Dan Rafael: Sergio Martinez

Vazquez-Sonsona II on June 7

April, 10, 2014
Apr 10
LAS VEGAS -- In 2010, Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. of Puerto Rico knocked out Marvin Sonsona of the Philippines in the fourth round to win a vacant junior featherweight world title. Four years later, they will meet again.

Before the Manny Pacquiao-Timothy Bradley II final news conference at the MGM Grand on Wednesday, promoter Sampson Lewkowicz, who promotes Sonsona, told ESPN.com that the rematch was made and would be one of HBO PPV-televised bouts on the undercard of middleweight champion Sergio Martinez’s defense against Miguel Cotto on June 7 at the Madison Square Garden in New York.

Lewkowicz, Martinez’s longtime adviser, Martinez promoter Lou DiBella, Top Rank and Cotto Promotions are trying to put together the rest of the undercard, which has been difficult given all of the parties that need to be satisfied.

Sonsona (18-1-1, 15 KOs), a former junior bantamweight titleholder, has not lost since the Vazquez fight, although he has only fought four times, most recently a very impressive third-round destruction of former junior featherweight titlist Akifumi Shimoda in February in Macau.

Vazquez (23-3-1, 19 KOs), who recently signed with Cotto Promotions, is just 3-3 in his last six fights, losing his title by 12th-round knockout in an upset to Jorge Arce in 2011 to begin the slide. But he is coming off a 12-round decision win against previously unbeaten Guillermo Avila in September.

Martinez doc to premiere April 19

March, 20, 2014
Mar 20
videoWhile middleweight champ Sergio Martinez is getting ready for his huge fight with star Miguel Cotto on June 7 (HBO PPV) at New York's Madison Square Garden, he is also awaiting the release of the outstanding documentary "Maravilla" about him and his career.

The film's world premiere will come April 19 at the prestigious Tribeca Film Festival in New York, but ESPN.com exclusively has the trailer for the film. "Maravilla" is one of 22 films in the festival's "viewpoints section."

Director Juan Cadaveira, who followed Martinez for a few years, had behind-the-scenes access to Martinez, including for negotiations, the political chaos that caused him to be stripped of his belts (including an epic meltdown by promoter Lou DiBella at the WBC convention), the build-up to his much-anticipated showdown with Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. in 2012 and an examination of the vulnerable physical condition of an aging champion.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am in the film. Cadaveira approached me to be in it a couple of years ago and I sat for a lengthy interview with him in at The Wynn in Las Vegas. I was not paid to participate.

The Tribeca Film Festival's website describes the documentary as "a true underdog story. 'Maravilla' follows Argentinean boxer Sergio 'Maravilla' Martinez, as he sets out to reclaim the title of middleweight champion that was unfairly snatched from him in 2011 by Julio Chavez, Jr. Focusing on the rise of Martinez from penniless amateur to world champion and sporting celebrity, director Juan Pablo Cadaveira offers a fascinating glimpse into today's boxing landscape, revealing the politics of the sporting profession that often places entertainment value over the sport itself."

Feisty Martinez rips Cotto on tour

March, 11, 2014
Mar 11
Middleweight champion Sergio Martinez and three-division titleholder Miguel Cotto are two days and two cities into the media tour to promote their June 7 (HBO PPV) showdown at Madison Square Garden in New York and the heat is building.

They kicked things off in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Monday at a news conference open to the public, and the two future Hall of Famers showed great respect for each other.

"I will prepare myself to be the best that I can be inside the ring like always do,” said Cotto, who has probably used that line at every single pre-fight press conference he has ever appeared at. “The Garden holds a very special place in my career and I know that my fans will be there to support me in this quest.”

The fight will be Cotto’s ninth at Madison Square Garden -- all main events -- where he has become a huge attraction, regularly drawing raucous crowds to his fights.

This fight should be no different. A sellout is expected as Cotto is attempting to become the first fighter in the great boxing history of Puerto Rico to win a world title in a fourth weight class.

"I am looking forward to this fight because a win will be historic in Puerto Rican boxing history,” Cotto said.

Then Cotto, 33, brought up the fact that Martinez, who has not fought since April, is coming off a second surgery on his bum right knee, which he has injured in his past two fights, decision wins against Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and Martin Murray.

"I hope that Sergio is 100 percent and his knee is fine because I want no excuses after I defeat him,” Cotto said.

Martinez, who turned 39 on Feb. 21, spoke about his excitement of fighting in New York and his respect for Puerto Rican boxing.

"I am very excited to be fighting in Madison Square Garden where many greats have fought in the past,” he said. “I know Cotto is a great fighter but I will ready to defend this championship at all costs. Puerto Rico has a rich boxing history and I am looking forward to fighting and beating one of their best. I will prepare to give the fans a great night of boxing and because of our styles, this will be a great fight.”

When they met face to face again at the Garden on Tuesday, Cotto was his usual stoic self and offered his standard sales pitch.

“I’m just looking forward to starting my camp, looking forward to train as hard as I can each day, and being here on June 7th just to become the first Puerto Rican to be a champion in four different divisions,” Cotto said. “I’d want to say to Sergio good luck in your camp. Try to do your best and I’m going to do my best. At the end of the road, the winners are going to be the fans.”

Martinez, however, was more agitated and animated, deriding Cotto for the way he feels he disrespected him during the difficult negotiations for the fight, which got the crowd at the public event into it.

Keep in mind that even before the fight was made Martinez felt ill will toward Cotto. Martinez’s side of the story is that a couple of years ago at a television studio in Mexico, he was excited to meet Cotto (38-4, 31 KOs) because they were there at the same time. However, the way Argentina’s Martinez (51-2-2, 28 KOs) tells it, Cotto blew him off and refused to even shake his hand, hence the ill will.

When the fight finally was being worked out, Martinez’s ire grew even more toward Cotto because of the demands he made. Cotto insisted on being in the champion’s corner for the fight, having his name listed first in the promotional materials, walking to the ring last, etc., even though Cotto is the challenger.

For a champion as proud as Martinez, it was difficult to swallow and he let Cotto have it at Wednesday’s press conference.

“Don’t forget one thing,” Martinez said. “We are gonna fight because I am the champion and I’m coming into the ring first and he’s coming in second, otherwise there would be no fight. I go to the blue corner and I really don’t care, because I’m the champion and if it wasn’t for that he won’t fight.

“I will be introduced first in the ring because if it wasn’t that way Cotto would not fight me. I can imagine on June 7th that he’s going to ask for rose petals, otherwise he won’t walk into the ring. No more excuses. On June 7th, I’m gonna win, Argentina.”

Things could get even more interesting on Wednesday in Los Angeles, where Cotto and Martinez will meet face to face for the third and final stop of the tour.

Macklin pressing for Sturm rematch

February, 25, 2014
Feb 25
Matthew MacklinDiBella Entertainment/Ed DillerEngland's Matthew Macklin is pushing for a rematch with Felix Sturm of Germany.

In 2011, England’s Matthew Macklin got plain ripped off in a split-decision loss challenging Felix Sturm for his middleweight title in Germany.

I was part of the American broadcast team for the fight on Epix, and I, along with the rest of our the team, thought Macklin clearly won the fight.

A rematch has been discussed on and off since, and, now, those talks are on again as Macklin (30-5, 20 KOs) is coming off a strong performance in a decision win against Lamar Russ in December and Sturm (39-3-2, 18 KOs) regained a title in December by stopping Darren Barker in the second round.

The time has come for Sturm to line up his first defense, and Macklin and England’s Martin Murray (26-1-1, 11 KOs), who has a 2011 draw with Sturm, are on top of the list to challenge. Macklin, of course, hopes he gets the fight. After all, Sturm told him that night in Germany in the ring after the fight he would give him a rematch down the road.

The sides have been in discussions, but Sturm has been slow to agree to the fight, according to Macklin.

"We met all of his demands, yet he still won't move forward with the fight," Macklin said. “We agreed to fight him in his backyard for not much money at all. In fact, the purse was less than what I received against Lamar Russ. The money isn't what matters, though. I just want the opportunity to show the world who the better fighter is. I know that I beat him in our first fight, and I know that I will beat him again.

"I believed Sturm to be a great champion and a great warrior, and, with everything that was said after our first fight, we felt that he would want this challenge. We are absolutely shocked that he continues to delay and not just come out and accept the fight. We accepted all of his terms, so what is his excuse? We realize that he has made an offer to fight Murray, but I want to publicly come out and say that if Murray doesn't accept the offer then we are ready, willing and able to make this fight happen right now."

Macklin said he will even agree to give Sturm an immediate rematch should he lose.

"I know that I won the first fight, but I will assure him that if he gives me the opportunity for this second bout, which I know that I will win again, I will promise to give him an immediate rematch," Macklin said.

Promoter Lou DiBella, who said the target date for the fight is May 31, is doing what he can to get the fight done for Macklin.

"Matthew and Felix have history," DiBella said. "Matthew is willing to take the short end of the stick and extremely low money for the opportunity. He wants that fight desperately, and he believes it’s the right fight for boxing. We know there’s an offer out there also to Murray, but if that fight doesn’t happen, we want this fight. Now is the perfect time for Felix and Matthew to have the rematch. These two men have unfinished business."

Martinez, Cotto going on tour

February, 25, 2014
Feb 25

Middleweight champion Sergio Martinez, former three-division titleholder Miguel Cotto and their teams are hitting the road for a four-city, two-hemisphere media tour to promote one of the year’s biggest fights.

Martinez and Cotto, who came to terms last week on their much-anticipated showdown, will meet June 7 (HBO PPV) at Madison Square Garden in New York. The fight is on the eve of the Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York, where Puerto Rico’s Cotto is a major star.

The media tour will kick off March 10 in Puerto Rico, then move to New York on March 11 and Los Angeles on March 12. The fourth stop will be on a date to be determined in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Martinez’s home country.

The exact locations and times are not set yet. The Puerto Rico stop, however, will be open to the public. The Los Angeles stop will be for media only. Organizers said they hope to have the New York and Buenos Aires stops also open to the public.

Cotto (38-4, 31 KOs), who has won titles at junior welterweight, welterweight and junior middleweight, will try to become the first Puerto Rican fighter to win world titles in four weight classes. Martinez (51-2-2, 28 KOs) does not plan to allow that to happen, telling ESPN.com, “I can't see this fight going the distance. Cotto will be punished June 7.

“I've been asking for this fight for many years, but Cotto was saying in the past that why would he fight me if fighting me didn't generate money? He was saying this after the second Antonio Margarito fight, and I did not forget his disrespectful tone when he was discussing not fighting me. Now Cotto wants to fight me because he and his team think that going through me is the easiest route to make history. What Cotto will find out June 7 is that he will be punished and will be made to eat his words. I promise you that Miguel Cotto will be retired after I beat him.”

Cotto’s attitude was not as harsh as Martinez’s.

“I feel very happy with this opportunity to fight again in my second home in New York in front of all the Puerto Ricans that have supported me all over my career,” Cotto said. “It will be a huge honor to accomplish the goal of becoming the first Puerto Rican to become a world champion in a fourth division. Throughout my career I have always said that I will fight the best names in this business and Sergio Martinez is the best challenge, and on June 7 at Madison Square Garden, history will be made.”

Martinez-Cotto getting closer

December, 19, 2013
Sergio MartinezJuan Mabromata/AFP/Getty ImagesA long-awaited bout between middleweight champ Sergio Martinez and Miguel Cotto could be on tap.
As a June fight between middleweight champion Sergio Martinez and former three-division titleholder Miguel Cotto gets closer and closer, one potential impediment to the deal getting done has seemingly been removed.

Marco Antonio Rubio is Martinez's mandatory challenger and the fight is due. Fighting Cotto is a much, much, much bigger fight for Martinez than facing Rubio. Everyone knows that, including the WBC, whose alphabet belt Martinez holds. The belt is important to Martinez and he surely would not want to give it up or be stripped (which he was once before). Cotto wants it too, because he wants to become the first Puerto Rican to win a world title in four weight classes. Even though Martinez is the lineal champion, fighters still like alphabet belts.

But now getting Martinez-Cotto sanctioned for the belt apparently isn't going to be an issue if you read the tea leaves.

With Martinez still recovering from knee surgery (although he is supposed to be ready for a June fight), the WBC announced it has ordered Rubio to face Italy's Domenica Spada (who is absurdly ranked No. 2 by the organization at middleweight) for the interim title. Their fight will probably take place in March in Mexico.

The WBC also said that it ordered the interim title fight because Martinez is injured and that he should defend the full title against the Rubio-Spada winner in June or July.

But we all know that is not going to happen and you can take it to the bank that the WBC, having allowed the interim title bout to take place, will almost certainly sanction a massive event such as Martinez-Cotto, which means big sanctioning fees. It will have no problem making the Rubio-Spada winner wait a little longer to fight for the full title. Besides, Rubio-Spada winner might not even be physically ready to fight in June. Even if the winner is ready to fight, negotiations, requests for a purse bid delay and all the other things that could be done to put the fight off make it extremely unlikely that it would be done by June or July if one side wants to delay it.

Martinez-Cotto probably will be announced officially in late January. With the interim title fight pending in March, it is extremely unlikely the WBC would try to hold up a June Martinez-Cotto fight. It wants in on that action, too.

More WBA title madness

December, 18, 2013
The absurdity of the WBA knows no bounds. I’ve harped on the organizations and their sheer madness and audacity for years -- not to mention putrid rankings, multiple titles and not following their own rules -- but things are just way out of hand now with this particular alphabet soup body.

It’s bad enough that the WBA will sanction as many as four titleholders in the same weight class (for a small sanctioning fee, of course). It has super, regular, unified and interim titleholders. Take your pick. It is just pathetic.

But where it really is ridiculous is when two of its so-called titleholders perform on the same night rather than fighting each other.

On Saturday, light heavyweight titlist Beibut Shumenov, inactive for 18 months (yet allowed to keep his belt) was “elevated” to “super” titleholder and defended the belt against Tamas Kovacs on the big card in San Antonio.

On the very same day in Germany, Juergen Braehmer outpointed Marcus Oliveira -- a massive joke to be fighting for a world title given his woeful résumé -- to win the vacant “regular” title.

Here you had Shumenov and Braehmer, both quality top-10 175-pounders, fighting for belts in the same organization on the same day rather than facing each other.

As bad as that was, it gets even worse on Feb. 1 in Monte Carlo. That is where Gennady Golovkin, also recently “elevated” (which really means another title that the greedy organization can charge another sanctioning fee for) to “super” titleholder, will defend against Osumanu Adama.

On the very same card, England’s Martin Murray (26-1-1, 11 KOs), the interim titlist, will face Australia’s Jarrod Fletcher (17-1, 10 KOs) for the now-vacant “regular” title when Murray really should be facing Golovkin, for whom he was the mandatory. But the WBA didn’t order the fight. Instead, it is content to collect another fee and pass off this fight as a title bout.

It’s insanity, yet the Murray camp made Wednesday’s announcement of the fight with Fletcher -- knocked out in the second round the only time he ever faced a decent opponent in Billy Joe Saunders last year -- out to be some huge deal.

“Martin Murray will look to fulfill his dream of becoming St Helens' first-ever world champion in Monte Carlo on February 1,” the Hatton Promotions press release read.

The winner of that fight won’t be a real world champion. He’ll have a gaudy belt but no credibility as a serious champion. How can the winner be a real world champion when Golovkin (28-0, 25 KOs), in the main event, is active and already holds a title in the same organization?

I can’t blame Murray. Is he supposed to turn down the opportunity? Of course not. He’s already had two other title shots, a draw with Felix Sturm and a tight loss to Sergio Martinez (the real, honest-to-goodness middleweight champ of the world). So from Murray’s point of view, the fight with Fletcher is meaningful, even if to most others it is pointless as far as being a title fight.

“Jarrod Fletcher is a good kid. I've not seen too much of him, but we'll be working on that now we've got a date,” Murray said. “He's got a good pedigree, and he beat [2008 British Olympic gold medalist] James DeGale in the amateurs, which isn't easy and proves he's a good fighter.

"He's going to be well up for this, but I think I'll be the favorite and rightly so, given who I've fought before and how I've done against them. It's going to be interesting for both of us, but I want everyone to know that there's no way I'm coming home to St Helens without that world title.”

Indeed, Murray said “that” world title. Just not a legitimate one, thanks to the WBA’s continuing joke of having multiple belts in the same division.

Candidates for Canelo's next fight

December, 11, 2013
Canelo AlvarezAlexis Cuarezma/Getty ImagesCanelo Alvarez is ready to get back in the ring early next year, but now he needs an opponent.

This much we know: Former junior middleweight titlist Canelo Alvarez has a March 8 Showtime PPV date at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. What we don’t know is who Alvarez will face.

Golden Boy promoter Richard Schaefer has said publicly that he has made an offer for more than $10 million to Miguel Cotto to face Alvarez. Obviously, Cotto is the most attractive opponent out there for Alvarez.

But as each day passes, and based on what I hear from folks involved, it seems more and more likely that Cotto is going to pass on the fight and instead go for a June fight against middleweight champion Sergio Martinez. Cotto can’t make as much money against Martinez as he can to face Alvarez, but he also can’t get an opportunity to become the first Puerto Rican fighter to win a world title in four weight classes by facing Alvarez.

Cotto can do that against Martinez and that is obviously worth something and a reason he would leave money on the table.

So if you believe, as I do, that Cotto is ultimately going to go for Martinez rather than Alvarez, who then should Alvarez fight?

Alvarez will be in San Antonio this week for two reasons -- to watch brother Ricardo Alvarez’s fight on the Adrien Broner-Marcos Maidana undercard and also to meet with Schaefer to go over details related to March 8, including discussing opponents.

Here’s my quick look at the candidates as I see them with the caveat that Alvarez is staying at 154 pounds and not moving up or down in weight. I really see only four candidates who make any sense, especially because I do not see any of the plethora of good welterweights that Golden Boy promotes being viable to move up in weight for March 8.

Here are the candidates:

• Erislandy Lara: He holds an interim belt at 154 and easily dominated Austin Trout on Saturday night, dropping him and rolling to a points win. It was Trout’s second straight loss. The first was a very competitive, tough decision loss to Alvarez in April.

After Saturday’s fight Schaefer said Lara was a candidate for the Alvarez fight. Lara is good. Very good. He is certainly a worthy opponent. That said, I think the last thing in the world Alvarez or Golden Boy want is the slickest, most technical fighter in the division to be Alvarez’s opponent in his first fight after he was so easily outboxed by Floyd Mayweather Jr. in September. Lara might very well give him a boxing lesson like Mayweather did.

From a business point of view, it just doesn’t make any sense, either. Alvarez generates enormous money and has a huge fan base. Lara is not a draw at all. Alvarez needs to be brought back from his loss appropriately, not thrown in with a guy who could hand him a second loss and severely injure his brand. Alvarez is only 23 and his team should be looking long term.

• Carlos Molina: Molina has a world title, which he won on the undercard of Mayweather-Alvarez in an awful fight. Showtime has an option on his next fight so a bout with Alvarez can be made easily, especially because Molina wants the fight.

He is kind of like a poor man’s Lara -- very good, very technical and not overly exciting. In fact, he and Lara fought to a draw in 2011 in a fight many believe Molina won. I can see Alvarez and Golden Boy gambling and taking this fight. Like Lara, Molina isn’t a draw. He is not unbeatable, though, and the allure of a world title surely is appealing to Alvarez. Although let’s be honest -- does anyone think this fight would be exciting?

• Alfredo Angulo: Angulo is a straight-ahead brawler who makes exciting fights. He lost his last fight in June by 10th-round TKO in a rumble with Lara, whom he knocked down twice before Angulo suffered a severe orbital injury.

Although he lost to Lara, there’s no doubt a fight between Alvarez and Angulo would be a crowd-pleasing fight. Angulo also is a bigger draw than Lara or Molina, and that’s something to consider for a pay-per-view fight.

Even more important is the fact that if you are guiding Alvarez, who could have a long career worth perhaps hundreds of millions, matchmaking is paramount. Angulo simply has the better style for Alvarez to face at this stage of his career than Molina or Lara and also is the biggest draw among the candidates. Personally, I think Alvarez-Angulo would be one helluva fun fight.

• Sergey Rabchenko: Rabchenko, from Belarus, is the European champion but also ranked No. 1 in the WBC’s poor rankings. Alvarez is No. 2, so this fight could be billed as an eliminator for a title shot. Since Mayweather probably will vacate the title at some point, it would set up Alvarez to reclaim the belt that means so much to him.

Schaefer said Rabchenko is a possibility, although I believe he’s a major dark horse. It’s a deal that could be made easily since Rabchenko is promoted by Ricky Hatton, who has a longstanding relationship with Golden Boy, his former promoter.

There’s nothing fancy about Rabchenko’s style, so he works for Alvarez from the boxing perspective, but he is totally unknown to American and Mexican fans. He would be a non-entity on a PPV promotion and that’s not good.

That’s my breakdown. My money is on Angulo getting the fight. He makes the most sense because he gives Alvarez the best chance to win and he is, by far, the most marketable name of among the candidates.

Irish bragging rights: Lee-Macklin?

December, 11, 2013
Former welterweight titleholders Paulie Malignaggi and Zab Judah just concluded their hyped “Battle of Brooklyn” on Saturday night with Malignaggi winning the decision and earning the “King of Brooklyn” tag. So how about we move two divisions north for a middleweight turf battle for Irish bragging rights?

Who’s up for a showdown between Ireland’s Andy Lee and Matthew Macklin, who is from England, but Irish by family heritage? Good fight, right? I sure think so and so does Lee, who tossed out a challenge to Macklin on Tuesday.

It’s been a fight that has been discussed a bit here and there, especially because Lou DiBella promotes both of them. It would be big in Ireland and would surely draw a crowd in New York, where the Irish fans are terrific and very supportive of their fighters.

“Matthew and I have both fought recently, we're both from Ireland, we're both middleweights, we're similarly rated, we're both in a similar position in our careers,” Lee said. “So let’s give the boxing public the fight they crave for and let the best man win.

“This is a massive fight in Ireland, Boston, Chicago or New York and will pack any venue. I am ready for the fight, we both have the same promoter, Lou DiBella. Therefore, the fight can easily be put together.”

If they were to fight, the winner would certainly put himself in a great position to earn another title fight.

Lee (31-2, 22 KOs), 29, has won three fights in a row since his 2012 stoppage loss in a world title fight against Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., including a second-round blowout of Ferenc Hafner on Nov. 23.
Macklin (30-5, 20 KOs), 31, is 0-3 in world title fights, getting stopped by Sergio Martinez (in a highly competitive fight) and Gennady Golovkin but also getting ripped off against Felix Sturm in a terrible split decision.

Macklin righted his ship after the loss to Golovkin last June by winning a clear 10-round decision on HBO against Lamar Russ in an excellent performance on Saturday night on the James Kirkland-Glen Tapia undercard in Atlantic City, N.J. (I consider the horrible Guillermo Rigondeaux-Joseph Agbeko match to be the walk-out bout, and people really did walk out.)

“The fight would be a critical moment in both fighters’ careers,” Lee said. “A win for either of us would propel us to a world title fight again. Whoever wins the fight will go on and whoever loses the fight will have to either pack it in or start again. It is a fight I want. People talk about it all the time, so let’s make it happen.”

DiBella said it’s possible. But. There’s always a but, right?

“Macklin’s first choice is to fight Felix Sturm again,” DiBella said.

That’s a fight DiBella said could happen. Sturm won a title on Saturday by second-round knockout of Darren Barker, who re-injured his hip and could not continue. It’s an injury that could cause Barker to retire. If Barker doesn’t retire, he has an immediate rematch option to fight Sturm again, which would leave Macklin without the title fight. But if Barker does retire, Macklin could very well face Sturm next.

“Macklin is waiting to see what happens with Barker and Sturm,” DiBella said. “In the meantime, we’re in a holding pattern. But [Macklin-Lee] is a great fight. It could happen.”

Martin Murray bout rescheduled

November, 29, 2013
Interim middleweight titlist Martin Murray is once again scheduled to fight, this time on Dec. 14.

England’s Murray was initially scheduled to defend his belt in Australia against Garth Wood on Dec. 11, but the fight fell through. When that happened, Murray (25-1-1, 11 KOs) was added to the Carl Froch-George Groves undercard in Manchester, England, on Nov. 23 to face Ukraine’s Sergey Khomitsky (28-9-2, 11 KOs) in a 10-round nontitle bout. But Murray got ill and withdrew from the bout.

Now that he’s better, Matchroom Sport promoter Eddie Hearn announced that Murray-Khomitsky has been rescheduled for the undercard of his Dec. 14 show at Excel Arena in London. That card is topped by British lightweight contender Kevin Mitchell (35-2, 25 KOs) against Italy’s Brunet Zamora (25-1-2, 11 KOs) and European welterweight champion Leonard Bundu (29-0-2, 10 KOs) of Italy in a defense against England’s Lee Purdy (20-4-1, 13 KOs).

Murray last fought in April, dropping middleweight world champion Sergio Martinez but losing a tight decision to him in Martinez’s Argentina homecoming fight.

Hearn also announced the rest of the slate for the Dec. 14 card, which includes British middleweight prospect Anthony Ogogo (3-0, 2 KOs), who claimed a bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympics at the Excel Arena.

Anthony Joshua (3-0, 3 KOs), the 2012 British super heavyweight Olympic gold medalist, is also on the card, as is former bantamweight titlist Jamie McDonnell (22-2-1, 10 KOs), who will be fighting for the second time in four weeks.

Cotto offered deal for Canelo fight

November, 6, 2013
Miguel CottoRicardo Ramirez Buxeda/Orlando Sentinel/Getty ImagesFormer champion Miguel Cotto was offered a lucrative deal to fight Canelo Alvarez in 2014.
Former three-division titleholder Miguel Cotto has a big decision to make -- pursue a fight there for the taking against middleweight champion Sergio Martinez in June on HBO PPV or take an eight-figure offer to fight fellow former junior middleweight champion Canelo Alvarez on Showtime PPV March 8.

That is what Cotto must decide after he and his team met with Golden Boy Promotions CEO Richard Schaefer on Tuesday in Los Angles.

“I met with Miguel and his team, and we had a very good meeting and I made him an offer in the eight figures, well over $10 million, to fight Canelo in March,” Schaefer told ESPN.com. “We had a really nice meeting and talked about a bunch of different things. We also talked about the fighters that our companies promote together.”

I met with Miguel and his team, and we had a very good meeting and I made him an offer in the eight figures, well over $10 million, to fight Canelo in March.

-- Richard Schaefer
Cotto, one of boxing’s biggest stars, is in the enviable position of being a free agent with no ties to a promoter or network, meaning he can weigh offers for both fights. After he knocked out Delvin Rodriguez in the third round Oct. 5 to rebound from his loss last year to Floyd Mayweather Jr., the fight that immediately came up was an attractive showdown with Martinez. Cotto would like to try to become the first Puerto Rican to win a world title in four weight classes.

Cotto went with Top Rank and HBO for the fight against Rodriguez. He has fought most of his career on HBO and with Top Rank, and he has a close relationship with Top Rank president Todd duBoef.

But Cotto also has fought on Showtime and has a good relationship with Golden Boy, which promoted two of his last three fights.

If he wants to go for purely money, the Alvarez fight is almost certainly Cotto’s best bet. But given how many tens of millions Cotto has earned, it would not be a shock to see such a proud warrior leave some money on the table for the opportunity to win the real middleweight title against Martinez, who says he wants the fight with Cotto.

As for the prospects of a Cotto fight with Alvarez -- who is coming off a loss to Mayweather in September in the all-time highest grossing pay-per-view event -- Schaefer said he has a deal in place with Alvarez.

“Canelo and I have worked out a deal structure for the fight. He’s on board,” Schaefer said. “His No. 1 priority is to get a deal done with Cotto. So that’s why we sat down and made a very aggressive and attractive offer to Miguel for the fight. We’d be happy to do it as a one-fight deal with no strings attached, no options, or we’re happy to do a longer-range plan that could lead to Miguel facing the other guys we have. It’s totally up to Miguel.

"But I know one other fight that Miguel is interested in, a potential rematch with Floyd Mayweather Jr. I haven’t discussed it with Floyd, but I am sure Floyd would be up for that as well if Miguel beat Canelo.”

Cotto lost a competitive decision to Mayweather in an exciting fight, which did a huge 1.5 million buys on pay-per-view.

Gaby Penagaricano, Cotto’s attorney and close adviser, who was at the meeting with Schaefer, could not be reached for comment.

Schaefer said Cotto was interested in his proposal.

“He realizes that, from a financial point of view, a fight with Canelo is clearly the biggest fight on the table,” Schaefer said. “I don’t take anything away from Sergio Martinez, who is a great champion. But if you ask anyone what’s a bigger fight, a Puerto Rican star against an Argentine star or a Puerto Rican against a Mexican star, we would all agree that Canelo against Cotto is a much bigger fight. There’s also a certain risk attached to the Martinez fight because he is injured now [coming off knee surgery], so who knows if he will be ready to fight [in June]?”

Schaefer said if Cotto wanted to fight some other fighter who works with Golden Boy, that would be OK too.

“If Miguel would prefer to fight a [junior middleweight titlist] Carlos Molina, who we have options on, or the Erislandy Lara-Austin Trout winner, or Alfredo Angulo or [middleweight titlist] Peter Quillin, we could do those too,” Schaefer said. “There are so many different options out there.

“They said they’ll get back to me. It’s not like we have to make a decision this week, but it was a very good meeting.”

WBC announces mandatory fights

November, 6, 2013
Floyd Mayweather Jr.Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY SportsFloyd Mayweather has to decide soon on an opponent for his next fight.

As much as I rail against the WBC’s rule-breaking and divisional rankings, those rankings affect the mandatory fights that are made for the organization’s belt. So that makes its annual convention notable in that many of those mandatory situations are clarified.

This year’s convention is going on this week in Bangkok, where organization officials, promoters and managers gathered to argue and debate the rankings and mandatory fights that are not yet set.

Here’s a look at some of the key rulings related to mandatory fights made Wednesday:

• Heavyweight: The situation with titleholder Vitali Klitschko is up in the air. He is running for president of Ukraine in 2015 and has made no decision about his boxing career, even though his mandatory defense against Bermane Stiverne is way overdue. Klitschko addressed the crowd at its opening, but not about his boxing plans. Stiverne, however, was still traveling to Thailand on Wednesday, so the debate was put off until at least Thursday.

• Super middleweight: Titleholder Sakio Bika must make two mandatory defenses. The first is against Anthony Dirrell on Dec. 7. The winner of the fight was approved for one optional defense. Marco Antonio Periban and James DeGale were ordered to meet in a semifinal eliminator with the winner ordered to meet Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. to determine the second mandatory challenger. Keep in mind that these orders are the WBC’s wishes and that often what it lays out does not wind up happening because either a fighter decides to go in another direction or, as often happens, the WBC ignores its own ruling.

• Middleweight: If champion Sergio Martinez, sidelined with a knee injury, can’t make his mandatory defense against Marco Antonio Rubio, Rubio will be ordered to face Domenico Spada for the interim belt. This will be interesting because Martinez has no interest in Rubio and instead hopes for a June pay-per-view megafight with Miguel Cotto. It seems that Martinez, who has been very loyal to the WBC, will be allowed to face Cotto upon his return from injury with Rubio settling for the interim title bout for the time being.

• Junior middleweight and welterweight: Floyd Mayweather Jr. holds the WBC title in both divisions, as well as another alphabet junior middleweight title. Holding titles in multiple weight classes is against sanctioning organization rules, but that hasn’t stopped the WBC from allowing Mayweather to get away with it for 1 years. Finally, the WBC ruled that Mayweather must decide which division title he wants to keep by Dec. 15. If Mayweather doesn’t notify the WBC, however, I won’t believe it would strip him of the title until I see it happen. He is one of the WBC’s favorite sons in that he fills the coffers with enormous sanctioning fees.

• Junior welterweight: Danny Garcia’s last fight in September was his mandatory against Lucas Matthysse, but a final eliminator to determine the next mandatory was approved between Viktor Postal and Selcuk Aydin.

• Lightweight: Adrien Broner has the title, but he also won another organization’s belt this year -- in the welterweight division -- and has been allowed to keep both since the summer, which is against the rules. Broner is never going to see 135 pounds again -- did you see how he looked on Showtime on Oct. 26? -- but his request to wait to make a decision until after his Dec. 14 welterweight defense was approved. Daniel Estrada is the mandatory challenger. What should have happened is that Broner should have been forced to pick, and if he picked the welterweight belt (which he obviously would do), interim titlist Omar Figueroa should have immediately been elevated. But that would be too easy.

• Junior featherweight: A final eliminator between Hugo Cazares and Andres Gutierrez was approved to determine Leo Santa Cruz’s mandatory.

• Bantamweight: An eliminator was approved for Stephane Jamoye to face Julio Ceja, with the winner to fight Suriyan Sor Rungvisai in a final eliminator to determine Shinsuke Yamanaka’s mandatory.

• Junior flyweight: Adrian Hernandez’s mandatory will be the winner of an eliminator between Javier Mendoza and Yodmongkil Wor Saengthep.

• Strawweight: A final eliminator was approved between Wanheng Menayothin and Osvaldo Novoa to determine Xiong Zhao Zhong’s mandatory challenger.

Barker embracing life on the road

October, 31, 2013
Darren BarkerRich Schultz/Getty ImagesDarren Barker will travel to Germany to fight local hero Felix Sturm in December.

Middleweight titleholder Darren Barker has been in two world fights, both away from his home country of England.

In 2011, he challenged champion Sergio Martinez in Atlantic City, N.J., and although Barker was stopped in the 11th round, he gave Martinez one of his toughest championship fights. In August, Barker returned to Atlantic City and took a well-deserved split decision against Australia’s Daniel Geale to win a belt.

Now, with Barker’s first title defense set, he’ll hit the road yet again, this time going to Stuttgart, Germany, to for a mandatory defense against former three-time titleholder -- and German hero -- Felix Sturm on Dec. 7. Traveling, however, is no issue for Barker. Been there, done that.

“People asked me, ‘What are you going to Germany for? You’re mad, you’re mad,’ but it was if somebody had said, ‘Here is the winning lottery ticket, do you want to buy it for a quid?’ It was a no-brainer, the deal was so good,” Barker said. “Aside from that, I am extremely confident of winning. I respect Felix as a former champion, a great fighter with tons of experience, but he hasn’t experienced Darren Barker yet.”

As the titleholder, Barker (26-1, 16 KOs) would have been entitled to 75 percent of the winning purse bid if the sides had not made a deal, meaning promoter Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Sport would have had the clear advantage if the fight went to auction. However, Hearn and Barker are realists. They wanted to fight Sturm and knew it if it went to a bid, especially if Matchroom had won, Sturm (38-3-2, 17 KOs) likely would have pulled out of the fight.

So Hearn made the kind of deal for Barker that he said was “life-altering money.” In addition, he got the Sturm side to agree to neutral officials and a rematch clause for a fight in England in the event Barker loses, an almost unheard-of concession in a mandatory fight.

Barker said he viewed going to Germany to fight on Sturm’s turf as though there would be more pressure on Sturm. Barker likes it that way.

“Felix’s shows are always spectacular, and I’m sure it will be a sellout and the pressure will all be on him,” Barker said. “I’ve boxed all over the world as an amateur, in some pretty hostile places, and it’s never bothered me. It inspires me. I don’t worry about the judges. I plan on winning very well, and putting on a fantastic night with lots of my fans coming over.”

With the business side of things taken care of, Barker has the utmost confidence in winning.

“The confidence that comes from winning a title is massive,” Barker said. “I am looking forward to the fight. Training is going well and is only going to get better, and I can 100 percent guarantee I will be leaving Germany still champion. I am the proud owner of that belt and I look forward to a long reign.

“I have worked so hard to win the title and there’s no way I’m letting it go now. [Trainer] Tony [Sims] and I have a game plan in mind and plenty of weeks to work on it day in, day out in the gym, so I am very confident I’ll retain my title and do so in style. Felix is a quality boxer and was a great champion and a massive star in Germany. He’s beaten some excellent fighters and had a couple of great fights with my Brit rivals Matthew Macklin and Martin Murray. But I truly believe I’ve got his number. It’s a great first defense for me because he’s a huge name.”

Martinez to meet Pope Francis

October, 9, 2013
Sergio Martinez has used his fame and platform as middleweight champion to speak out against bullying and violence against women.

On Oct. 16, Martinez will speak on both topics when he will be received by Pope Francis -- a fellow Argentine -- at the Vatican in what Martinez’s camp announced as a “one-on-one closed session meeting.”

"In the past couple of months, I will have had two of my dreams as a Catholic come true, to visit the Basilica of our Lady Guadalupe in Mexico and to be received by the pope. I will be asking the pope for blessings and spiritual protection to all of those who enter the ring,” said Martinez, who plans to present the pope with a championship belt.

Martinez will be accompanied to the meeting by longtime business manager Miguel De Pablos and Victor Gonzales, who was key in organizing Martinez’s April title defense against Martin Murray before 50,000-plus in an Argentina homecoming fight.

"In his short time as leader of the Catholic Church, this gentle pope from Argentina has already changed the dialogue of his people,” said Lou DiBella, Martinez’s promoter. “I am thrilled that Sergio will have a private audience with Pope Francis and that he will be able to discuss his campaigns against bullying and domestic violence.”

Said advisor Sampson Lewkowicz, “I'm very happy for Sergio, because as the great champion and great person that he is, he has earned this tremendous opportunity and honor of having this meeting.”

Martinez wants to give Cotto shot

October, 8, 2013

After former three-division champion Miguel Cotto’s third-round wipeout of Delvin Rodriguez on Saturday night at the Amway Center in Orlando, Fla., Cotto expressed interest in challenging middleweight champion Sergio Martinez.

Cotto’s new trainer, Hall of Famer Freddie Roach, also said it’s a fight he wants for Cotto, who would like to become the first Puerto Rican fighter to win world titles in four weight classes.

That would be a major accomplishment, and a Martinez-Cotto fight would be a major pay-per-view event. Top Rank promoter Bob Arum expressed interest in staging the fight, if they can make a deal, on Puerto Rican Parade weekend in New York in early June -- a date on which Cotto has fought regularly. Arum said he would like to put on the fight at MetLife Stadium, the New York Giants' and Jets' home in East Rutherford, N.J., a few miles outside New York City.

So Team Cotto likes the fight, but what about Martinez and his handlers? Count him in, adviser Sampson Lewkowicz told ESPN.com on Monday. He said Martinez definitely wants the fight.

“I won’t negotiate the fight through the press, that’s not good,” he said. “So the only thing is that Sergio will accept the fight because he wants to fight the best and Miguel Cotto is one of the best. There is no question about it, and it would be a competitive fight. We’d love it. We have a Plan B, but Plan A is definitely Cotto.”

The timing of having the fight in June works well for Martinez, Lewkowicz said. Martinez is recovering from knee surgery and is expected to be able to fight by April, but he would happily wait until June, Lewkowicz said.

The reason, Lewkowicz said, is Martinez has a “personal vendetta” against Cotto.

“He feels in the past that he didn’t gain the respect of Cotto, and he never forgot one of his actions a few years ago,” Lewkowicz said.

According to Lewkowicz, Cotto and Martinez were both at an ESPN studio in Mexico at the same time two or three years ago, and Martinez was excited to meet Cotto. But when they were together, Lewkowicz said, “Cotto walked away from him. He didn’t even shake his hand, and Sergio felt insulted. So he wants to fight him. I believe it would be a great fight.”

If the sides want the fight, Lewkowicz said, “We can do this negotiation in one hour over a coffee. We don’t need a lunch to make this fight if everybody does it right.”

As for the weight, Lewkowicz said Martinez would be willing to come down to fight Cotto at a catchweight as low as 158 pounds.

“Freddie Roach, who I respect a lot, said [after the Rodriguez fight] that he wanted it to be a full 160 pounds, so the weight will not be an issue,” Lewkowicz said. “I believe Roach is right in that it should be 160, but if it’s 159 or 158 we have no problem with that, either.”

Lewkowicz said that Martinez would also be happy to have the fight in New York, where Cotto is a massive fan favorite because of the large Puerto Rican population.

“Definitely, yes, in New York City,” Lewkowicz said. “He would love it to be there. Martinez loves New York. I love New York, my grandchild lives there. We are ready. [Martinez promoter] Lou DiBella and me, we are waiting for the call.”