LAS VEGAS – Rage filled Sergio Martinez's eyes. Anger coursed through his veins.
The normally classy champion, the man who has championed anti-bullying efforts, who has railed against domestic violence, who donates money to countless good causes, had disappeared.
He was replaced by a cold-blooded killer, intent upon inflicting serious pain.
"I've never seen Sergio this way," promoter Lou DiBella said.
Martinez stood at the podium in a half-filled theater at the Wynn Hotel Wednesday, predicting all sorts of doom for Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., whom he meets on Saturday at the Thomas & Mack Center for the WBC middleweight title.
For two months, Martinez has played second fiddle to a far less accomplished man, both in and out of the ring.
Martinez turned pro in 1997, when Chavez was just 11. As Martinez reached new heights in boxing, eventually rising to be the No. 3 pound-for-pound fighter in the world, Chavez was trying to prove that he wasn't a joke, that he wasn’t just a fighter treading off his famous father's name.
Martinez has been through the wars and vowed to show Chavez what he's learned in his almost 15 years.
"This will be painful for you," Martinez said, looking toward Chavez, speaking slowly and deliberately. "You will suffer a lot before I knock you out."
Minutes earlier, he sat in a room with a small group of reporters. He said he hoped that someone in the Chavez camp had the good sense to throw in the towel as he was beating up on the upstart champion.
"I am not going to stop," he said.
Making threats is not Martinez's manner. He's conducted himself with dignity in a sport in which there is very little. His athletic ability has helped him to achieve a comfortable life – he'll earn a purse of $1.4 million Saturday, plus upside from pay-per-view sales – but DiBella said that Martinez makes more of his money outside of boxing.
Martinez, DiBella said, is involved in several businesses with what he called "big-time people." Both DiBella and Martinez refused to divulge the names or nature of those businesses.
Martinez professed that he doesn’t care that Chavez's guarantee is more than twice his purse. Chavez will be paid $3 million and will take a 60-40 split on the upside from the pay-per-view.
"Chavez will get more money," Martinez said, leaning toward his questioner to emphasize his point, "but he's going to get more of a beating, too."
Despite his accomplishments as a man and as a boxer, Martinez still hasn't quite won over the boxing crowd. He seemed reluctant to share personal details about himself that might help connect him with the larger fan base that could make the difference between a successful pay-per-view and an ordinary one.
That rankled Chavez promoter Bob Arum, who wanted to see Martinez increase his visibility during the two months of the promotion as a way of boosting the pay-per-view sales.
Like many fighters who don't understand the business differences between the fight game and other sports, Martinez would prefer to let his actions in the ring speak for themselves.
He wants to keep his business ventures private. He forbids cameras when he speaks to battered women's groups. He eschews publicity when he mentors victims of bullying.
He's a great citizen and a very good fighter, and he thinks that should be enough.
"He doesn't get it," Arum said of Martinez. "He thinks that somehow this is like Major League Baseball and if you hit .350, you should be rewarded with the largest salary. In boxing, being an individual sport that depends upon fan support, your earning power is affected adversely if you don't open your personal side to the audience.
The perception of Martinez, this week at least, is of a guy who's on a mission to destroy. He's morphed into a boxing version of a contract killer.
Chavez holds the WBC belt that Martinez won in the ring. Chavez's godfather is WBC president Jose Sulaiman. In 2010, after Martinez won the belt, Sulaiman ordered Martinez to defend it against Sebastian Zbik.
That was a fight that HBO had zero interest in.
"We were told Sebastian Zbik would never appear on [HBO]," DiBella said.
If Martinez fought Zbik in a bid to keep his title, it would have been off television and he would have been paid next-to-nothing. So he surrendered his title and fought an opponent of HBO's choosing.
When that happened, HBO had a change of heart and asked Chavez to fight Zbik. The hook, of course, was that the son of the legend would be fighting for his first world title, the belt that Martinez had felt compelled to dump.
While most American reporters give little credence to the sanctioning body titles, recognizing the organizations are largely corrupt and self-serving, the lure of the belts remains strong to the fighters, Martinez included.
But that's only one of the sources of Martinez's ire. He's an angry man these days and, if he's to be believed, Chavez is going to feel the brunt of it.
To DiBella, it's simple. The former HBO executive turned promoter knows all too well how the game is played. The Chavez name is royalty in boxing and the ties between Chavez and the WBC are long and deep.
It's almost like a familial relationship, DiBella said.
Martinez, though, has been angered not only by boxing politics but by what he perceives as Chavez's disrespect. DiBella's only fear is that Martinez is so angry, he might not be able to stick with his plan.
"Chavez wouldn't have gotten this fight if his name weren't Chavez," DiBella said. "Chavez isn't champion if his name isn't Chavez, either. I've never seen Sergio like this. If Sergio's emotions don't get in the way, this fight could get real ugly for Julio."
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- Sergio Martinez
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