight. In a bit of a bind, Martinez chose the HBO payday, and Dzinzurik and the WBC stripped Martinez, the one true champion, of his belt. To sugarcoat matters, they preposterously "elevated" him to "super diamond champion," whatever that means.
The belt was awarded to Zbik. Chavez was installed as the No. 1 contender. Then, some other things happened.
HBO lost Manny Pacquiao's pay-per-view extravaganza against Shane Mosley to rival network Showtime. Manny Pacquiao is promoted by Top Rank and Bob Arum. So is Chavez. HBO was not pleased about the Pacquiao fiasco, and perhaps, in an effort to appease Arum and company, offered to air Chavez' attempt at his first title against, in a cruel twist of irony, Zbik, the same man they refused to air against Martinez.
The rest is history. Chavez beat Zbik (by the skin of his teeth, no less). He now wears that same belt that Martinez won by beating the then-best middleweight in the world, Pavlik.
In an effort to perhaps quell some of the outrage about all of this, the WBC did issue a statement that Chavez would be required to allow Martinez a chance to get his belt back, after two mandatory defenses which will be done by the end of this year.
By the spring of 2012, all indications are that Chavez will have to fight Martinez or give him the belt back. So will it happen? Probably not. Arum is not going to risk one of his rising young money makers against a fighter who is as good as Martinez. I would be shocked if this fight actually happens, and honestly, I don't blame the Chavez side for not wanting it.
He's not ready for that yet. He may never be, but he's certainly not now. Let him fight a Marco Antonio Rubio first. Take advantage of the Saul "Canelo" Alvarez vs. Chavez intrigue while both guys are still undefeated. Sergio Martinez is in another class than Chavez, and there's better fights for him to take anyway.
Here's five guys I would prefer to see Martinez in with next spring.
Sergio Martinez finds himself at the top of the heap of one of the shallowest divisions in boxing right now. Martinez was willing to move down to 154 to fight Manny Pacquiao. He may want to consider doing that to challenge the winner of Miguel Cotto vs. Antonio Margarito, fighting on December 3rd.
If Margarito wins, it's a no-brainer. Margarito is still a bigger "name" than Martinez. It's a chance for Martinez to avenge his only unavenged loss. It would likely be a savage, one-sided beating, but if someone's got to take one, might as well be Tony "loaded gloves" Margarito.
If Miguel Cotto emerges victorious, he will have a ton of options already in his weight class. There would seem to be little incentive to fight Martinez. Except that Cotto is a warrior and has routinely challenged the very best fighters throughout his career.
I wouldn't necessarily want to see Cotto served up to Martinez, who I think would tear what's left of him apart. But from Martinez' point of view, he's one of the biggest names in the sport, probably the next guy behind (and far behind) Mayweather and Pacquiao in terms of drawing a crowd.
If he could get that fight he would, and should, take it in a heartbeat.
Matthew Macklin gave Felix Sturm hell for 12 rounds and came away with an unpopular loss on points. Macklin was the aggressive swarmer, Sturm the efficient counter-puncher. This was an extremely difficult fight to score, and there should obviously be a rematch.
However that doesn't appear likely to happen as Macklin was unsatisfied with the offer from the Sturm camp, and the two sides have gone their separate ways. Macklin's stock soared as a result of that fight, and he recently signed on with a new promoter, none other than Lou DiBella, promoter of Sergio Martinez.
Macklin is not a world-class talent of the caliber of Martinez, but he is a fun fighter to watch with an action style. I don't see him giving Martinez any problems, other than maybe annoying him for a few rounds, but in a weak division, Macklin is one of the more respectable challengers.
Felix Sturm is the long-reigning WBA middleweight belt-holder. He is a slick defender, technically proficient jabber and effective counter-puncher. He is The Ring magazine's top-ranked contender at middleweight behind the champion—Martinez.
Close fight with Macklin aside, Sturm is the best of the European middleweights and has built a strong resume over the years, famously losing a controversial decision to Oscar De La Hoya many, many fights ago.
Would Martinez be able to break down Sturm's staunch guard and inflict the same type of beating he gave Dzinzurik, another capable defensive technician? Yes, probably. This is Sergio Martinez we're talking about. But Sturm deserves the chance to prove us wrong. Does he want it though?
This is a fight HBO has been pushing since Martinez became the middleweight champ and trounced Paul Williams in their rematch. Sturm is apparently not interested. He can make good money fighting in Germany. But things can change fast in boxing. If somehow HBO can come up with enough green, they can make this happen. Sturm is Martinez' most worthy challenger in the middleweight division.
I have a hunch that Andre Ward is too skilled and too clever to lose this fight to Carl Froch. In either case, I don't expect the loser will be damaged goods. Neither man is exactly a brutal knockout artist.
Ward and Froch are two of the best dozen or so fighters in the world. They are the top dogs at super middleweight, just eight little pounds above where Martinez currently dominates.
I'm not sure if Martinez wants to immediately call out the winner for his first foray out of his weight comfort zone. But the loser, especially should it end up being Carl Froch, would make a great challenge. And DiBella has already mentioned that as a possibility.
Obviously, this doesn't preclude the possibility of Martinez facing the winner of the Super Six, but why not face the loser first for a comparison? If he gets by the loser, then challenge the winner. Ward would seem to be a guy that Martinez would avoid.
Ward doesn't give up the athletic and physical advantages to Martinez the way most of his opponents have. He is bigger and just as fast. But if Froch can beat Ward, that might make him a more palatable option.
Either way, the more and more things play out, it really looks like for the best fights and the best match-ups, Martinez needs to look upwards. Which is exactly what the No. 1 selection does (no, it's not Wladimir Klitschko).
Lucian Bute reminds me of Sergio Martinez in a few ways. He's a left-handed, sharp punching, athletic phenom. Martinez is a proven commodity. Bute is not.
Opinions vary on the Romanian-Canadian. He's anything from a top 10 pound-for-pound, future superstar to an overrated, unproven contender who's yet to fight the best class of opposition. Even with a decent size advantage, Bute has never faced anyone like Martinez.
It's probably not realistic. Bute has designs on the Super Six winner, and as I mentioned before, the loser of the contest would make a fine foil for Martinez' first entry at 168, should he choose to go that route.
But strange things happen sometimes. Joseph Agbeko vs. Abner Mares was supposed to resolve that side of the bantamweight bracket, possibly producing a worthy opponent for Nonito Donaire. It did nothing of the sort.
Bute vs. Martinez is a fight brimming with enormous possibilities. The style matchups suggest a visually appealing, rousing display of athleticism and class.
Martinez is in a tough spot. He can stay at middleweight and fight low-profile European titlists. The division certainly has an abundance of those. He wants to keep his weight low as he holds out hope for a megafight down the line with the likes of Mayweather and Pacquiao.
There's other big fights at 154, from Cotto to Canelo, but none of those guys would be seen as viable threats to Martinez, and their promoters smartly won't let them anywhere near the guy. The best options and the most intriguing fights are at super middleweight.
Let's hope Martinez and DiBella realize that, so one of the best fighters in the world doesn't spend the last years of his career toiling in mediocrity.