Middleweight king lives up to nickname: Maravilla

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — Sergio Martinez and Kelly Pavlik each lived up to their nickname during their brutal middleweight title fight at Boardwalk Hall.

Martinez was "Maravilla," the marvelous one, slicing up the unified champion over the course of 12 hard-fought rounds. The relatively unknown challenger from Argentina, with the dashing smile and Hollywood looks, shone brightly on the biggest stage of his blooming professional career.

Meanwhile, Pavlik (36-2) looked every bit like a "Ghost" — a shadow of the proud, blue-collar boxer who burst onto the scene by defeating Jermain Taylor in the same building nearly three years ago.

Back then, the pride of Youngstown, Ohio, was the next big thing.

Now it may be Martinez.

"He looks like a movie star, start with that," said his promoter, Lou DiBella. "He's a great looking guy, women love him. He could be a poster boy for the sport, and he's incredibly pleasing to watch. He's a terrifically entertaining fighter, and some of that is showmanship."

Much like Pavlik, Martinez (45-2-2) came from humble beginnings. His father was a metal worker, putting in long hours and moving the family from place to place to ensure food was on the table. The young Martinez finished elementary school before getting a job to help support the family.

He was an exceptional soccer player who nearly signed with well-known Argentina club Los Andes, and a world-class cyclist. But he put those ambitions aside when he was 20 years old, lacing up boxing gloves for the first time and immediately realizing he had found his calling.

In just five weeks, Martinez was already winning amateur bouts, and in two years he was a pro.

"Probably it was one of the most poor places of Argentina, which is a third-world country, where I grew up," Martinez said through a translator. "I chose boxing because I realized I would be better in that sport than any of the others."

The late start in the sport means that, despite being 35 years old, Martinez hasn't been in the same number of bruising battles as many of his contemporaries.

That's why DiBella believes his best years are still in front of him.

Martinez made just shy of a million dollars against Pavlik on Saturday night, and probably won't make under seven figures any time soon. His effervescent personality is endearing in a sport that latches on to charismatic individuals, so it's reasonable to expect Martinez to become the same kind of attraction that fellow Argentine middleweight Carlos Monzon once was.

"Being in boxing, it gives you a chance to dream about days like today," Martinez said late Saturday night. "This is the dream of every boxer, and today I accomplished my dream. And I never stopped dreaming to be a world champion. Always I knew I would be a champion."

The realization of his dream came at the expense of Pavlik, who many considered the next great middleweight when he claimed the titles from Taylor at Boardwalk Hall.

Pavlik's loss Saturday night culminated a difficult two-year stretch in which he lost to Bernard Hopkins, made a few underwhelming title defenses and was sidelined for several months by a stubborn staph infection that put him in the hospital for a few days.

He looked light and fresh on his feet against Martinez, but threw about half as many punches in each round as when he won the WBO and WBC belts. Despite being much bigger and stronger — he came into the ring at 178 pounds — his only highlight came in the seventh round, when he scored a flash knockdown that didn't seem to seriously hurt Martinez.

"I wasn't hurting, but he just had a lot of volume of punches," said Pavlik, who has toyed with the notion of moving to super middleweight. "It was hard to make 160, but I hate losing, and I want to get those belts back."

It will be up to Pavlik to decide whether to exercise a rematch clause in the contract, and DiBella said he would have no problem making the fight happen.

Martinez will have some decisions of his own. He has a couple weeks to pick whether to keep his WBC junior middleweight belt or his two new middleweight trinkets, and deciding which division to campaign in will probably come down to where he can find the most lucrative fights.

If the rematch doesn't happen, Martinez wouldn't mind avenging a couple of difficult decisions — a controversial draw to Kermit Cintron and a debatable loss to Paul Williams. He could also meet former welterweight titleholder Antonio Margarito, who is scheduled to fight May 8.

"I feel very good in both weight divisions, 154 and 160, but at 154 pounds it was very complicated to find opponents," Martinez said. "I fought with the king of the middleweights and I won, so after that, which am I better at, 154 or 160?"