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Tuesday, March 15, 2011
Who's next for Sergio Martinez?

By Dan Rafael

Middleweight world champion Sergio Martinez, who scored five knockdowns and destroyed Sergiy Dzinziruk en route to an eighth-round knockout Saturday night, is now back in the same boat he was in after scoring the 2010 knockout of year against Paul Williams in November: without an obvious big fight to make.

In the wake of the win against Williams, which clinched Martinez's 2010 fighter of the year nod, there also was no clear choice for the elite champion to face.

After much debate between Lou DiBella, Martinez's promoter, and HBO, Martinez settled for facing Dzinziruk, a skilled and long-reigning junior middleweight titlist.

Dzinziruk, although essentially unknown in the United States, was considered a stern test -- one Martinez obviously aced with a sensational performance that pushed his stock even higher.

But now it starts all over again: Who's next?

Immediately after the fight at the Foxwoods Resort Casino in Mashantucket, Conn., the process was already in motion. Before Martinez had even visited the hospital to have the small cut on his eye checked, DiBella and Sampson Lewkowicz, Martinez's adviser, began talking up a July 9 return date with HBO's Kery Davis, who was noncommittal on the specific date but was certainly interested in a quick return for Martinez -- and open to a date in July.

Alfredo Angulo, who had previously turned down a fight with Martinez by asking for a pie-in-the-sky purse, came up. Angulo, who is from Mexico, is mired in immigration issues that prevent him from fighting in the United States. However, Lewkowicz made it clear to Davis that Martinez would be willing to go to Mexico for such a fight. HBO is certainly not averse to putting on a fight in a place such as Cancun, where it did a 2008 doubleheader featuring Samuel Peter's heavyweight title win against Oleg Maskaev and Nate Campbell's lightweight title-winning effort against Juan Diaz.

Later in the evening (well, by then the wee hours of the morning), Lewkowicz and Gary Shaw, Angulo's promoter, huddled briefly about the possibility of an Angulo fight in Mexico. Money was discussed, but the two sides were far apart. Hey, it was only the first conversation.

Martinez-Angulo would be an interesting fight. Angulo is a pressure fighter from the first bell, even if his skills and experience pale compared to Martinez's.

What Martinez really wants is to fight Manny Pacquiao or Floyd Mayweather Jr. (and he's willing to drop to 154 pounds to face either), but neither will fight him -- not this summer and not likely ever. So, who else?

Some would like to see a rubber match with Williams, who won a hotly disputed majority decision in their first nontitle fight in December 2009 in a sensational slugfest. I could see a third fight happening down the road, but certainly not this summer, especially because Williams is penciled in to return from the knockout loss in June and has designs on a welterweight fight. So cross Williams off the list as Martinez's next opponent.

Dmitriy Pirog also was ruled out when DiBella quite colorfully dismissed that titlist after Saturday's fight. Pirog's claim to fame is that he won a vacant belt (one that had been stripped from Martinez) when he knocked out prospect Daniel Jacobs last summer.

"F--- Dmitry Pirog. We're never fighting Dmitriy Pirog," DiBella howled like only he can. "That was our belt that [the WBO] stole from him and we're not fighting Dmitry Pirog, who has never done anything but beat Daniel Jacobs to deserve a big fight. F--- Dmitry Pirog."

OK, Lou, tell us how you really feel about that fight.

Andy Lee scored a dramatic 10th-round knockout to beat Craig McEwan in a terrific middleweight scrap in Saturday's co-feature, but he seems unlikely to get the fight this summer, according to DiBella and HBO. He's just not ready.

The other titleholders in the division -- Felix Sturm and Sebastian Sylvester -- would be nice but also seem unlikely given the other business they have going on in Germany combined with the high cost it would take to bring either to the United States.

DiBella would love to match Martinez with junior middleweight titlist Miguel Cotto, who stopped Ricardo Mayorga in the 12th round Saturday night in Las Vegas in a fight that competed directly with Martinez-Dzinziruk. Don't hold your breath for that one, though. DiBella tried to make Martinez-Cotto before winding up with Dzinziruk, but Top Rank's Bob Arum wasn't interested. Who could blame him?

Cotto is a money maker, and Martinez would brutalize him. Arum knows it. Besides, he now has a big-money rematch between Cotto and antagonist Antonio Margarito in the works for July.

James Kirkland is an intriguing possible opponent, one whom HBO's Max Kellerman talked about on Saturday's broadcast. Kirkland is on the comeback trail after spending time in prison. He won his return earlier this month, will fight again Friday and then is due back April 9 on an HBO PPV card. I don't think it's totally out of the question he could face Martinez, but a fight probably would be more likely to happen in the fall. Still, I would love to see Martinez-Kirkland next.

DiBella has made no secret of the fact that if he can't get Martinez a really big fight (which frankly doesn't exist at the moment), then he would like a little bit of a breather for his fighter after the rigorous recent schedule he has had. In his last five fights, Martinez has faced the best possible level of opponents a fighter can face -- Kermit Cintron, Kelly Pavlik, Williams (twice) and Dzinziruk.

DiBella promotes former "Contender" star Peter Manfredo. He would love to get Manfredo, whose financial struggles are not a secret, a money fight. Manfredo is a good draw in New England and is coming off an exciting and solid win against Daniel Edouard in a January ESPN2 fight.

Something tells me that if DiBella can't make a fight with Angulo or even Kirkland, he'll target Manfredo. Whether Martinez will want to take that kind of step down in competition and whether HBO would actually buy it are entirely different issues.