Lou DiBella, who promotes both Sergio Martinez and Matthew Macklin, is almost giddy about the St. Patrick’s Day middleweight showdown that he put together between the talented RING champion and rugged challenger of Irish descent.
The fight, which will be televised live on HBO (10:00 p.m. ET/7:00 p.m. PT) from Madison Square Garden, has created a healthy buzz in New York City, the promoter’s hometown and base of operation.
“I’m psyched,” DiBella told RingTV.com the morning of the final press conference. “We had close to 1,000 fans show up for an autograph session on Tuesday, the media was out in force for the open workouts on Wednesday, and we’ve got a St. Patrick’s Day pub crawl later tonight; we’ll have a couple hundred people for that.
“There’s a lot interest in this card, which is 90 percent sold out. I think it will be a sellout by Saturday and those fans will be treated to explosive action. The two TV fights (Martinez-Macklin and Edwin Rodriguez-Don George) are terrific fights.”
DiBella’s got a right to be proud of this show. He needed a major event for the star of his promotional stable – Martinez, who is No. 3 in the pound-for-pound ratings of both THE RING and the Yahoo! Sports – so he created one by matching the southpaw middleweight standout with a world-class Irish brawler on St. Patrick’s Day.
However, critics of both Martinez and DiBella – who has tirelessly called out box office attractions, such as Miguel Cotto, Floyd Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., on behalf of THE RING middleweight champ – say the promoter shouldn’t pat himself on the back too much.
Martinez may be fighting at Madison Square Garden on Saturday but he won’t be in the big arena, which can hold a little more than 20,000. He and Macklin will do battle in The Theater inside the storied venue, which accommodates around 5,000 fans.
The 37-year-old veteran may be the “real champion,” according to his promoter and hardcore fans, but critics point out that he doesn’t sell tickets the way 160-pound “beltholders” Felix Sturm and Chavez do. Sturm, who was lucky to retain his WBA belt via controversial split decision against Macklin last year, regularly fills arenas in his adopted home country of Germany. Chavez, who holds the WBC belt that was basically stripped from Martinez, packs ‘em in whenever he fights in his native Mexico as well as in Texas and Southern California.
DiBella knows that Martinez – who hails from Argentina, a country known for its tough fighters but not for passionate boxing fans – needs a lot of help when it comes to putting butts in the seats. It’s why he signed Macklin, a relentless pressure fighter from Britain, last year.
“I needed to make a big fight for (Martinez) in 2012,” DiBella said. “I saw that the time frame of his next fight landed in March and noticed that St. Patrick’s Day happened to land on a Saturday. Two of the top middleweights in the world are Irish, Andy Lee and Macklin, so it made sense to build a fight in New York against one of them on March 17. HBO preferred Macklin based on Sturm fight.
“It’s not a huge event, but it’s a good fight that will have a very live atmosphere. You’re going to hear one of the loudest crowds you’ve seen in years on Saturday and 75 percent of those fans will be Irish. Sergio might as well be fighting Macklin in Dublin.
“This is the best I can do for Sergio for the time being because he’s not getting those money guys, which has got to be a point of frustration for him.”
Martinez, to his credit, says he is not frustrated, nor is he embarrassed about fighting in The Theater. He describes fighting in any part of ‘the Mecca of Boxing’ as a “dream come true” and he’s steadfast in his belief that the bigger fights in bigger venues will come.
That’s Martinez, always positive and ever the optimist.
“My positive frame of mind is not hard to understand if you know where I come from,” Martinez told RingTV.com through translator Rudy Cortez after one of the final days of his camp in Oxnard, Calif., last week. “My life, even before I found boxing, has been about bettering myself and advancing my situation.
“Fighting at the Theater is a big deal where I come from. I come from poor and humble beginnings, so I’m grateful for where I am. I feel lucky just to be fighting.”
Martinez made a fist with his left hand, exposing a missing lead knuckle, in order to drive home his point. He said he broke his power hand early in his pro career, resulting in almost nine months of rehab and inactivity that tested his resolve.
“Two doctors told me that I would never box again but I viewed the injury the same way I view my difficulty getting big fights now – as obstacles that I must overcome,” he said. “I never give up. I never give in negative thinking. I know if I remain positive and motivated and I continue to work hard my goals will happen.”
DiBella, who is frequently frustrated (and at times outraged) by the politics and business side of professional boxing, admires Martinez’s attitude but he says his fighter has to be feeling discouragement on some level.
“He’s an adult and he’s a professional, so he’s not going to complain about his situation,” DiBella said. “In a lot of ways, he’s the most cerebral fighter I’ve ever promoted. He’s smart and he takes things in stride, but he’s also 37. He’s had tough fight after tough fight after tough fight. He’s not getting any younger. He knows his time is now, so how can he not be frustrated?”
Martinez has indeed been involved in some grueling bouts, most notably the 12-round slugfest with Paul Williams in their first encounter and his title-winning effort against Kelly Pavlik. He didn’t look like an elite fighter for many rounds in his harder-than-expected title defense against Darren Barker, who he stopped in 11 rounds last November, leading some – including Macklin – to believe that he may be slowing down.
Team Chavez is watching closely. The unbeaten Mexican star’s promoters – Top Rank and Zanfer – haven’t completely ruled out an eventual showdown with Martinez. However, common sense says wait awhile and pounce when time is right, when the aging champ’s reflexes and coordination have diminished.
Martinez calls that wishful thinking and says his body will hold out along with his spirit.
“They’re waiting for me to burn out or get old,” he said. “It’s not going to happen. I began boxing when I was 20. I live clean and I’ve been athletic my whole life – always training for tennis, cycling or soccer – but I’ve only been a pro boxer for 14 years.
“I’ve also had a defensive style for many years.”
However, in recent years Martinez has added aggression and power punching to his savvy southpaw style, as evidenced by his rematch knockout of Williams and his stoppages of Sergei Dzinziruk and Barker. Some say his willingness to punch it out could play into Macklin’s non-stop attack. Martinez says he’s ready for a barnburner.
“I always train to adapt to my opponent,” said Martinez. “Macklin is more aggressive than my last two opponents, who were defensive boxers. But I will fight him in much the same way as I fought them. I vary my intensity and box in the early rounds, but I start putting pressure on after the sixth round. It’s a step-by-step process, breaking down an opponent.
“It will be a hard, physical fight but I’m prepared for that. I’ve had good sparring with Bryan Vera, Alexander Brand and Asael Cosio. I think it will be a close and competitive fight but Macklin is going to take the brunt of the fighting. He’s going to take more punishment and I believe I will knock him out before the ninth round.”
Martinez’s prediction was not said with any rancor or bravado. It’s just part of his positive thinking.
“I always visualize how the fight will go with my next opponent,” he said. “It will be difficult but I believe I will achieve this.”
DiBella believes in his champion, but he’s not counting out Macklin, THE RING’s No. 3-rated middleweight.
“Sergio is a great athlete – probably the most talented fighter I’ve ever promoted – but he’s not a big middleweight; he’s a guy who has to eat steak and potatoes every day just to stay at 160 pounds,” DiBella said. “Macklin is natural-sized middleweight and he’s a strong cat. He also has nothing to lose. He’s as motivated as a fighter can be. He’s going to be the crowd favorite and he knows that with one good night he can be a super star.
“I know it’s going to be a good fight. There’s no way it won’t be entertaining. As a promoter, I’m proud of the matchup and the event, but as a fan I’m just excited.”
Photos / Ed Diller-DiBella Entertainment
Email Doug Fischer at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @dougiefischer