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Lou DiBella sounds like he's talking about a potential winner on "American Idol" as he raves about Sergio Martinez. Martinez is the boxer – a tough, gritty, hard-as-nails boxer – who also happens to look like a backup for The Chippendales.
He meets Kelly Pavlik for the middleweight title on Saturday at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J., but he could easily be mistaken for a lounge singer headlining in one of the many casino nightclubs in town.
"He's got the whole package, everything," said DiBella, Martinez's colorful promoter. "He's good-looking, he's athletic, he's charismatic. If a man wants it, Sergio Martinez has it."
What Martinez has in abundance is speed, and that's the one thing that could be troubling to Pavlik in the champion's quest to reignite his career.
Pavlik was one of the toasts of boxing after knocking out Jermain Taylor in 2007 to win the belts, then beating him again in a non-title affair in the rematch.
But Pavlik has fought next to no one in his three middleweight title defenses, beating non-entities such as Gary Lockett, Marco Antonio Rubio and Miguel Espino, none of whom had even a remote chance to win.
Each was slow, had little movement and nowhere near the kind of power Pavlik possesses. Essentially, they were cannon fodder for one of the hardest-hitting middleweights of his generation.
They were there to be hit at will, and Pavlik dutifully clubbed them the way he pounds the heavy bag at the Southside Boxing Club in his hometown of Youngstown, Ohio.
Those kinds of fights didn't make him many fans. He suffered a one-sided drubbing in one of the bouts that could have, an October 2008 loss to Bernard Hopkins in which he came in sick, fought poorly and looked like a rank amateur next to the crafty Hopkins.
He then suffered through a lost year in 2009, when he developed a staph infection that nearly claimed his life.
"That's in the past," Pavlik said. "I'm excited about this opportunity with Sergio Martinez."
He should be, on paper at least. Martinez, 35, is 44-2-2 and has just one loss in more than 10 years.
Curiously, he's fighting for the middleweight championship coming off a draw and then that lone loss, to Paul Williams in the Yahoo! Sports Fight of the Year in 2009.
Martinez, though, is a more formidable foe than his boyish looks would suggest. He's hardly a runner, though he's lightning fast.
"You rarely see guys at this weight as quick and as fast as he is," DiBella said.
But what makes Martinez such a tough out is the thing that can't be measured on a statistics sheet. He has a desire to win, badly. In everything he's done, at all stages of his life, it drives Martinez crazy if he doesn't win.
And so, though he may weigh 10 pounds less than Pavlik by the time the bell rings on Saturday after the fighters rehydrate following Friday's weigh-in, he won't shy away from battle if that's what it takes to come out on top.
"If you're going to win a fight, you have to get in there and fight," Martinez said. "In boxing, there are two things you really need: You have to be willing to sacrifice and push yourself harder than you think you can be pushed so that you can get into really great shape. And you have to be willing to [take] a few punches. The object isn't to get hit, but if you're fighting a guy, you're going to get hit sooner or later."
Martinez is Argentinean, so DiBella has taken to comparing him to Carlos Monzon, the greatest fighter ever from Argentina and one of the great middleweight champions of all-time.
No less an authority than Top Rank's Bob Arum, who worships the ground that Marvelous Marvin Hagler walks on, says Monzon is the best middleweight he has ever seen in nearly 50 years of promoting fights.
Pavlik's trainer, Jack Loew, has much respect for Martinez, but he about lost it when he heard DiBella compare Martinez to Monzon.
"Lou DiBella made a comment at the press conference announcing Kelly's fight with Martinez, comparing Martinez to Carlos Monzon," Loew said. "DiBella may be a good promoter, but he is no boxing historian. He wouldn't know Carlos Monzon from Gorilla Monsoon. Make no mistake. Sergio Martinez will lose to Kelly Pavlik and Lou DiBella will go 0-for-3 against Youngstown. Three strikes, Lou. You're out."
Martinez, a former cyclist and soccer player, isn't one for much trash talk and he smiles broadly at the banter.
He's not, however, making jokes. Martinez knows the significance of Saturday's fight. For all he has accomplished in boxing, he's still largely an unknown and he's still without a signature victory.
He lost to Williams on Dec. 5 in a rousing battle that could have gone either way, despite the ludicrous 119-110 scorecard in favor of Williams turned in by Pierre Benoist that night.
The bout before that, he drew with Kermit Cintron in one of the most horrendously officiated bouts of the 21st century. Martinez knocked Cintron down late in the seventh round and referee Frank Santore counted to 10.
Cintron complained as Santore escorted him to his corner, but Santore told him it was over. But sometime after reaching the count of 10 and taking Cintron to his corner, Santore had a change of heart and allowed the bout to continue.
Santore unfairly docked Martinez a point in the 12th round – he hadn't been warned in the entire first 11 rounds – and because of zany scoring, that deducted point led to the bout being declared a draw.
"It didn't feel good – it still doesn't feel good – but what can I do?" Martinez asked plaintively. "I had to accept it and move on."
A fight with Pavlik carries more meaning and more significance than any he has had before. He has never beaten a guy remotely close to Pavlik's caliber.
His last five wins were, starting with the most recent, over Alex Bunema, Archak TerMeliksetian, David Toribio, Russell Jordon and Pavel Florin Madalin, who entered his fight with Martinez with a 3-34-2 record.
Clearly, this isn't a guy used to the likes of Kelly Pavlik. That, though, doesn't deter Martinez.
One reason he's so fun to watch is that he's not deterred by adversity or intimidated by the odds against him.
"This could be one of those fights where you have to reach back for a little more," Martinez said. "I had to do that against Paul Williams and I found it. And I know if I need to, I can do it against Kelly Pavlik. I have great respect for him, but I know I'll be taking that belt home with me."
- Kelly Pavlik
- Sergio Martinez
- Lou DiBella
- Carlos Monzon
- Paul Williams