NEW YORK – Lou DiBella might have been the only person in the world who didn't want to see Sergio Martinez defend his middleweight championship against Sergiy Dzinziruk.
The wise promoter knew his fighter would be putting his title and reputation on the line against a dangerous, unbeaten junior middleweight champ, one with little name recognition in the United States outside the most ardent boxing fans.
"It's no secret that I didn't like this fight," DiBella said. "HBO twisted my arm, but I give them credit. This is the best possible opponent in the world to fight Sergio."
The fight will take place Saturday night from the MGM Grand Arena at Foxwoods Resort and Casino in Mashantucket, Conn. HBO will carry it live.
"Sergio was a relatively unknown boxer, but he beat Kelly Pavlik and followed that with unquestionably the knockout of the year against Paul Williams," HBO vice president Kery Davis said. "Sergio is good looking, intelligent and he has charisma. The sky is the limit for him.
"He is fighting the challenge of his life," Davis said. "Many feel Sergiy Dzinziruk is the No. 1 154-pounder in the world. He is relatively unknown. When you put the best middleweight in the world against the best junior middleweight in the world, you should never apologize."
Even though it cost Martinez yet another championship belt.
The former junior middleweight champion won the WBC and WBO versions of the 160-pound title with a bloody decision over Pavlik last spring. Martinez was forced to give up the WBO belt first, when he knocked out Williams last November, then had to give up his WBC championship when he accepted the fight against Dzinziruk rather than mandatory challenger Sebastian Zbik.
Martinez (46-2-2, 25 KOs) is still recognized as the top middleweight in the world, though, regardless of what trinkets are — or are not — strapped around his waist.
"Sergio agreed to fight him despite giving up his middleweight belt," DiBella said. "He wants to leave a legacy of fighting the best, and there's no doubt that Sergiy is the best."
DiBella said earlier this week that Martinez's trainer, Gabriel Sarmiento, would not be in the corner Saturday night because of some "personal issues."
Sarmiento, credited with laying out the game plan for Martinez's victory over Williams, was with the champion throughout training camp. He'll be replaced during the fight by his brother, Pablo Sarmiento, a regular member of the training staff.
"Every training camp for Sergio gets better than the last," Pablo Sarmiento said. "Saturday you will find out that it's the best Sergio you've ever seen.
"The challenger is a great fighter and we respect him."
Even if so few people outside of Europe recognize him.
Dzinziruk (37-0, 23 KOs) built a flashy record fighting primarily in Poland, Germany and the Ukraine, but realized he would have to fight in the U.S. to make big money. So after winning the WBO 154-pound title from Daniel Santos in 2005 and defending it five times overseas, he finally crossed over the Atlantic last year and defended it against Daniel Dawson.
The 35-year-old Dzinziruk dominated the fight, scoring a 10th-round knockout at the Chumash Casino in Santa Ynez, Calif. The victory was so emphatic that it won Dzinziruk numerous fans but also scared away a lot of potential opponents.
"I want to thank everybody for this opportunity, and Sergio Martinez especially, for the opportunity to fight in such a big fight," Dzinziruk said. "It's a dream come true for me. I'm very excited. It's going to be a great fight."
DiBella may have been reticent to put his fighter in the ring against Dzinziruk, but promoter Gary Shaw — who represents the 154-pound champ — was thrilled with the opportunity.
He knows that Dzinziruk has the chance to finally make a name for himself.
"I give a lot of credit to them because Sergio had the opportunity for an easier fight, but they took the challenge," Shaw said. "It's a big step up — up in weight — for the fight, and they didn't want it. I know at the end of the day, no matter what ... it is an impossibility to knock out Sergiy. We will leave here with a win. I guarantee it."