Who says “you can’t go home again?” Certainly not the middleweight champion of the world, Sergio “Maravilla” Martinez (50-2-2), who will defend the title in front of a large crowd in a soccer stadium in Buenos Aires, Argentina against British challenger, Martin Murray (25-0-1). It has been a long road for the champion to now being able to headline a major event in his home country as the champion. The story has been told before but to quickly summarize: Martinez left Argentina as a teen to pursue a career in soccer and later cycling in Spain. At age 20, he first stepped into a boxing gym and began a career that took him to numerous countries. He finally gained recognition when he signed with US based promoter Lou DiBella and began fighting regularly in the United States and on HBO.
Strangely, nothing in his “first career” as world traveler could have prepared US boxing fans for what came next. In his early days, Martinez was a light hitting welterweight who was most known for being stopped by Antonio Margarito. However, a move to 154 pounds and some impressive performances eventually got Martinez a short-notice assignment on HBO against Paul Williams. The two produced a multi-knockdown classic that vaulted Martinez into a shot against then middleweight champion, Kelly Pavlik. Martinez took that opportunity and ran with it by utterly dominating the Youngstown native. His stature only grew by following that performance up with the 2010 knock out of the year in the rematch with Williams. Next were knock out victories over lesser opponents from overseas, Sergiy Dzinzurik, Darren Barker and Matthew Macklin which led to Martinez’ first major pay per view showdown against the undefeated Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. In that fight, Martinez proved his mastery of the boxing craft in the first 11 rounds where he dominated the “Son of the Legend” and then proved his fighter’s heart and toughness in the last round where Chavez had him hurt and down. Martinez survived, retained the championship, and now heads home to receive a hero’s welcome.
Can Murray ruin that hero’s welcome? He is not a big puncher nor does he appear to possess great speed. He is also not a giant for the division as Chavez is. Moreover, Murray, who has never fought outside of Europe, has to fly to South America and fight in front of what is sure to be a raucous crowd. Murray’s best performance is a 2012 draw against Felix Sturm in Germany. However, Sturm was coming off of a very controversial win over Macklin (let’s be real: Macklin whooped Sturm in that fight) and followed up the Murray fight by getting beat by Daniel Geale. Regardless, many experts opined after the fight that even though Sturm was notorious for getting hometown decisions in Germany, it seemed to them that he did enough to edge out Murray. Additionally, it should be noted that Martinez is gearing up for another major bout in the fall, most likely a rematch with Chavez but could also be a possible bouts against Miguel Cotto, Gennady Golovkin, Geale or Andre Ward. His handlers, DiBella and Sampson Leckowitz, are smart enough not to pick a world-beater that could prevent such future fights.
That is why Martinez is such a big favorite (bet365.com has him at 5.5-1; sportbet,com has him at -900). Martinez is a veteran and he will not let the hometown crowd affect him. The only reason to blink on this bet is if you are concerned about the knee injury suffered in the Chavez fight and subsequent surgery. It says here though, Martinez’ skills and heart should be enough to overcome any knee troubles. Martinez is the easy pick.
Prior to airing Martinez-Murray, HBO will air two other bouts. Also from Argentina, Luis Carlos Abregu (34-1), coming off of a victory over Puerto Rican prospect Thomas Dulorme, will face Canadian Antonin Decaire (27-1) in an interesting welterweight showdown. Abregu (a 4.5-1 favorite according to bet365 and at -550 by sportbet) is fighting at home, his only loss was by decision to Timothy Bradley and he recently signed with big promoter Top Rank who did not pull him out of this bout. That leads me to think that while this is an even match up, the power punching Abregu fighting at home is the pick. The HBO telecast will lead off with an elimination fight in the heavyweight division that will produce a mandatory challenger for Vitali Klitschko. In this fight, which was postponed multiple times, former challenger Chris Arreola (35-2) will face Bermane Stiverne (22-1). Arreola is a much more skilled fighter with better speed. Although Stiverne is a big puncher, Arreola is no slouch in that department either. In looking at photos of their press conferences, it is striking how much bigger Arreola is than Stiverne. Arreola (a -420 favorite) is the pick.
If that is not enough boxing for you, Showtime will also be airing three bouts on Saturday night. The last fight they will air (on tape delay) is another Amir Khan (27-3) comeback fight. Instead of facing a light hitting lightweight at junior welterweight, Khan will face a moderate punching former 135 pound titlist, Julio Diaz (40-7-1) in a bout contracted for 143 pounds. You see where this is going: another match designed to avoid getting Khan’s weak chin tested and to get him a win. Khan (an 8-1 choice by bet365, -1200 at sportbet) is the easy pick here. Speaking of easy picks, Showtime will start the night by airing Peter Quillin’s (28-0) first defense of his middleweight title against Fernando Guerrero (25-1). That is the same Guerrero who was knocked out by Grady Brewer, a junior middleweight who is not a big puncher. Quillin is a big puncher who scored five knockdowns in his title winning effort. The most interesting thing abiut this bout is that it is the first time that two fighters advised by Al Haymon will face each other. Throw in the fact that Haymon initially wanted the chance against Quillin to go to Jermain Taylor (who has looked horrendous since returning from neurological injuries), and it is easy to label this as Haymon cashing out Guerrero and giving Quillin easy money. Quillin (a 7-1 or -700 favorite) is the pick.
The main event of the Showtime card features junior welterweight champion Danny Garcia (25-0) defending against Zab Judah (42-7). While the fight takes place in Judah’s home borough of Brooklyn, Judah is the underdog here. Indeed, while you can read a number of stories about how Judah has cleaned up his act and matured, you could have read those stories before any of his “last chance” fights. By this author’s count, this is Judah’s fourth or fifth “last chance.” Garcia, on the other hand, has shown good punching power and boxing skills. While he is not as fast or powerful as Judah, he matches him in skills and is certainly more mentally sound. Garcia proved that in weathering a very difficult start against Khan to win that fight by knockout and by ignoring all the pre-fight distractions that usually come with his trainer/father, Angel Garcia. Garcia (a 5.5-1 or -550 choice) is the pick.
As a bonus for you loyal readers, I will even make a pick on a non-televised fight from the Amir Khan undercard. Olympic Gold Medalist Audley Harrison (31-6) takes on Olympic Bronze Medalist Deontay Wilder (27-0). Because Harrison often makes Judah look mentally stable and has an extremely fragile chin, the big punching Wilder (a 5.5-1 or -850 choice) is the pick.
Author’s Record for the Year: 14-4-2 (The down streak continued last week when my upset picks, Austin Trout and Steve Cunningham could not keep up their good starts and eventually lost to favorites Saul Alvarez and Tyson Fury. My hope is that a seven for seven weekend here starts up another good run).