Martinez belongs in the Hall
Every single week in my Friday #FightFreak boxing chat I'm asked if so-and-so is a Hall of Famer, and since I've been a voter for more than a decade my opinion actually counts on the subject.
Most recently the question has been about Sergio Martinez, who, with chronic injuries at age 39, is coming off a one-sided 10th-round TKO loss to Miguel Cotto on June 7 that emphatically ended his middleweight championship run and perhaps his career.
I'm here to say yes. I will put my money where my mouth is and vote in the affirmative when he appears on the ballot. His accomplishments merit the selection even though his prime was relatively short -- about six years as an elite, pound-for-pound-caliber fighter and middleweight champion for four years.
He won an junior middleweight belt, but the strength of his candidacy is solely as an undersized middleweight.
Some raw stats: He made six successful title defenses (winning four by knockout and beating four undefeated fighters), fought 10 consecutive tough fights (no easy breathers for "Maravilla" -- an unheard-of stretch in this era), recorded the 2010 knockout of the year and was the 2010 fighter of the year, which amounts to being the boxing MVP.
In those 10 serious fights in a row, starting with a 2009 junior middleweight bout against former welterweight titlist Kermit Cintron, Martinez went 7-2-1. As far as I'm concerned he was 9-1, the loss to Cotto (another future Hall of Famer) being the only legit loss in that stretch.
Martinez wound up with an obscene draw against Cintron, whom he knocked out. The referee counted to 10 and then let the fight continue in one of the most bizarre things I've ever seen. Then the judges badly messed up by declaring it a draw. So he really won that fight twice, by KO and by decision, but I digress.
In his next fight, Martinez, on short notice, faced Paul Williams, regarded by many at the time as the most avoided fighter in boxing. Martinez went all out against him in a strong fight of the year contender and traded knockdowns with him in a fantastic fight, which I thought he won. The judges gave it to Williams by majority decision. From that time on, Martinez was entrenched on the pound-for-pound list for good reason.
Then Martinez claimed THE middleweight title. By the way, he didn't just win some random belt. He won the legitimate, lineal championship by beating Kelly Pavlik in 2010. He was the man, who beat the man, who beat the man.
With the lineal title in hand, Martinez rolled to six defenses, all against quality opponents, even though he was stripped of his two alphabet belts along the way.
He waxed Williams in their rematch by massively violent, one-punch knockout, which clinched 2010 KO and fighter of the year honors. Then came wins against Sergei Dzinziruk, a former junior middleweight titlist who was supposed to be dangerous. Martinez dropped him five times in an eighth-round knockout.
Darren Barker, who later won an alphabet belt, went down by highlight-reel 11th-round knockout. Matthew Macklin, a legit top-5 middleweight at the time they met (and who had been robbed in a previous title bout), also got stopped in the 11th.
Then Martinez made Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. look like an amateur for 11-plus rounds. Other than suffering a 12th-round knockdown, Martinez cruised with ease and reclaimed one of the alphabet trinkets that had been stripped. He suffered a torn ligament in his knee on the knockdown and came back too quickly from surgery to defend against quality contender Martin Murray in an Argentina homecoming fight. Despite being hobbled, and tearing the knee ligament again, Martinez deserved the close decision win he got.
By the time Martinez (51-3-2, 28 KOs) faced Cotto a year later, his legacy was already set.
In my view, the man who is arguably Argentina's greatest fighter -- other than Hall of Famer and fellow former middleweight champ Carlos Monzon -- was already a Hall of Famer in his own right.
Great fighter, résumé falls short
It's difficult to form a stance against the Hall of Fame candidacy of a fighter I enjoyed watching as much as former middleweight king Sergio Martinez.
The great "Maravilla" was a stand-up champion both inside and out of the ring, an ambassador for the sport and, with his daredevil style, never in a boring fight. He was also an unlikely star after picking up boxing at age 20 and going on to cultivate a title reign in a division above his prime weight.
But when it comes to doing what is right, I'm ultimately a stickler for any Hall of Fame to have firm and rigid standards. Regardless of sentimental feelings, there has to be a hard line that separates who is a Hall of Famer and who isn't.
While being a fan or admirer of an athlete can lead to a glamorization of their strengths, it also affords a closer and more realistic view of their faults. And as much as Martinez exemplified certain Hall of Fame attributes throughout his career, he still doesn't get my vote at this point.
The biggest case against Martinez comes down to his small sample size at the very top of the sport. When you subtract the 13 months he was sidelined due to injuries leading up to his June 7 loss to Miguel Cotto, his reign as a pound-for-pound elite and lineal champion was just four years.
Martinez was 35 when he won the middleweight crown in 2010 and the mixture of his difficult style and lack of a fan base conspired against him to make him the most avoided fighter in the sport throughout his reign.
While you may not be able to blame Martinez for being unable to secure the kind of superfights against the sport's elite that he ardently pursued, the void in his résumé prevented us from finding out exactly how good he really was. The nagging injuries that clouded the end of his reign did the same thing, preventing a looming showdown against rising unbeaten titlist Gennady Golovkin, whom many have anointed already as the top middleweight in the world.
It may seem difficult to nitpick against Martinez's six consecutive middleweight title defenses, but none of his opponents, with the exception of Darren Barker's split-decision upset of then-titlist Daniel Geale, have gone on to score a significant victory. (Paul Williams' victory over Erislandy Lara was much too questionable to count.) And while Martinez gets full credit for getting up off the canvas to take Kelly Pavlik's middleweight title in 2010, he defeated a weight-drained opponent who was clearly battling self-destructive habits outside of the ring.
Martinez also never unified titles within his division, with his 2012 victory over Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. earning him back the WBC belt he was wrongfully stripped of one year earlier. He was also steadfastly against moving up in weight for a big fight -- a stance that was understandable considering he was already an undersized middleweight, but one that limited his potential reach for greatness.
And while you could make the argument that Martinez was on the wrong end of judging decisions he deserved in a pair of 2009 fights against Kermit Cintron and in his first meeting with Paul Williams, he may have gotten away with one of his own in a 2013 win over Martin Murray in which I scored against him.
Hall of Fame résumés come in all shapes and sizes, and admittedly, Martinez has a better case for inclusion than some who are already enshrined in Canastota, New York. But that doesn't make it right. And while some were compilers of title defenses or transcendent figures whose impact on the sport and connection to the fans was greater than their wins or losses, Martinez falls into neither category.
"Maravilla" was in many ways a great fighter, but he never fought or defeated another fighter on that same level, leaving in his wake a résumé that was simply very good.
But this isn't the Hall of Very Good. And that, combined with his short time at the top, is not enough to get my vote.