Thursday, May 21, 2009
Martinez now jr. middleweight champ
By Dan Rafael
Vernon Forrest, who is out indefinitely with a rib injury and long overdue on a mandatory junior middleweight title defense against interim titlist Sergio Martinez, was stripped of his belt on Thursday.
In making the announcement, the WBC officially elevated Spain's Martinez to its full titleholder.
"Vernon Forrest is a three-time WBC world champion and a champion outside the ring, as well, known for his efforts in support of the children and underprivileged persons in the world," WBC president Jose Sulaiman said in a statement. "Unfortunately, Forrest has sustained an injury which is forcing him to stay away from the ring for some time."
In its ruling, the WBC said that Forrest "will be eligible to compete for the WBC championship as soon as he recovers from his injury with a 55-45 purse split against Martinez."
Who would get the 55 percent was unclear in the WBC's announcement, but the WBC's Mauricio Sulaiman told ESPN.com via e-mail that the split would be in Forrest's favor.
Forrest promoter Gary Shaw told ESPN.com, "I think it's a good decision because Vernon is hurt. When he gets ready to fight again and assuming Sergio is still the champion, and he may not be, then Vernon would get a 55-45 split."
Forrest, 38, and Martinez, 34, were scheduled to fight Aug. 1 on Showtime. However, Forrest, who hasn't fought since regaining the belt from Sergio Mora in a September rematch, suffered the rib injury training for an April tune-up fight against Jason LeHoullier. Forrest (41-3, 29 KOs) withdrew from that fight and still hadn't recovered enough to go through with the fight against Martinez (44-1-2, 24 KOs).
Lou DiBella, Martinez's promoter, has been vocal for months about Forrest not wanting to fight Martinez. He was pleased with the WBC's decision.
"Enough's enough," he said. "I think Vernon is legitimately hurt this second, but I also think he doesn't want to fight Sergio and never has wanted to fight Sergio. Vernon deserves the kind of concessions they made to him, which is when he wants the fight with Sergio he can have it. We've never had a problem fighting Vernon Forrest. That's a fight Sergio has wanted for a long time."
Now, Martinez is free to pursue another fight and DiBella said he has already received feelers. He said one came from the handlers of French contender Christophe Canclaux (39-2, 24 KOs) and one came from Cayman Islands officials, who would like to host Martinez against Cayman native Charles Whittaker (33-12-2).
DiBella added that HBO, which has televised Martinez's past two fights, is interested in Martinez against Paul Williams, who is regarded by many as the No. 1 154-pound fighter in the world.
"We'll weigh all of our options," DiBella said. "But right now I am just very happy for Sergio. He's been the de facto champion for seven months [since winning the interim belt] and now he is officially."
Martinez's mandatory challenger will be determined on May 30, when the Shaw-promoted Alfredo Angulo faces DiBella-promoted Kermit Cintron on HBO.
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.