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To the victor, as they say, go the spoils -- and world middleweight champion Sergio Martinez certainly is about to enjoy his: a long-awaited homecoming fight in Argentina.
For the past few years, Martinez has had tremendous success fighting in the United States. In September in Las Vegas, Martinez had his highest-profile fight, a defense of the lineal championship against Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. Martinez won a unanimous decision and took Chavez's alphabet belt in a dominant performance, save for suffering a rough 12th-round knockdown that made for an ultra-dramatic ending to one of the year's biggest fights.
For his first fight since that significant victory, Martinez wanted to return to Argentina, the homeland where he hasn't fought since 2002 -- a span of 28 fights.
After the victory against Chavez, Martinez made it clear to promoter Lou DiBella and adviser Sampson Lewkowicz that he wanted to fight in Argentina, where his recent run -- including 2010 fighter of the year honors and five successful title defenses -- has made him a megastar.
Now Martinez will realize his dream of finally fighting at home again when he defends the world title against top-10 contender Martin Murray of England on Saturday night (HBO, 8:30 ET/PT) in the main event of a split-site tripleheader at the 50,000-seat Club Atletico Velez Sarsfield in Buenos Aires.
|After Sergio Martinez dispatched Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. in Las Vegas last September in his highest-profile fight to date, he urged his team to set up a homecoming bout in his native Argentina.|
DiBella and Lewkowicz are delighted that they were able to give Martinez the homecoming he yearned for.
"He has waited for this opportunity to fight again in Argentina for many, many years," DiBella said.
Added Lewkowicz: "I love Sergio like my own son, and it is an honor to me to be able to provide him with this opportunity. We have talked about this for a long time, doing this event here in Argentina."
The tripleheader opens at the Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario, Calif., where heavyweight Cristobal Arreola (35-2, 30 KOs), 31, of nearby Riverside, Calif., will face Las Vegas resident Bermane Stiverne (22-1-1, 20 KOs), 34, a native of Haiti, in a title elimination fight. Rescheduled for the third time because of injuries, the bout will make the winner the mandatory challenger for titleholder Vitali Klitschko.
Then the action will shift to Argentina for a scheduled 12-round welterweight bout between Argentina's Luis Carlos Abregu (34-1, 28 KOs), 29 -- whose lone defeat was a decision to Timothy Bradley Jr. -- and Antonin Decarie (27-1, 8 KOs), 30, of Montreal.
Argentina, known best in boxing for being the home country of Hall of Fame middleweight champion Carlos Monzon, will be hosting its biggest fight in many years in Martinez-Murray. It will be the first middleweight title bout staged there since Jorge Castro defeated Reggie Johnson in 1995.
"This feels like a rebirth for me because when I left Argentina for Spain in 2002, I felt like I needed to get out of the country to try to find a better situation for me and to grow as a person and a fighter," Martinez said through a translator. "It has come full circle, and now that I return to my country I am a different person than the person who left Argentina in 2002.
"I am more mature as a person and as a fighter. I could not have imagined a better homecoming than this."
When Martinez left Argentina, he went to fight in Spain, where he still spends time and has close friends. He fought there, and also in England, until hooking up with Lewkowicz and coming to America to fight in 2007. Multiple American promoters passed on signing Martinez, but DiBella, impressed by videos of his bouts, signed him and guided him to the title when he outpointed Kelly Pavlik in a bloody fight in 2010. Although Martinez would have liked to fight in Argentina sooner, it just didn't work out until now.
"I was making a good living once I started fighting in Europe, and after a couple big wins I was comfortable," he said. "I didn't have to work multiple jobs at that point to survive. Those opportunities didn't exist in Argentina at that time [and] there were issues in Argentina with former promoters and managers."
|Sergio Martinez has become a full-blown star in Argentina, where the response to his return has been overwhelming. "I could not have imagined a better homecoming than this," he said.|
But Martinez (50-2-2, 28 KOs), a 38-year-old southpaw, has become such a star in Argentina that the government is involved in putting on Saturday's show. Martinez has met Argentina's president, Cristina Kirchner, who made the formal announcement of the fight. He has been on his country's version of "Dancing with the Stars," and he is instantly recognizable.
When Martinez arrived in Argentina from his training camp in Spain, DiBella said it was a "mob scene." Martinez needed bodyguards and a police escort.
"There's been an overwhelming response," DiBella said. "It's got to be moving to him, and at the same time he has a fight to worry about against a real opponent."
DiBella, however, always worries. Martinez? Not so much.
"My team and I are extremely confident going into this fight, and the expectations are very high, and because of that I know that this is going to be a great event and a great night for my countrymen," Martinez said.
With his career admittedly winding down, Martinez felt strongly about fighting again in Argentina before he retires. But he needed the backing from HBO, which has been involved in his past nine fights. Martinez met with HBO Sports president Ken Hershman, who said the idea was a no-brainer. So now HBO will cover a fight in Argentina for the first time in its 40 years of televising fights.
When Martinez faced Chavez, it was on Mexican Independence Day weekend, and although it was a pro-Chavez house at the Thomas & Mack Center, there were thousands of Argentines singing, chanting and waving flags in support of Martinez in a memorable scene.
DiBella said he thinks that after Martinez saw the outpouring of love from those who traveled thousands of miles for his fight that it became important to the fighter to return the sentiment.
"He knew this was the time to go home," DiBella said. "Anyone who was at the Thomas & Mack saw that it wasn't just a couple of Argentines rooting for him. There were thousands. It was shocking to a lot of people how large the contingent from Argentina was. I was blown away. They came a long way.
"So it was in the back of his mind to go home to fight, but it became more clear after the fight. I have to believe that seeing that support, he was moved."
Although it's a homecoming fight and a celebration of all that Martinez has accomplished, he isn't being given a showcase fight. On the contrary: Murray (25-0-1, 11 KOs), 30, is a legitimate contender. Promoted by former junior welterweight champ Ricky Hatton, Murray is unbeaten, holds an interim belt and fought then-titlist Felix Sturm to a draw in a December 2011 bout in Germany that many thought Murray deserved to win.
"The fight is not going to be an easy fight," DiBella said. "Murray is one of the toughest guys in the middleweight division and he is a very, very good fighter, and for that reason Sergio wanted this fight -- because Murray presents a real and meaningful challenge. Sergio didn't want to go home against a bum. He wanted the best available guy we could get to go to Argentina."
Murray isn't concerned about fighting in hostile territory, which he did in Germany against Sturm.
|Martin Murray clearly is the B-side in Saturday's fight in Buenos Aires, but the undefeated interim middleweight titlist is no pushover opponent.|
"It's not daunting me at all," Murray said. "The crowd is going to be very hostile, but I'm always in the zone when I enter the ring, so it makes no difference what people are doing around me. I'll just be focused on going in there and doing my job.
"Naturally, there'll be some nerves before the fight, but that's a good thing. I always feel some nerves. I like them and I perform off of them."
Said Martinez: "Murray will be a good rival. He is a big middleweight who has a come-forward fighting style. He is young, hungry and undefeated, and I know he is not coming to Argentina to lose.
"I have respect for Martin, but there is no doubt in my mind that this fight is going to end by knockout. My training for this fight has been the best I have ever had and my confidence is at the absolute highest level, and for that reason I guarantee this fight will end with a knockout."
Now that would certainly make for a storybook ending to Martinez's long-awaited homecoming.