Champion Sergio Martinez provides hope for a sport marred by numerous problems

Kevin Iole
Yahoo! Sports

When a wobbly Sergio Martinez withstood a furious last-minute assault from Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. in Las Vegas last September to win the WBC middleweight championship, hundreds of his Argentinian compatriots poured out of the stands at the Thomas & Mack Center and rushed toward the ring in celebration.

On Saturday, Martinez will repay his countrymen for their support by making a title defense against Martin Murray in front of a sellout crowd of more than 50,000 at Club Atletico Velez Sarsfield in Buenos Aires in a bout that will be broadcast live by HBO.

It will amount to a celebration of Martinez's greatness, but it should rightly be perceived as a celebration of what is right in boxing, as well.

The bout falls in the middle of an incredible stretch that demonstrates, despite all the problems it faces, the undeniable lure of boxing.

If only boxing were promoted, marketed and distributed half as well as, say, the NFL, it would undoubtedly be one of the country's top sports again.

As it is, boxing is more often than not promoted extraordinarily poorly, on the cheap, and with little vision or foresight.

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The fans often bore the brunt of the ineptitude of the promoters, the sanctioning bodies and the greedy and frequently corrupt managers who conspire to suck the life out of the sport.

The massive turnout for Martinez comes on the heels of a New York sellout for Guillermo Rigondeaux's victory over Nonito Donaire at Radio City Music Hall two weeks ago and another sellout that drew almost 40,000 to the Alamodome in San Antonio to see the emergence of superstar Canelo Alvarez last week.

Those, though, are only the appetizers for the main event, which will be Floyd Mayweather Jr.'s return against Robert Guerrero on May 4 in Las Vegas. That bout will sell out the MGM Grand Garden and deliver a live paid gate approaching $18 million.

Despite the best efforts, sometimes, of those who run it, boxing continues to thrive.

It's because of the efforts of passionate, caring athletes like Martinez that fans continue to be mesmerized by their ability.

Martinez is in the midst of an incredible stretch in his career, particularly for a fighter who turned 38 in February. Murray is 25-0-1 and is the fourth unbeaten fighter Martinez has faced in his last five fights.

Going back to 2009, Martinez has fought fighters with records of 30-2, 37-1, 36-1, 39-1, 37-0, 23-0, 28-3, 46-0-1 and, on Saturday, it's Murray and his impressive mark. If you don't have a calculator handy, that's 301-8-1. At the time he met them, those opponents had a combined winning percentage of .973.

It's an amazing figure, and should only improve. Martinez is a heavy favorite and has vowed to put on a noteworthy performance Saturday.

"This fight will end by knockout," Martinez said. "My training and my confidence are at the highest level, even higher than the last fight with Chavez and therefore, I predict a knockout."

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If he gets past Murray, there are a slew of mouthwatering bouts ahead, including a rematch with Chavez and a showdown with fast-rising WBA champion Gennady Golovkin.

The only thing that will screw all of it up is either promoter ineptitude or sanctioning body corruption.

In boxing, never rule out either.

Boxing promoters need to be willing to spend money. Simply putting a show on, or handing a phone to a boxer to speak for a half-hour on a conference call is not enough.

The reason that Martinez's pay-per-view bout with Chavez last year was such an astounding success was that the promoters and HBO worked in unison and spent a lot of money marketing, advertising and promoting the event.

Too often, boxing promoters want to rely on the media to spread the word. And while free publicity is good publicity, it's only one element. There has to be more of a financial commitment from the sport's promoters.

It also falls on the television networks – primarily HBO and Showtime – to market not just an individual fight, but the sport as a whole. Boxing is a major part of their programming and it should bring with it a significant amount of shoulder programming.

Both have bumped up their offerings a bit, but far more needs to be done. Look at the way ESPN covers the NFL and notice all the shows about the NFL it broadcasts. That kind of saturation coverage builds awareness of and demand for the product.

It's what needs to happen, albeit on a smaller level, with boxing.

The rivalry between HBO and Showtime is intense, ratcheted up because of the feud between powerhouse promoters Top Rank and Golden Boy. That has led to a series of compelling fights, which is a good thing.

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It can't, however, be a one-month thing or a once-in-a-while thing. TV executives need to seek out the best matches and then they, along with the fighters and promoters, need to get out and market, sell and promote the event.

Giving away comp tickets to make it seem like an event is a hit is not the way to accomplish that goal. Going out and spending real dollars with a heavyweight advertising and marketing plan is the only thing that will produce real results.

The fighters are doing their part. So, too, is the fan base. Now, it's on those who profit the most from this frequently wonderful but far too often frustrating sport – the promoters, the managers, the sanctioning bodies and the networks – to get together to do theirs.

If they do, wild scenes like last week at the Alamodome and on Saturday in Buenos Aires will become the rule rather than the exception.

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