It isn’t uncommon for unforeseen occurrences to strike in boxing, leaving matchmakers and promoters scrambling to find a replacement for an injured or otherwise disposed fighter on short notice. What isn’t common is for the replacement opponent to create an equally intriguing matchup that has the potential to steal the show.
These are the circumstances that brought together undefeated junior middleweight Steven Martinez and Denis Douglin at Mallory Square in Key West, Fla., in the eight-round co-featured bout to ESPN2′s Friday Night Fights. The show begins at 9:00 p.m. EST and will be headlined by the super middleweight clash between Dyah Davis and Alfonso Lopez.
Martinez, who is promoted by the event’s organizer DiBella Entertainment, was originally supposed to face undefeated knockout artist Jonathan Cepeda, but plans were altered when Cepeda was in a non-life threatening car accident last month.
In came Douglin, a southpaw boxer-puncher who, prior to his lone career career blemish last year, was a highly-regarded prospect and the subject of a Ring magazine New Faces profile.
“It wasn’t a problem when they asked me to face Douglin instead,” said Martinez (11-0, 9 knockouts), of the Bronx, N.Y. “It wasn’t like, ‘Oh, we’re facing Douglin.’ We were already going to fight someone who was going to be up in class. All we had to do was switch up training a little to get in some southpaw sparring.”
Martinez, 21, and Douglin, 23, are no strangers to each other. They both brought home top honors at the National Golden Gloves amateur tournament in 2008 where Martinez won in the 152-pound division and Douglin won at 165 pounds. Martinez also won the Outstanding Boxer of the Tournament award that year.
“I’ve seen him, but we never fought before,” said Douglin. “He was always a weight class under me from the time of Junior Olympics (age 16 and under). “We’re pretty familiar with each other’s style though, he even fought my cousin.”
“We weren’t friends, we would just say hi and bye to each other,” said Martinez. “We never went out to eat or nothing, we were just associates.”
Had it not been for Douglin’s lone defeat – a third round TKO loss to Doel Carasquillo last February – this fight would probably be a main event caliber bout. Douglin also feels that if not for the loss, this fight wouldn’t be happening in the first place.
“I wouldn’t have gotten the fight if I was undefeated,” said Douglin. “I’ve been hearing rumors that they think that I don’t have a good chin and that they’re looking to knock me out. We’ll see who has the suspect chin on Friday.”
Douglin admits that he overlooked Carasquillo, a slow, unskilled brawler with a dynamite right hook. Prior to meeting, Douglin had seen Carasquillo get outclassed by Alex Perez, another undefeated southpaw, and says he was underwhelmed by the task at hand. Douglin says that he didn’t train properly and made weight the day of the fight and walked into a punch that he wasn’t prepared for.
The timing of the loss was both inconvenient and a blessing in disguise, said Douglin. For one, Douglin was in his first fight under the management of boxing power broker Al Haymon. The defeat jeopardized his new relationship with Haymon, but Douglin has since returned with a decision win in July.
“I knew the loss would push me back a couple months,” said Douglin, who is known as ‘Da Momma’s Boy’ because he is the only notable fighter to ever be trained by his mother. “After the loss I didn’t fight for 6-7 months, but it never was something that would take me out of the fight game. I knew I’d bounce right back.”
Martinez also had to learn tough lessons in the pros.
In his third pro bout against Corey Washington, Martinez was dropped in the opening round of their four-round bout. The referee then took a point in the following round for a low blow. With no chance of winning on the scorecards, Martinez came out guns blazing in the third round, scoring a technical knockout 40 seconds into the round.
“It was a great learning experience for me,” said Martinez, who is managed by Pat Lynch and New York Giants running back Brandon Jacobs. “I went into the fight with the mentality to knock him out and I never go into the fight doing that. I just go in to do damage. In that fight, every punch I threw was swinging for the fences. I really learned a lot from that fight.”
Martinez, who has at least numerically faced the better competition of the two, is unwaveringly confident in his prospects against Douglin. He may even be a little bit cocky.
“Denis is a good fighter, but only problem is he’s facing me,” said Martinez. “He’s going to make it in the future, but not by going through me.”
Unsurprisingly, Douglin feels the same way towards Martinez.
“I think he doesn’t have the maturity to push through eight rounds of a hard fight,” Douglin said. “It’s nothing personal, I like Steven as a person but I’m going there looking to hurt him.”
Ryan Songalia is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and contributes to GMA News and the Filipino Reporter newspaper in New York City. He is also a member of The Ring ratings panel. He can be reached at email@example.com. An archive of his work can be found at www.ryansongalia.com. Follow him on Twitter: @RyanSongalia.