Sergio Martinez: Sergei Dzinziruk was supposed to be the wrong opponent, the superb technician who could make anyone look bad. This was going to be the fight that put a sudden halt to the momentum Martinez built by beating Kelly Pavlik and Paul Williams on consecutive fights. Yeah, right. The Southern California-based Argentine on Saturday might’ve turned in the best performance of his increasingly remarkable career. He beat Dzinziruk at his own game, nullifying the Ukrainian’s jab with his own jab to set up the power shots that rendered an excellent boxer helpless and finished him off in eight rounds. We’re amazed once again. Now what? A rematch with Pavlik? A third fight with Williams? Doesn’t matter. The latecomer to boxing is in full bloom at 36 and, it seems, no one can beat him. His goal is to become the No. 1 fighter in the world. He’s well on his way.
Sergei Dzinziruk: The slick Ukrianian came into his fight against Martinez with a perfect record and high hopes of becoming a star in the U.S. Now, after squandering a tremendous opportunity, he must regroup. And that won’t be easy at 35, particularly after he was so brutally humbled on Saturday. I believe he’ll be back, though. He has demonstrated over and over again that he is an exceptional boxer. And, because of his skills, he had never taken a beating in his life. He has relatively little wear and tear. Indeed, his setback on Saturday was more about a great opponent who is naturally bigger than he is than a weak performance on his part. Dzinziruk remains one of the best boxers in the world. He’ll more likely than not prove that next time he steps into the ring.
Martinez vs. Kirkland: We would buy into a second Martinez-Pavlik fight. Same goes for a third meeting with Williams. Heck, at this point, we’d pay the $49.99 pay-per-view fee to watch Martinez skip rope. One possible matchup for the future is particularly intriguing, though: Martinez vs. James Kirkland. I know. Kirkland is too raw for a fighter of Martinez’s ability. True. The Texan can annihilate any journeyman right now but Martinez would be uncharted and dangerous territory. Still, who wouldn’t want to see it? Martinez has proved that he’s the best middleweight in the world. Kirkland might be the most-thrilling fighter on the planet. Who knows how good he is? A clash between the two could be a classic. Kirkland needs a few more fights to get into a groove after his two-year hiatus but after that …
BIGGEST WINNER II
Miguel Cotto Some observers figured the future Hall of Famer was finished after he was pummeled by Antonio Margarito in 2008. He came back to win a welterweight title. Some thought his knockout loss to Manny Pacquiao was the beginning of the end. He returned to win a junior middleweight title, which he successfully defended against Ricardo Mayorga on Saturday. Cotto probably isn’t the fighter who outpointed Shane Mosley in 2007. He can still bring it, though, as he demonstrated against Mayorga. He used his formidable skills to outbox a naturally bigger man and then take him out in 12th and final round. And he seems to be rejuvenated with Emanuel Steward in his corner. In other words, he’ll be around for a while longer. Next up? He could face Margarito again this summer. If he does, don’t be surprised if he wins this time. Cotto is still damn good.
BIGGEST LOSER II
Ricardo Mayorga: The 37-year-old Nicaraguan should be admired even in defeat. He was selected to fight Cotto not because of his so-so record – 4-4 in his last eight fights – but because of his name and unusual ability to help sell a promotion. In fact, he did more than anyone to sell the pay-per-view event with his tongue-in-cheek trash talking throughout the publicity campaign. He also trained hard for the fight, which was evident in the later rounds. He came up short but gave Cotto and the fans a good fight, which is all anyone can ask for. And we’ve seen the last of him if he follows through on his intention to retire. Mayorga will be remembered as a very good fighter, particularly in two victories over Vernon Forrest in 2003. He’ll also be remembered as one of the smartest boxers ever, one who built a fortune primarily on brilliant self promotion. Mayorga was fun. He’ll be missed.
Cotto: Mayorga angered Cotto during the pre-fight news conferences by going too far with his orchestrated insults. For example, he twice directed nasty comments toward Cotto’s mother. The Puerto Rican’s disdain of Mayorga was palpable. However, when Mayorga approached Cotto after the fight and explained that he was merely doing his part to sell the fight, Cotto nodded and touched Mayorga’s face. He was saying, “It’s OK. I understand.” That response is typical of the dignity with which Cotto always carries himself. Some fans reportedly don’t embrace Cotto as they did more-flamboyant champions like Felix Trinidad. That’s a shame. The quiet man has built a Hall of Famer career and carries himself with uncommon grace outside the ring. If it were me, I would be extremely proud to call him one of my own.
Andy Lee’s KO: The Irishman was lost after six rounds in a scheduled 10-round fight against Scotsman Craig McEwan on the Martinez-Dzinziruk undercard. He had been so thoroughly outboxed that turning the tide seemed to be next to impossible. And then, in an inspiring demonstration of grit, he did. He began to find McEwan in the seventh round. He put McEwan down and hurt him badly in the ninth. Then, with his vulnerable prey nearly helpless, he finished the job with relentless pressure and a crushing straight left that put McEwan down and out. Comebacks don’t get much more exciting than that. Lee deserves credit for his determination and conditioning, which allowed him to steal the fight. He turned a pending disaster into his most-important victory. Not a bad night in the end.
Pawel Wolak: The Polish-born fighter from New Jersey served notice on national television that a new, formidable junior middleweight is on the scene. OK, beating up Yuri Foreman doesn’t exactly make you a star. But Wolak clearly demonstrated that his throw-back extreme-pressure style of fighting will be hell for almost any opponent. He reminds me of Carmen Basilio, the type of fighter who never stops coming unless you figure out a way to stop him. And Wolak already has demonstrated that he can overcome adversity. He was knocked down and apparently hurt in the second round of his previous fight but got up to stop Jose Pinzon five rounds later. The Pole isn’t the greatest boxer or athlete and doesn’t punch particularly hard but he’s as fit, tough and driven as anyone. Fighters have won titles with those attributes in the past.
BIGGEST LOSER III
Yuri Foreman: I believe Foreman when he says he wasn’t himself against Wolak, that his nine-month layoff and other problems played a role in his shaky performance. The former junior middleweight titleholder never looked so flat. That said, I’m not sure Foreman could’ve beaten Wolak on his best day. The only way to stop a pressure fighter like Wolak is to hurt him and Foreman, for whatever reason, doesn’t have the requisite punching power. Combine that with the layoff and the fact he had no real trainer in his corner and Foreman was doomed from the start. Can he bounce back? Not sure. He’s young enough (30). He still has good boxing skills and athleticism. But it will be difficult to regain his form after back-to-back one-sided setbacks (Cotto and Wolak), particularly if he doesn’t have a strong team. We’ll see how determined Foreman is.
Miguel Vazquez: Vazquez has an unusual style for a Mexican fighter, stick and move. And the lightweight titleholder is very good at it, as he demonstrated in a dominating victory over Leonard Zappavigna on the Cotto-Mayorga undercard. Vazquez gave the raw Australian a proverbial boxing lesson to win his seventh consecutive fight since he was outpointed by Saul “Canelo” Alvarez in 2008, a fight in which he was at a distinct size disadvantage. Vazquez is building a nice resume, with victories over the likes of Breidis Prescott, Ji Hoon Kim, Ricardo Dominguez and now Zappavigna. I wonder whether Vazquez’s apparent lack of punching power will hurt him against someone like fellow 135-pound titleholder Brandon Rios. But his skills and experience make him very difficult to beat.
BEST FOOTBALL PLAYER/BOXER
Tommy Zbikowski: The Baltimore Ravens safety could become the greatest NFL player-turned-boxer ever if he sticks to the sport. Others have tried and had some success. The best might’ve been Alonzo Highsmith. The former NFL running back finished his boxing career at 27-1-2 (23 knockouts), although he never fought anyone special. Zbikowski has a chance to become a legitimate boxer because of his extensive amateur background, giving him the foundation necessary to succeed. He looked raw in his first-round KO of Richard Bryant on the Cotto-Mayorga undercard but hadn’t been in the ring in almost five years. He fought at heavyweight but weighed only 193, seven below the cruiserweight limit. That’s where he probably would fare the best, although heavyweight money will be tempting. Will Zbikowski stick with it? “Right now this isn’t a second career for me. It’s a first career,” he said. We’ll see what happens after the NFL sorts out its labor dispute.
Mayorga: “I have to go find a job.” Most likely as a salesman.
Photos / Naoki Fukuda