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Over the past few years, Sergio Martinez has emerged as one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world, with knockout victories against Kelly Pavlik and Paul Williams, fighters who at the time were considered to be among the best in their divisions.
Those accomplishments helped Martinez, a fighter from Argentina who spent most of his career fighting in Spain -- virtually anonymous to the rest of the world -- raise his profile and grant power to his voice. He has since become involved in community works, including serving as a spokesman against bullying in school and violence against women.
In the ring, Martinez is set to face nemesis Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. for the middleweight championship at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas on Sept. 15 (HBO PPV, 9 p.m. ET), a highlight of the Mexican Independence Day weekend celebration.
ESPN.com enlisted HBO to get Martinez's thoughts on his career and his work as a public figure.
I respect Chavez as a fighter, as it takes a lot of cojones to enter a boxing ring and fight another fighter in the ring. But I do not respect him as a champion. You have certain duties as a champion. You must defend your title against the best and never take the easy road. I believe that Chavez has been avoiding me for the past two years, and now he has nowhere to go. Because if he never fought me, he would lose respect from the Mexican fans. I believe the only reason he received a title fight against [Sebastian] Zbik is because of his last name and who his father is, and that belt belongs to me because I never lost it in the ring. Chavez was supposed to fight me for two years, but he kept avoiding the fight. Is this the proper attitude of someone who says he is the middleweight champion? I think not.On whether it's more important for him to take back his title or simply beat Chavez to prove a point or shut him up:
What bothers me is that when someone opens up the record books in 20 years and sees Chavez's name after mine, they will assume he beat me because he was next in line, because this was Zbik's first defense after he received the title [that was stripped from me by] the WBC. On Saturday, it will be important for me to take back my title, the WBC middleweight title. This is the same title that many greats have held, like Carlos Monzon, Marvin Hagler and Sugar Ray Leonard. I feel, to keep the integrity of the belt, I must defeat Chavez in spectacular fashion and let him know that this belt is the belt to be held by real champions -- champions who will not run from fighting the best. I will make sure to leave no doubt in everyone's minds who is the real middleweight champion and, pound for pound, one of the best fighters in the world. And that is Sergio "Maravilla" Martinez.
The one fight I would do over is the Antonio Margarito fight, which happened Feb. 19, 2000, at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. I was knocked out in the seventh round, and that is the only fight I truly believe I lost. I was also a puppy compared to what I am today, and Margarito was a seasoned fighter at that point. For that particular loss, my purse was $800. I had not come into my own as a fighter and did not have my trainers Gabriel Sarmiento and Pablo Sarmiento with me, so I was a different fighter at that point in my career. I believe if Antonio Margarito and I fought again later on in my career, it would've been a different outcome. In my mind, it would be similar to the Pacquiao-Margarito match where Margarito just came forward and the speed of Pacquiao is what ultimately beat Margarito.
In the Barker fight, I hurt my left elbow in training camp four days before the fight, so for that particular fight I was fighting one-handed the whole fight. If you look at the tape of the fight, you will see that I mostly threw punches with one arm. I believe if I did not sustain that injury right before the fight, the knockout would've came a lot earlier.
In the Matthew Macklin fight, I expected Macklin to come forward like he has done in the past, and we trained for that. But in this particular fight, Macklin came in with a different game plan and he started to box, which was different than what we planned, but we adjusted to his fight plan and then started to wear him down slowly, until the knockout late in the fight.
I would first make sure there is a strong amateur program that caters to younger fighters looking to get into the sport of boxing and provide them proper training. More often than not, especially in Spain and the United States, a lot of the younger athletes tend to gravitate more toward [soccer] and basketball. They have better amateur programs than boxing and there could've been some great fighters that never stepped in the ring because the amateur programs in other sports were far superior.
You can also attest the diminishment of the heavyweight division in America with not having a proper amateur program. Most of the great heavyweights now are coming from eastern Europe, and they are excellent fighters. They have the proper amateur training and schooling and support. In America, most of the large fighters that would be great heavyweights are being groomed to [play] American football and basketball.
On his involvement with multiple charities and causes and being a role model in a violent sport:
|Sergio Martinez is focused each fight on proving he belongs among boxing's pound-for-pound elite. He's also worked hard outside of the ring to be a voice for charities and causes in need.|
I believe that as a professional athlete in the public eye, it is my duty to be the voice to the individuals and groups that can't be heard. This is very close to my heart, and that is why I devote my time to many causes to bring awareness to these issues. I would agree ... that you do not have to act with a negative demeanor or a thuggish attitude in order to be a world-class fighter. In the end, the people that you are trying to impress with that attitude won't be there to help you once your career is over.
What is important is dedicating yourself to your profession and acting like a professional, and with hard work and a good, clean lifestyle, you can possibly be a world-class fighter. In my whole life, I have never drank alcohol or smoked tobacco, have always eaten healthy and always stayed active. I believe this is, physically, the recipe to being a world-class fighter. But it's also a mental challenge to get to that level. You have to be prepared mentally, and if you have some of the nuisances that come along with a thuggish persona, then it will be very difficult to reach that level of being a world-class fighter.
The up-and-coming fighters who will be on the world stage have to be cognizant that once you are in the public eye and have a public forum, that it's a great opportunity to give a voice and recognition to those who are less fortunate and bring awareness to social issues that normally wouldn't get the attention. My goal is to bring awareness to end bullying in schools and end domestic violence against women. I believe with the platform I have I could help out.