Sergio Martinez to fight Martin Murray
The previous time middleweight champion Sergio Martinez fought in Argentina was 2002, when he was an unknown fighter trying to punch his way to the top of the sport.
Now, as one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the world and coming off his highest-profile victory, a lopsided decision against titleholder Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. in a major pay-per-view fight in September, Martinez will return to his home country to defend his 160-pound crown against England's Martin Murray on April 27 (HBO).
How big of a deal is Martinez's homecoming fight? Argentina President Cristina de Kirchner, who met with Martinez in the weeks following his victory against Chavez, was the person who announced the bout Tuesday to the media in Argentina.
"I'm privileged and honored to take part in Argentinean history in the announcement of my homecoming fight in my homeland with President Cristina de Kirchner," Martinez said. "I want to thank my fans for supporting me throughout my career and I promise to give them a show they will be proud of on April 27."
The venue has not been finalized, but Lou DiBella, Martinez's promoter, said there are two stadiums in the running.
Whichever stadium hosts the fight, DiBella said he expects it to be a wild scene on fight night.
"You know what it's like when Ricky Hatton fights in Manchester (England)?" DiBella told ESPN.com. "It's been a long time since a guy has generated that kind of fervor in South America. Maybe (Brazil's) Acelino Freitas several years ago. But right now, Sergio has achieved a level of popularity in Argentina that is unparalleled since (middleweight champion) Carlos Monzon was fighting (in the 1970s). So whatever the capacity of the venue we go to, it will sell out and it will be a crazy, crazy, raucous, loud celebration. Sergio is excited for it.
"It has taken him years to establish that kind of popularity in his own country because he spent a lot of time fighting in Europe and America, but his success the past few years has made him like a rock star in Argentina. He's a major celebrity in his homeland. Last time he fought there, he was an unknown fighter starting out. Now he is going back as a conquering hero. It's going to be exciting."
Martinez (50-2-2, 28 KOs), who turns 38 in February, cruised to a decision against Chavez other than the final 90 seconds of their September fight. In the 12th round, Chavez knocked Martinez down and nearly out, but Martinez got to his feet and made it through to hold on for the victory.
When he was knocked down, Martinez injured his right knee. Last month, he had surgery to repair a partially torn meniscus and an injured ankle, but he is expected to be ready for a full training camp. Martinez also broke his left hand against Chavez and needed stitches to close a cut over his eye and a gash in his scalp.
Kirchner also announced the fight will be televised live throughout Argentina on free public television via Channel 7.
"I am very honored to be a part of such a historic event," said Sampson Lewkowicz, Martinez's adviser. "This will be a very special night for me as this has been a dream and request of Sergio's to be able to defend his championship in front of all of his adoring fans in Argentina, the country that loves him so much for a long time."
Murray (25-0-1, 11 KOs), 30, won a vacant interim version of a world title last month, dominating Jorge Novarro and knocking him out in the sixth round on the undercard of the Ricky Hatton return bout. He knew going into the bout that if he won and came out with no injuries, he was the leading candidate to land the fight with Martinez.
"These are very exciting times for Martin," said Hatton, whose Hatton Promotions handles Murray. "It has been a work in progress for Martin. I am very proud of the job Hatton Promotions have done with him."
In Murray's most significant fight, he went to Germany in December 2011 and fought to a split draw with then-middleweight titleholder Felix Sturm. He was supposed to challenge Chavez on June 16 in El Paso, Texas, but Murray's criminal background prevented him from getting a visa in time, and he was dropped from the fight and replaced by Andy Lee.
But now Murray has an even bigger opportunity.
"Martin Murray is a very solid opponent," DiBella said. "They want a real fight there. The government is involved in the event and they want a real fight. Murray had the draw with Sturm, he's never lost and he was willing to fight Sergio in Argentina. We had to get someone down there who was a real fighter and bring a real fight. It is going to be a spectacle. It will have a sold-out soccer game kind of feel."
If Martinez wins, he likely will face Chavez in a rematch next fall.