BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Under a heavy rain and the threat of a thunderstorm, but in front of 50,000 ardent fans who refused to leave their seats during the entire evening, local hero Sergio Maravilla Martinez scored an uneventful unanimous decision victory over visiting challenger Martin Murray in this country’s biggest fight in history, keeping his WBC and THE RING title belts after an uneven, oftentimes erratic but ultimately effective performance at the Luis Amalfitani Stadium of the Velez Sarsfield soccer club.
In the days leading to the fight, every weather report anticipated a day of heavy rain on this long-awaited Saturday, but most observers remained hopeful that the only storm of the day would be unleashed inside the ring.
However, the result threatens to carry a grim weather report regarding Martinez’s career for many days to come, as the champion failed to produce the overwhelming performance expected from him, instead turning in a discrete, workman-like job to hold on to his trinkets, and little else.
All three judges handed in scorecards of 115-112 (coinciding with THE RING) to give Martinez a victory that, even though fair, left a sour taste in the mouths of the fans who came to see their hero rout a hostile enemy in the country’s most anticipated fight in recent memory.
“Arriba, Argentina! Thanks everyone, thanks Argentina, thanks for following me, I love you, and this championship is yours,” exclaimed an emotional Martinez on the PA system after the decision was announced. Martinez (51-2-2, 28 knockouts) had predicted an eighth-round KO before the fight, but he was far removed from his best form, and he did little to make a case for a higher placement in the mythical pound-for-pound rankings with a lackluster performance in what was expected to be his finest hour.
For his part, Murray (25-1-1, 11 KOs) can claim to have held his own against a pound-for-pound entrant under strenuous circumstances. The controversy over the result of the fight, however, will prove to give him the benefit of the doubt in the future.
In the first round, Martinez took the center of the ring from his southpaw stance and tried to find a spot to land a meaningful punch though Murray’s closed guard. He found Murray`s body with a long right hand midway through the round and loosened up with a few scattered combinations in a cautious but very offensive round for him. The rain, which had stopped momentarily before the previous fight, began to drizzle down again, as occasional lightning bolts lighted up the sky.
The second round had Martinez working patiently behind his right jab with his trademark low guard, sporadically releasing his straight left. The third had a similar pattern, with Martinez starting to showboat excessively with the crowd encouraging him to do so.
A heavier rain began to fall by the beginning of the fourth round, with the audience remaining firmly on their seats. Murray came out seeking to finally turn up the heat and scored clearly with colorful combinations. However, one of his punches strayed slightly below Martinez’s waistline and he got time to recover by Italian referee Massimo Barroveccio. Both fighters resumed the action with several strong exchanges, with Murray scoring a few heavy hands to grab his first round on the scorecards.
In the fifth round, Martinez made full use of the oversized ring (the biggest one available in Argentina), as he moved his foe around trying to find the correct angle for his attack, but it was Murray who was able to sneak in the most meaningful punches, including a thudding uppercut towards the end of the round.
The sixth, Martinez tried to become the aggressor in retreat as Murray took center stage and appeared unafraid to risk more and throw the harder punches. A crude attempt at a rope-a-dope by Martinez resulted in Murray connecting with a couple of beautifully executed combinations with the local fighter momentarily cornered.
With the first half of the fight already in the books, Martinez came out with a more aggressive approach that would pay dividends when he scored a few crisp one-twos during the first part of the round. A headbutt opened a small cut on Martinez’s left eyebrow, and the smell of blood sent both fighters into a more passionate exchange towards the end of the seventh round.
Finally finding the way to sneak away from Murray’s left jab, Martinez began scoring continuously with sporadic punches, almost neglecting his combinations in the eighth, but a long right hand by Murray landed flush on Martinez’s face and sent him to the canvas, physically unhurt but emotionally dazed. Martinez rose at the count of three, but the damage was already done. A crunching right hand by Murray punctuated a 10-8 round for the visitor, who at this point was clearly ahead in the scorecards.
In the ninth round, Martinez used a steadier, more fluent pace in his punches to keep Murray behind his guard and take the initiative away from him. Choosing quantity over quality, “Maravilla” was able to steer back into the right track and scored a good 10-9 round.
At the beginning of the championship rounds, with the fight up for grabs, Murray worked well behind his jab to try to get his momentum going again. Martinez slipped to the canvas and got up to score a long series of one-twos that pulled him ahead and earned him the round. In the 11th, however, Martinez attempted to mix it up in the short range from the very beginning and got a few good punches in response. Resorting back to his right jab, Martinez took control again and made Murray miss repeatedly. The one-twos kept streaming in on Murray’s face to lead Martinez to another round in his favor.
The final round had Murray charging forward with mean intentions, trying to turn the one-two on Martinez but to no avail. Martinez resorted to showboating and clinching while throwing the occasional combination and a lead left that did little more than score. A solid combination by Martinez with Murray on the ropes towards the end of the round had the crowd on its feet, and the final seconds of the fight featured a few heated exchanges that sent the stadium into an unjustified frenzy.
The storm of public opinion will continue to rage on well after the skies of Buenos Aires clear out once again.
Abregu turns back Decarie
In the co-main event, local contender Luis Carlos Abregu, fresh off a solid KO upset victory against highly-touted Puerto Rican contender Thomas Dulorme in his last outing, appeared lethargic and out of his element during the first stretch of his vacant WBC Silver welterweight title fight against Canada’s Antonin Decarie, but was finally able to pull through with a late surge to grab the belt in front of his peoplewith a unanimous decision.
For the most part of the first six rounds of a scheduled ten-rounder, Abregu was unable to find his range while Decarie found the perfect distance to stay safe and launch his long, straight right hands with great success. Abregu failed in his sporadic attempts to take the fight to Decarie on the inside, while Decarie appeared sharper and crispier in his punches, doing just enough to score round after round in the scorecards.
But as the fight progressed and the visitor got tired, Abregu was able to repay Decarie with a dose of his own medicine when he sent him to the canvas in the eighth round with a looping right hand only seconds before the end of the round. The Canadian fighter was saved by the bell just as Abregu moved in for the kill, to the roaring delight of the crowd.
In the ninth, Abregu came out determined to end matters and proceeded to hammer Decarie with a variety of punches downstairs and upstairs, staggering his now seemingly defenseless opponent through the entire ring. Decarie held on bravely, but the volume and power of Abregu’s punches were too much for him to handle. Decarie came out for the tenth and final round transformed into a bloodied, sitting target as the fresher Abregu brought on the heat and landed solidly to the head and body throughout the entire episode.
The scorecards (read in a surprisingly good Spanish by legendary ring announcer Michael Buffer) were 97-93 (twice) and an abusive 99-91 for Abregu, now 35-1 with 28 KOs, his only defeat coming at the hands of Timothy Bradley in a title challenge. THE RING had Abregu (who was recently signed by Top Rank) up by a razor-thin but thoroughly deserving margin of 95-94, with the knockdown in the eighth round becoming the turning point of a highly emotional and entertaining fight. Decarie heads back north with a 27-2 (8 KOs) record, and absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.
In the shocker of the evening, Dominican female boxer Dahiana Santana successfully defended her IBF female featherweight title when she outpointed local credit Claudia Lopez over 10 rounds of 2 minutes each. Santana dominated the first round and surged a bit towards the end, but the middle rounds were all Lopez’s as she overwhelmed her opponent with the harder and more accurate punches of the fight. Santana appeared to back up constantly under a barrage of punches and offered little response to Lopez’s onslaught. The scorecards appeared accurate at 97-93 (twice) and 96-94, but the crowd was stunned when Santana was declared the winner by those margins, which would have been much fairer had they been given to Lopez. Santana takes back his title to Santo Domingo along with an improved record of 32-6, 14 KOs, while Lopez heads back to the southern city of Trelew (a boxing hotbed in the Argentine Patagonia region, home to Omar Narvaez and Lucas Matthysse among others) with a deceptive record of 22-7 with 5 KOs.
Third chances may be charming in other realms, but there was nothing charming about the utter embarrassment that took place in the ring on the third fight of this event. In it, Russia’s Magomed Abdusalamov notched a meaningless victory against grossly overweight and even more grossly overmatched local journeyman Sebastian Ceballos, in a fight ridiculously scheduled for 10 rounds in the heavyweight division. Abdusalamov (part of Sergio Martinez’s stable of mostly Spanish-speaking fighters, who nicknamed him Mago – or “Magician” – in Spanish) didn’t need to pull any tricks to score this victory, as he sent Ceballos to the canvas with the first punch he threw. He repeated the dose twice more, and the fight (or lack thereof) was waived off at an unannounced moment of the initial stanza. Magomed improves to 18-0 with 18 KOs, while Ceballos returns to his native province of Tucuman with a record of 33-8-2, 25 KOs.
The second bout of the evening saw local trialhorse Damian Marchiano taking his L column to double digits after a severe beating at the hands of fringe contender Kiko Martinez, from Spain, in the super bantamweight division. The fight was originally scheduled for 10 rounds but was presented as a six-round fight by the ring announcer. The event didn’t even reach the halfway mark as Martinez’s superior strength was evident from the very beginning. He landed heavily and repeatedly on his beleaguered foe, backing him up constantly and eventually sending him to the canvas in the first round after a vicious blow to the top of the head. The recipe was repeated in the following round, with another knockdown scored in the same fashion. When Marchiano bent over in pain after a crushing body blow, referee Hernan Guajardo stopped the carnage at the 1.41 mark. Marchiano goes down to 18-10 with 7 KOs, while Martinez heads back home with a solid 25-4 record, including 20 stoppages.
In the opening bout of the card, Dominican-born Diego Pichardo (now a resident of Buenos Aires) defeated Spain’s Ivan Ruiz by unanimous decision after an entertaining six-rounder (downgraded from an originally scheduled 10 rounder) in the junior bantamweight division. There were no knockdowns. Ruiz heads back to his native Madrid with a 9-2 record and a small cut on the bridge of his nose, while the talented but limited Pichardo improves to 9-3 with 3 KOs. The official scorecards were 60-54 (oddly enough, by a judge sharing his last name with the winner), 59-55 and 58-56, the latter coinciding with our own tabulation.
Two swing bouts, pitting Argentina’s Fernando SaucedoagainstEngland’s Gary Buckland and locals lightweights Israel Perezand Jorge Luis Rodriguez facing each other, were scheduled to take place after the conclusion of the main event.
Photos: Juan Mabromata-AFP/Getty