- Dan Rafael, Boxing
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LAS VEGAS -- Lineal middleweight champion Sergio Martinez typically smiles broadly and is in a jovial mood before fights. He has always been respectful toward his opponents, and nary a negative word leaves his mouth.
So it was a stark contrast to see his display at the final news conference for his fight against titleholder Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. on Wednesday at the Wynn Las Vegas:
Martinez, with his traditional dark glasses, stood at the podium and gave Chavez a tongue-lashing.
Martinez was animated and agitated and pointed his finger at the youngster, promising to deliver pain when they meet in their much-anticipated showdown for 160-pound supremacy Saturday night (HBO PPV, 9 ET, $49.95) during Mexican Independence Day weekend at the sold-out Thomas & Mack Center. The fight sold an arena-record 19,186 tickets.
"I will break his face a thousand times," Martinez said through translator and adviser Sampson Lewkowicz. "This will not be an easy knockout. I will punish him a lot. And after that, I will knock him out and he will suffer a lot."
Then Martinez addressed Chavez directly, adding, "I hope somebody in your corner -- the doctor, your team, your management -- will be sure to stop the fight, because I will continue punishing you. You're not supposed to take this fight, because it will be very painful for you."
Martinez has been all over Chavez throughout the promotion, including this gem during the media tour: "He won't be eating solid food with the few teeth remaining after I get through with him."
Martinez simply does not like the kid.
"It is personal," Martinez said of the rivalry. "Not only do I want the title, but I have wanted to fight Chavez for a long time."
But what's the reason for such animosity?
"It is very simple. I cannot accept the fact he is world champion," Martinez said. "The only reason he is world champion is because he is Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., the son of the legend, and his mouth is so big -- even bigger than his own brain -- and he's talking too much.
"The only thing that Chavez has is a belt that belongs to me. I do not understand. Why do people believe that he deserves to be the champion? He does not deserve to wear the belt. That belt belongs to me, and I am going to get it back."
Chavez (46-0-1, 32 KOs), for his part, has given it right back to Martinez (49-2-2, 28 KOs), but often with a smile on his face.
"I think he's talking because he's scared," Chavez said through translator and Top Rank publicist Ricardo Jimenez. "He has something inside of him that makes him have to justify that he's fighting me. He doesn't give me any respect, but he's here fighting me. If I don't deserve to be here, why is he training so hard to beat me? He's very jealous of my stature in boxing."
You get the sense that while Martinez's animosity is real, Chavez is just hyping the fight. While Martinez scowled at him during their stare-down after the press conference, Chavez was smiling.
"I know he has a big mouth, and I am going to shut him up once and for all," Chavez said. "He's just a big clown."
Chavez has heard for years that he is where he is because of his father, so he hasn't let Martinez's words on that subject bother him.
"I can't help that people say that stuff about me," Chavez said. "I am the son, and that is who I am. He is my dad, but little by little, I have proven myself. I have proven it in the ring. You have seen what I have done in the ring the past few fights. You can't take that away from me -- my victories and my championship. I have done a lot of things on my own. I have my own story now. They can say whatever they want, but I have proven myself and it hasn't been easy."
Argentina's Martinez, 37, believes that Chavez, 26, doesn't respect boxing, doesn't deserve the alphabet belt he owns (which was stripped from Martinez) and is living off the name of his famous father, Hall of Famer and all-time Mexican great Julio Cesar Chavez Sr., who won world titles in three weight classes.
Another aspect of the friction, perhaps, is jealousy. Lou DiBella, Martinez's promoter, said that while Chavez has had all the doors opened for him because of his name, Martinez's road to the top was extremely difficult.
"There is a contrast on how these guys were raised and who they are," DiBella said. "Chavez Jr. was raised with a silver spoon in his mouth. He's been in the ring on someone's shoulders since he was a baby. He was handled with kid gloves as a fighter on the rise. He was basically handed the opportunity to win the belt, maybe a little bit before he was the fighter he is now.
"Sergio Martinez was raised in a slum, the worst ghetto in Argentina, with no shoes. He had to fight his way through bullies just to get to school. He had to go to Europe to fight for peanuts. He got $900 to fight Antonio Margarito [in a 2000 knockout loss]. It took him until his early 30s to become a name or an attraction in boxing. Contrast the superstar kid -- son of the legend, who's had everything on a silver platter -- and the other had to work his ass off to get it."
Martinez's trash talk is out of character, which has DiBella even more worried that usual.
"Of course I'm worried. I worry about everything. I'm absolutely worried," DiBella said. "The advantage that the kid has is youth, size and weight. He is going to be significantly bigger than Sergio, and Sergio's style is not usually to walk in and say, 'I'm gonna knock this kid out.' On one hand, he's his own man. I don't tell him what to say or do. On the other hand, as someone in this business 23 years, it worries you a little bit because I think if he decided to box circles around this guy and make it an easy fight, he could make this a real easy fight."
What really irritates Martinez is the way Chavez got his belt.
In 2010, Martinez outpointed Kelly Pavlik to win the lineal championship and two alphabet belts. The WBO quickly stripped him, but Martinez preferred the WBC belt anyway. He defended it against Paul Williams in November 2010, scoring a spectacular second-round knockout that was the consensus KO of the Year. But then the WBC stripped Martinez when he didn't face interim titlist Sebastian Zbik -- because HBO, which was bankrolling Martinez's career, refused to approve Zbik as an opponent.
Former HBO Sports president Ross Greenburg, who was eventually forced to resign, said Zbik was "not worthy" of fighting on the network and insisted, instead, that Martinez face then-junior middleweight titlist Sergiy Dzinziruk. Martinez took the fight and destroyed Dzinziruk in March 2011, scoring five knockdowns en route to an eighth-round knockout. But Martinez was still very upset about being stripped, especially when Greenburg approved Zbik, who had been handed the title, to fight Chavez in his network debut in June 2011.
Chavez outpointed Zbik to claim Martinez's old belt, and Martinez has not let it go.
"There's a bit of a chip on his shoulder, yeah," DiBella said. "There should be a chip. He's more chippy for this fight than I've ever seen him. I've never seen him chippy before, period. He's usually the consummate gentleman, but he doesn't like this kid, he doesn't like what's happened with the belt in the course of that belt changing hands."
Even after the WBC made Martinez the mandatory challenger for Chavez's belt, it took time for the fight to be made. The WBC refused to order the fight and Top Rank, Chavez's promoter, was in no hurry to make it, wanting Chavez to gain experience while Martinez grew older.
Even though Chavez fought who he was supposed to in order to take the title, and has defended it three times with impressive victories against Peter Manfredo Jr., Marco Antonio Rubio and Andy Lee, Martinez blames him for even possessing the belt.
"I have never seen him so motivated," Lewkowicz said. "He never disliked any of his opponents and always had respect for them. But Chavez took something away from him, and he believes he was wronged. And he believes that he had to wait too long to get it back. This all has given him more motivation."
Besides the belt situation, Martinez went after Chavez on other matters, ripping him for his well-publicized problems making weight, his January DUI arrest, and his testing positive for a banned substance in Nevada in 2009. Martinez also respects Freddie Roach, Chavez's trainer, and lit up Chavez for not showing up for training sessions and leaving Roach waiting, which was documented on HBO's "24/7" series.
"One of the best trainers in the world and he let him wait, and he doesn't come to the gym," Martinez said. "If that doesn't insult our sport, I am crazy. Chavez doesn't respect the sport."
After spending several minutes detailing all the things about Chavez that bothered him, Martinez got a little emotional. "I'm getting upset," he said to small group of reporters he was sitting with.
After he collected himself, Martinez added, simply, "I want to beat him up."
Sergio Martinez doesn't like how Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. came up through the ranks, how he treats his trainer, or how he respects the sport. But most of all, Martinez doesn't like that Junior wears a belt that Sergio says belongs to him.