ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – Sergio Martinez did himself a world of good on Saturday, knocking out nemesis Paul Williams with one crushing left hook in the second round before a shocked crowd of 5,502 fans at Boardwalk Hall and an HBO audience to retain the World Boxing Council middleweight championship.
The punishing punch clearly established Martinez as the world's finest 160-pounder, and no worse than the third-best fighter regardless of weight.
But Martinez's dominant performance almost certainly erased any chance of the only two men above him in the pound-for-pound rankings from ever seriously considering a bout with him.
If Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr. were unlikely to fight Martinez before Saturday's demolition of the lanky Williams, the crushing knockout in the center of the ring that sent Williams face-first to the canvas sealed the deal.
"I was waiting for a mistake and I was surprised when it happened so soon," Martinez said after his 25th knockout improved his record to 46-2-2. "I didn't want the judges to rob me this time."
Martinez lost a split decision to Williams a year ago that was the 2009 Yahoo! Sports Fight of the Year. The rematch won't win any Fight of the Year honors, but it is certainly the Knockout of the Year and has to be a candidate for Knockout of the Decade.
But it was a win that may have put him on a road to oblivion. Pacquiao promoter Bob Arum had ruled out the possibility of a Pacquiao-Martinez match earlier in the week, and the thunder in Martinez's left hand likely erased whatever doubt may have remained in Arum's mind about doing the deal.
Even Martinez conceded as much.
"Pacquiao is too small," Martinez said. "It would be a mismatch."
The rematch was a mismatch because Martinez made adjustments and Williams did not. Several days before the fight, Martinez trainer Gabriel Sarmiento woke up in the middle of the night and thought of another mistake he had noticed Williams making on tape which he hadn't discussed with his fighter.
The next morning, Sarmiento discussed the flaw he saw with Martinez, then wrote out the plan on a notepad he found in his hotel room. On it, he predicted Martinez by second-round knockout.
"I knew if Paul made those same mistakes again, Sergio would take advantage of them and he did," Sarmiento said.
Martinez jumped on Williams early and was landing good left hands from the early seconds. He seemed to stun Williams once about midway through the first round when they were battling on the ropes, but Williams kept throwing.
But in the second round, Williams' legendary reach worked against him. He has extraordinarily long arms and an 82-inch reach, which is useful for hitting opponents from distances in another zip code. But it also takes his hook a lot longer to get from A to B because it has to travel so much further.
In the decisive moment, each man opted to throw a left. Martinez's punch traveled a lot shorter distance and got to its target quicker, thudding on Williams' mug. Williams went down face first and was out for about a minute as Martinez climbed the ropes and stuck a crown atop his head in celebration.
"I'm much faster than Paul Williams and that was the difference," Martinez said.
Martinez was supremely confident that he would knock Williams out, but promoter Lou DiBella, as is his wont, was a worried mess. He is so emotional he often gets himself sick, and Martinez needed to calm his promoter down repeatedly.
Martinez was the epitome of calm heading into the match. He's one of boxing's finest athletes, but he's so successful because he studies the sport intently and has the ability to adjust. He pored over tapes of Williams and was convinced the fight wouldn't last long.
"He kept saying it wouldn't go seven rounds," DiBella said. "He told me he'd catch him with one of those punches. He must have said it a 1,000 times. You know me, I worried like a maniac and he was calming me down. He said, 'Don't worry, because I'm knocking him out.' "
He kept his word and sent a giddy DiBella dancing around the ringside area at Boardwalk Hall, vowing to get drunk in an all-night partying stupor.
"This is the greatest night of my life," DiBella said. "I have the greatest [expletive] fighter in the world and this [expletive] just doesn't happen to me."
Martinez is 35 and doesn't have a long time left in his career, planning to fight no more than four times. As a result, he'd love one of them to be against Pacquiao or Mayweather, though DiBella wasn't expecting much luck when he spoke with Arum and Mayweather adviser Al Haymon.
"Neither Manny or Floyd watched this fight and said, 'Hey, I want to fight Sergio Martinez,' " DiBella said.
The problem is if neither Mayweather nor Pacquiao will take a fight with him, Martinez's options for a big-money fight are severely restricted. There is no one else in or around his division who is a big name and who would make an even moderately significant fight with him. He may be left to fight World Boxing Organization champion Dmitry Pirog, an unbeaten and almost completely unknown Russian, for short money.
It didn't particularly matter much in the afterglow of victory for DiBella and Martinez. Martinez had to suffer the ignominy as a champion of being introduced first since Dan Goossen, Williams' promoter, was designated as the lead promoter, and opted to have his man introduced in the champion's traditional slot.
Martinez, though, never let the slights bother him. Williams, who signed a beer can for DiBella after Friday's weigh-in and wrote, "I'm winning," had irritated Martinez by predicting a knockout and making excuses about a lack of preparation time for the first fight.
Martinez was determined to shut him up and he did that conclusively on Saturday.
"I'm a boxer who makes no excuses," Martinez said. "I said at the final [pre-fight] press conference that I was tired of all the excuses Paul Williams made."
There were no excuses. There may be no big fight. DiBella, for a few hours, couldn't be bothered worrying about making the next one.
"I'm not going to worry about it," he said. "I have the best fighter in the world. I'm going to enjoy tonight, get messed up and then worry about it on Monday."