For all of the knocks that boxing takes and often gives itself, the sweet science is in the midst of a two-week renaissance. On November 14th, we watched Manny Pacquiao banged out a unanimous decision over Antonio Margarito. Though the contest was one-sided, Margarito was dogged and had his moments. It was non-stop action from bell to bell. This Saturday night should be more of the same when Sergio Martinez (45-2-2, 24 knockouts) defends his WBC middleweight crown against the supersized and talented Paul Williams (39-1, 27 knockouts). The bout will take place at the catch weight of 158 pounds and will be telecast live on HBO.
The two met last December in a fight, which saw them both hitting the canvas in the first round. In the end, Williams, a native of South Carolina, eked out a majority decision. However, this was not much of a set back for Martinez. In April of 2010, Martinez pounded Kelly Pavlik from pillar to post and relieved the Youngstown fighter of his middleweight crown.
Williams was originally scheduled to face Pavlik but "The Ghost" had to pull out of the bout twice because of a staph infection. Now, Williams makes it plain that he feels as though Martinez usurped the crown that was supposed to be his.
Both fighters are southpaws. The supremely coordinated and speedy Martinez has an unorthodox style: he lays back, jiggles, moves right, left, rushes in with a flurry and then dances out of range. A former soccer star, Martinez is always creating angles, making his opponents turn and reset to punch. While he is neither a high powered nor high volume puncher, Martinez has superb hand speed and enjoyed great success with his right hook against Williams in their first meeting.
Emanuel Steward, who is preparing Wladimir Klitschko for a December 11th title defense, told me, "Sometimes Sergio can do nothing and make it look as though he is doing a lot. He is a very smart fighter, but when Williams pressed him in their last fight, I thought Martinez faded. He knows Williams is going to come after him this time and we'll see how he adjusts."
Steward continued, "Williams is street tough. He has a bit of the Hagler in him. You can see it in his eyes and the set of his jaw. When he needs to, he can just leave all the plans behind, get mean, and just attack." And from the sound of his last press conference, Williams is already feeling a little mean, and not only because Martinez has the title but because many believe that their first battle was a tossup.
Williams, who has fought most of his career at 147, is a colossal 6'1" to Martinez's 5'10". He has an immense reach of 82 inches and is adept at using his long arms both to keep his opponents at bay and to rock them from a safe distance with quick powerful jabs and straight lefts. Williams' defense is not a match for his offense. He is not hard to hit and has, of late, been prone to cut.
The 29-year-old challenger who is often reckoned in the pound-for-pound stakes, has but one blemish on his record -- a February 2008 decision loss to the crafty Carlos Quintana. Four months later, Williams avenged that defeat when he stormed from of his corner and blasted Quintana out in less than three minutes. Some prognosticators suggest that Williams will try the same recipe of violence in his rematch with the super-slick Martinez.
For his part, the 35-year-old Martinez has vowed to sit down on his punches more. He insists, "I'm going to prove that I am the better fighter. The smarter fighter. The more improved fighter." One way or the other, and to every fan's delight, the debate between these two master boxers will be settled in Boardwalk Hall on Saturday night.