Stealing the show: Williams-Martinez an under-the-radar classic

That right hand was getting through all night long

With the fight game consumed by Pacquiao-Mayweather, Paul Williams and Sergio Martinez had a gem of a fight last week, showing that when the right two guys get in the ring, magic can happen.

It’s so rare you see two guys just go at each other with nothing to lose – no titles on the line, little hype – and yet that usually constitutes the best kind of fight. In the same building in Atlantic City where Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward battered each other twice in the name of competition, Williams and Martinez emerged as gladiators with distinctly different styles, and it just worked, emerging as a Fight of the Year candidate.

I need a late pass on this one since the fight was last Saturday, but I didn’t get to score it until last night. This was a match between two guys who absolutely nobody wants to fight – so why not face each other?

Williams, a 6-foot-1 southpaw with a definitive reach advantage that gives opponents fits, tends to be a counterpuncher. Martinez, also left-handed, has a defensive style that reminds me of Naseem Hamed (remember him?), where he leaves his hands at his sides and relies on head and feet movement, daring the opponent to take shots at him, and then punishing him when he comes in off-balance.

Williams was originally scheduled to take on Kelly Pavlik, but Pavlik’s issues with a staph infection – and possibly with not actually wanting to fight Williams – led their fight to be postponed in October and then shelved in December. Williams, who has made no bones about attempting to take the best fights he possibly can, chose the available Martinez as a replacement and nearly bit off more than he could chew.

I expected Williams to win, but I ended up scoring the fight 6-5 for Martinez, with the first round, in which they knocked each other down, a draw. (Many cards gave it to Martinez, assessing that he controlled much of the round after he was knocked down early, but I didn’t feel he dominated enough to warrant that)

That said, nobody could be angered if the fight was scored for Williams, as multiple rounds were practically too close to call. In fact, I went back and re-watched the ninth round twice, switched my score from Martinez to Williams, and then back to my original call of Martinez after being unable to truly determine if either fighter had claimed an advantage.

That attention to detail was not paid by official scorer Pierre Benoist, who inexplicably gave Martinez just one round. It’s difficult to comprehend what planet this guy was on, but one can only hope that he’s allowed nowhere near a boxing ring in the future. Luckily, his horrendous scorecard didn’t seem to take away from the enthusiasm over the fight.

I have to give Williams a ton of credit for deciding to take on Martinez, switching from preparing for a plodding right-handed middleweight to a slick southpaw light middleweight on just a month’s notice.

Williams’ calling card is the fact that despite maintaining a size and reach advantage over most fighters, he remains high-volume, and he won virtually every round in the middle of the fight in that fashion after dropping the first three. You could see Williams’ punches coming a mile away as he lunged across the ring, but he throws so often that it doesn’t matter if he’s always precise.

But Martinez scored with his right hand at will in the rounds he won, showing that when Williams isn’t overwhelming an opponent, he’s susceptible to a fighter who isn’t afraid to get right in front of him, take his foe’s best shot and use an advantage in hand speed.

The fight took its toll on Martinez, who claimed after the fight that Williams wasn’t hurting him, and yet his face looked like a Jackson Pollack painting. In addition, Martinez went down a second time on what I believed to be a questionable slip call, and another time when he simply went to his knees in exhaustion with Williams leaning on him. Though Martinez’s face wouldn’t betray it, attempting to fend off his imposing and active opponent was affecting his endurance, though not his willful and skillful performance. That said, he resorted to clinches an awful lot over the course of the fight, very few of which were instigated by Williams.

It’s sort of incredible that either fighter made it through given the alarming exchanges they had right in the middle of the ring. It had the feeling of epic warriors standing toe-to-toe, taking their opponents’ best shots and delivering some of their own.

So who wins here? Both Martinez and Williams, that’s for sure. Williams won the fight by definition, but plenty of observers – including this one – saw the fight going the other way. It was no coincidence that Martinez hadn’t lost a fight in 10 years, and only once in his career (to Antonio “Stone Hands” Margarito).

Most people hadn’t watched either of these fighters in the past, and even if they didn’t watch this fight, word of mouth is going to pump both of them up. Martinez said in the ring after the fight that he’d love to fight Williams again, and I see no reason why it shouldn’t happen.

Who loses? Probably Pavlik, who is already perceived as having ducked Williams, though his handlers attempted to do damage control on that. And now, it’s unclear as to when he’d get a shot against Williams – or, for that matter, Martinez – and whether he’d be able to beat them even if they did fight.

Sometimes when you lose, you really win More winners: Every other fighter. If these two tie each other up for another fight or two, everyone else won’t have to deal with avoiding them. If nobody wanted to fight either of these guys before, then they really don’t want any part of them after seeing this fight.

The most important winners: Fight fans. Mind you, I don’t mean the casual sports fans who only tune in when everyone else does, but the sort of fan that will actually check for a Martinez-Williams rematch and mark their calendars.

If there is any justice, if they fight again, it would break over into the mainstream. I mean, I’d pay to see it. I watched with a non-sports fan who very much enjoyed the fight; I bet others would share his opinion if they actually saw it.

But as it is, the people who truly love the sport need surprise successes like this. Pacquiao-Mayweather is going to have all the major-media hype, and that’s good for the sport. But Williams-Martinez is the real deal, and it’s good for people who love the sport.

Much like Gatti and Ward, Williams and Martinez found out last week that they need each other. And it’s a good thing for everyone involved that they did.

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If you’d like to see it, some guy on YouTube has the whole thing, round by round, including post-fight interviews. I linked some of it up there, but you should really watch all of it.

Prefight intros
Round 1-2
Round 3-4
Round 5-6
Round 7-8
Round 9-10
Round 11
Round 12
Postfight interview

Esoteric

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