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Sergio Martinez: First Saturday's Battle with Murray, Then All-Out Middleweight War

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COMMENTARY | Sergio Martinez has actually been the undisputed middleweight champ since back in April of 2010 when he beat Kelly Pavlik for the WBC and WBO belts. With that win over the heavy-handed defending champ, Martinez became the closest thing possible to a lineal champ in these days of division-jumping fighters and belt-stripping sanctioning bodies. Argentina's southpaw stylist was the man who beat the man with a title lineage dating back to when Bernard Hopkins dominated the 160 lb. division.

But boxing politics being what they are, Martinez soon found himself in a position where he had to vacate the WBO belt. Months later he'd also find himself without the WBC strap, once again a victim to sanctioning body idiocy.

The consensus, undisputed best middleweight in the world would then find himself in a position where he had to doggedly pursue a bout with 20-something upstart and second generation star, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. for a shot at winning back a belt he had never actually lost.

The road to Chavez wasn't an easy one and lesser men would've given up a pursuit that was time and again thwarted by frustrating WBC foot dragging and attempts to discourage the bout.

Martinez kept pursuing and kept winning in the ring. He practically stalked WBC president, Jose Sulaiman and eventually forced the organization to sanction the bout they had on-again, off-again promised for the better part of two years.

The Argentine made the most of his main stage opportunity, surviving a twelfth-round knockdown to take a unanimous decision victory in a bout that was a one-sided boxing lesson up until the second half of the final round.

Ironically, Martinez needed the Chavez bout to truly establish himself as a main stage draw. The respect of the fight community had been his, but stardom and the accompanying paydays had completely eluded him.

Time will tell whether the Chavez win has truly allowed him to climb to that next level of stardom or if he'll merely carry out the rest of his career as a slightly more famous version of his pre-Chavez self. At 38 years of age, though, there's not a whole lot of time left for Martinez to enjoy his time at the top.

Right below Martinez, a relatively deep and tough line has formed, headed by Kazakhstan's offensive powerhouse, Gennady Golovkin, who holds the WBA version of the middleweight title and has captured the hearts of a fawning boxing media. Although virtually untested at the highest levels of the sport, the 31-year-old former amateur star has impressed with a no-nonsense style and a brutal efficiency in the ring.

After Golovkin, there's WBO champ Peter "Kid Chocolate" Quillin, IBF champ Daniel Geale, and a small army of former champs and top contenders such as a rematch-minded Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., Felix Sturm, Dmitry Pirog, and Andy Lee. It will only be a matter of time before Martinez comes face to face with one of these younger challengers and finds out that his best days have come and gone.

But while Martinez doesn't seem to be in any real hurry to face the test of time against one of these rivals, he's hardly cowering in a corner, county his money.

This Saturday, April 27 at the Club Atlético Vélez Sarsfield in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Martinez will defend his WBC belt against tough Brit, Martin Murray in what is most definitely not a "gimme" defense-especially for a 38-year-old champ, like Martinez, recovering from knee surgery and a career's worth of scrapes and bruises.

Murray is best known for his 2011 draw with then-WBA champ, Felix Sturm. The rest of his resume is nowhere near as impressive as his performance against the defending German champ, but he's correctly regarded as a Top Eight middleweight in all the boxing rankings that matter and he registers as one legitimately tough guy.

It's a testament to Martinez's character that his optional defense is being carried out against a real, world-ranked threat when nobody would've blamed him for taking a soft touch after his surgery and his marquee win over Chavez Jr.

After Saturday, though, it's open season on "Maravilla" Martinez. The fans and media, who have been disproportionately tough on him over the years, will demand that he walk through the valley of the shadow of the new age middleweight contender. And like even the best of the Wild West gunslingers, he will eventually get old and fall.

Martinez could create a retirement nest egg by milking easy WBC defenses in his native Argentina for at least a couple of years, but there's too much pride, too much character in the middleweight champ. Instead, if Martinez's professional history tells us anything, expect him to handle business with Murray, take a gulp of air, and come out firing as he rushes into the crowd of hungry contenders.

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Paul Magno was a licensed official in the state of Michoacan, Mexico and a close follower of the sport for more than thirty years. His work can also be found on Fox Sports and as Editor-in-Chief of The Boxing Tribune. In the past, Paul has done work for Inside Fights, The Queensberry Rules and Eastside Boxing. For breaking news, additional analysis, and assorted crazy commentary, follow him on Facebook, @TheBoxingTribune or on Twitter, @BoxingBTBC.

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