MASHANTUCKET, Conn. – After watching Sergio Martínez easily defeat Sergiy Dzinziruk on Saturday night, the Argentinian fighter deserves to get his shot at the world’s best pound-for-pound title. The question is: How will Martínez do it?
Imagining anyone dethroning Manny Pacquiao as boxing’s best – especially without beating the Filipino legend – is difficult, but Martínez is on a trajectory to accomplish just that.
The middleweight is 47-2-2 with 26 knockouts. He has proven himself capable and asserted himself as willing to go up against the sport’s best challengers, but whether they’ll rise to the challenge remains another story.
Personal and legal difficulties are expected to keep Mayweather away from the ring for some time, and finding common ground on weight makes a Pacquiao bout unlikely. Martínez believes he could go as low as 154 pounds, but Pacquiao weighed in at under 145 pounds for his junior middleweight match against Antonio Margarito. Against a challenger like Martínez, that’s just too much size to concede.
From the outside, Cotto, a light middleweight who beat Ricardo Mayorga in a 12th-round technical knockout also on Saturday night, would make an ideal challenger. However, Cotto’s next bout will be a rematch against Margarito, who lost to Pacquiao in November and is the very challenger Cotto has accused of cheating in their last fight.
As for whether a meeting with Martínez could happen after that, promoter Lou DiBella said while he’d like to see it happen, the fight is beyond his control.
DiBella followed up with an old-fashioned calling out.
“Maybe Cotto is man enough. Maybe Cotto is man enough to ask Bob Arum to make the fight," DiBella challenged. "But Bob Arum is not making any fights with his guys against other people, and he seems to be lining up bum after bum after bum for Manny Pacquiao and Cotto.
“I want the biggest fight we can get,” he added. “But you know what? People now should line up for [Martínez], because he is the best fighter in the world.”
As Martínez continues to almost effortlessly dispose of challengers, arguing that he doesn’t deserve consideration as the pound-for-pound best becomes harder, especially with Mayweather virtually out of the picture and Pacquiao fighting apparent place-holder challengers in recent bouts.
Against Dzinziruk, Martínez won by an eighth-round technical knockout in a one-sided bout.
Martínez had five knockdowns before the referee stopped the fight.
Martínez knocked out Paul Williams in the second round prior to that.
But Martínez possesses more than just an impressive left hook. The middleweight has the combination of athletic ability and Hollywood looks that sports marketers dream of.
He’s confident, but without the over-the-top swagger that’s characterized (and often been the downfall of) so many of the sport’s best fighters.
He has causes, campaigning against domestic violence and bullying. Martínez dedicated his fight against Dzinziruk to Connecticut middle schooler Monique McClain, who was the victim of bullying. And after the fight, he wanted to make sure the media focused attention on Monique.
These things don’t carry weight on a scorecard, but in a sport centered on persona they certainly won’t hurt Martínez when it comes to the ultimately subjective pound-for-pound ranking decisions.
However, the closer Martínez gets to the pound-for-pound title, the harder it becomes – not because of who he has to fight, but because of who refuses to face him.
Many boxing enthusiasts believe that Martínez’s success will only make finding challengers more difficult for him.
“It probably will,” Martínez acknowledged. “But I want to be the No. 1 fighter. I want to improve.”
And if Martínez continues to improve as he has been, being recognized as the pound-for-pound best is only a matter of time.
Maria Burns Ortiz is a freelance sports journalist, chair of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists' Sports Task Force, and a regular contributor to Fox News Latino. Follow her on Twitter: @BurnsOrtiz