The Marvels of “Maravilla”

By Caryn A. Tate on June 4, 2014
The Marvels of “Maravilla”
Sergio Martinez understands and respects the value of mental fortitude. (Monte Isom/HBO)

In an age where politics, underhandedness, and selfishness rule the day, a fighter like Sergio Martinez is like a breath of fresh air…

Who is Sergio “Maravilla” Martinez? If you’ve only recently heard of him because of his high profile pay-per-view fight with Miguel Cotto this Saturday, you may simply know him as the middleweight champion from Argentina. But, as with most great success stories, there’s a lot more to it than that. Even if you’re a longtime boxing fan who knows Martinez pretty well and have seen several of his fights, now is a good time to take a fresh look at the lineal champ and examine what has made him so successful against the best competition the division has had to offer.

Mental preparedness

Martinez understands and respects the value of mental fortitude as much, if not more than, physical strength and skill. This is how a man is able to fight with one good hand and one good leg (due to injuries occurring during the bout) against an opponent who is 20 pounds or more heavier than himself—and to win convincingly, as in his 2012 fight against Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. Throughout 11 rounds, Maravilla toyed with Chavez. He outboxed him, outmaneuvered him, and gave him such a solid beating that Chavez’s corner, led by trainer Freddie Roach, wanted to stop the fight in the late rounds.

Martinez’s pride is what led him to seek the knockout in round 12, and in the last 90 seconds of the fight, that pride cost him—he got caught with a good right hand that normally wouldn’t have landed as cleanly as it did. But with the mental strength and heart of a champion, Martinez rose to the occasion and not only fought through those hard moments, but refused to hold or run. Instead, he let his hands go and finished out the fight like a warrior, winning convincingly.

Unorthodox fighting style

Martinez’s style is unorthodox and would be downright dangerous if used by someone without the skill and the natural gifts possessed by the middleweight champion. He fights with his hands held low and moves around his opponent, working to keep him from setting his feet and efficiently keeping him guessing. But he’s more than a moving target—while he maneuvers, Maravilla is also on the offensive, throwing—and landing—a lot of awkward shots on his opponent. The punches come from odd angles and from every which way, making it that much harder to defend against them. Martinez often taunts his opponents by sticking his head out towards them, still with his hands low, as if daring them to come after him so that he can counter their punches. And, fascinatingly, they rarely do. The reason is that by that point in the fight, Martinez has his foe pegged and is just oozing confidence, and his opponent has seen that their usual style or techniques simply don’t seem to be working. 

By the way, if you’ve ever watched him fight and thought that the way Maravilla moves rings a bell, it ought to. Martinez used to watch Roy Jones Jr. and would practice his moves in a mirror to match up Jones’ moves with his own southpaw stance.

Confidence

As the rounds of a match progress, it seems as though Martinez feeds off confidence; he starts a fight confident, then begins to methodically drain it away from his foe; by the end of the fight, Maravilla is downright arrogant. Very often his opponents, following their fights with Martinez, have struggled in their careers and/or faded away. There are rare exceptions such as Darren Barker, who seemed to have had the strength of will or character to take the loss as a learning experience rather than a devastating, scarring event as so often seems to be the case with Sergio’s opponents. But for the rule, take a look at Kelly Pavlik or Sergiy Dzinziruk—and, as far back as 2003 and 2004, Richard Williams. Although Martinez wasn’t as developed a fighter at that time, he still had this uncanny ability to sap his foe’s belief in himself during the actual fight—so much so that it’s palpable to the viewers and the commentators. (In fact, the Sky Sports commentators began some highly amusing and completely ridiculous speculation that perhaps Williams had come down with a “mystery illness.” Check out the fight on YouTube when you’re ready for a nice bit of comedy in your day.)

Continuous improvement

Another unusual aspect to the fighter is that he actually gets better—including more knockouts—the older he gets. In the past ten years, Martinez has had 21 wins with 1 loss and 1 draw—16 of those wins by knockout (a 76% knockout rate). What’s even more astounding is that he seems capable of delivering knockouts—and knockdowns—on demand, when he so chooses. Prior to his 2010 rematch against Paul Williams, Sergio stated that he was going to knock Williams out in the second round.

Uncannily, that is exactly what happened. This wasn’t by accident—afterwards, Sergio revealed that he and his team had studied Williams and specifically their first match, and they specifically planned that overhand left hook that caught Williams on his way in and took him down. And if you watch carefully, Martinez landed that same shot several times during the fight before the knockout actually happened—he was using that weapon with the intention of rendering Williams unconscious. When the final shot landed, it was thanks to Martinez’s accuracy as well as the fact that Williams was on his way forward, and didn’t see Sergio’s shot coming, that resulted in the KO.

Similarly, as far as knockdowns on demand, in the first fight against Paul Williams, Martinez got caught in round 1 and went down. He got to his feet and resumed fighting, this time with even more zeal, with the clear intention of evening up the round. That’s exactly what he did, dropping Williams hard towards the end of the same round. Williams looked stunned, and not just from the blow. In his match with the previously undefeated Sergiy Dzinziruk, Martinez is able to find just the right spot and the right angle with which to knock down his foe. Then he repeats the process again and again, knocking down Dzinziruk (who had never been knocked down as an amateur or a professional) five times during the fight en route to an eighth round stoppage. It’s nothing less than astounding to witness a fighter who can turn these things on like a switch.

Adjustments on the fly

Sergio has displayed a rare and special ability to adjust his strategy in a fight on the fly. In his 2012 fight versus Matthew Macklin, Martinez and his team studied their opponent in their usual way: they watched film on Macklin, studied him and his style, and developed a strategy that they believed would beat him. Macklin’s usual style was that of an aggressive come-forward fighter. He had exhibited that style for years, so Martinez and his team developed their counterpunching strategy based on that. But Macklin and his trainer at the time, former champion Buddy McGirt, had devised a cunning scheme of their own: they turned Macklin’s typical style on its head and he came into the fight playing the role of the counterpuncher—Sergio’s usual role. It was a brilliant plan and they played the part well—Macklin even did interviews before the fight talking about how aggressive he had to be against Martinez, and how he had to take the lead. But once the fight started, a different Macklin came forth and Sergio and his team were left scratching their heads.

As early as round 1 of their fight, you can see Sergio taunting Macklin, trying to draw him out and make him play the puncher’s role so that Martinez could fall into the plan that he and his team had so carefully devised. But Macklin, to his credit, wasn’t falling for it, and stuck to the plan—for a handful of rounds. By the middle rounds, you can see Martinez drop his hands and relax, as if he had figured out what to do about Macklin’s role-reversal. And he had. The masterful champion was back, and sure enough, steadily began seeping Macklin’s confidence away from him so much that it’s visible. The fight was correctly stopped at the end of round 11.

Not many fighters have the ability to adjust in the middle of a fight like that. It’s an exhibition of a very high level of skill that only the elite level fighters possess.

Power in both hands

It’s been said that Martinez has power in both hands. It’s the truth but, as Martinez himself has stated, he wasn’t born with it. He’s worked hard to make it a fact. He’s a natural lefty and fights as a southpaw. For several years, Maravilla struggled with recurring injuries to his power (left) hand. But he was unwilling to halt his relentless march toward the top of the middleweight division, so there was no time for surgery and recovery time. So what was his solution? His trainers, Gaby and Pablo Sarmiento, focused on honing Martinez’s ability with his right hand—essentially making it so he could rely on that hand in the event that his left was hurt again (which happened from time to time). We found out after the fact that he had even entered some fights with a broken or hurt left hand. But the Sarmientos’ strategy worked; Sergio developed a reputation for so much power in his right hand that his opponents didn’t just have to look out for shots coming from one side, but from both. In his fight with Darren Barker, it was Martinez’s right hand that landed around Barker’s earmuff defense and perforated his eardrum for the knockout.

Dignity and Honor

Sergio Martinez is a man of honor—a rarity these days in general, but particularly in the often corrupt and cutthroat world of boxing. Case in point: Martinez’s promoter, Lou DiBella, signed Sergio in 2007, after both Top Rank and Golden Boy had passed on the fighter. DiBella took a chance on an unknown and risky-styled fighter when no one else would. According to Thomas Hauser, in 2011, Martinez was approached by an undisclosed person and offered a $2 million signing bonus if he were to leave DiBella. Martinez refused. Some things are more important than quick money, and while few seem to understand that, especially in this sport, Martinez does.

He treats everyone with respect and kindness, including his opponents. As a professional athlete, and one who has a high profile in his home country, Martinez feels he has a responsibility to be a good role model. He performs a lot of charity work, which includes anti-bullying campaigns for children. At the press conference for the upcoming fight with Cotto, Martinez even brought a young boy to the podium, Nico, and dedicated the fight to him and other bullying victims. He’s been involved with the “It Gets Better” movement for several years now, and often has some of the children he’s sponsoring from the program as special guests at his fights. In an era when so many sports stars are preoccupied with wealth and questionable choices not becoming of role models, Sergio stands apart—he is, again, unusual, a standout.

Maravilla is not unbeatable. No one is. But in an age where politics, underhandedness, and selfishness rule the day, a fighter like Sergio Martinez is like a breath of fresh air. As a man, he’s the same as he is in the ring: he refuses to hold, or run, or give in. He gives it all he has and, perhaps most importantly, makes those of watching feel like we can rise higher and achieve more.

Follow Caryn A. Tate on Twitter@https://twitter.com/carynatate

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  1. Pete The Sneak 04:59am, 06/06/2014

    Tex, if as Caryn mentioned, Maravilla is 100% fit, healthy and ready to go, yeah, I see him giving Cotto all kinds of problems and may even end up stopping him…However, if there is even a semblance of the Sergio that fought Martin Murray in Argentina (remember, Sergio said he was 100% before that fight as well), then this fight may end up to be more interesting than what’s expected…Either way, the Garden will be rocking tomorrow night…Argentines/Boricuas, Lets get ready to rumble!...Peace.

  2. Tex Hassler 05:00pm, 06/05/2014

    I think Cotto is well past his prime and will be an easy fight for Martinez.
    Cotto does come to fight but this might be one fight too many for him.

  3. Koolz 03:51pm, 06/05/2014

    I hate to say it but I can see Cotto being Knocked out in this fight.

  4. Caryn A. Tate 08:35am, 06/05/2014

    Glad you enjoyed it, Pete! Totally understand your dilemma as far as who to root for, but yes, regardless I think we’re in for a great match. Have fun at MSG—wish I could be there in person!

  5. Pete The Sneak 06:21am, 06/05/2014

    Caryn, love this entire write up on Maravilla… Very nicely done…This will be a tough one for me, as of course my Boricua roots and heritage want to see my boy Cotto score a big upset at MSG. The crowd will be absolutely raucus and crazy, which I love…But on the other hand, I’m a big fan of Martinez, not only for his Boxing ability, but for his class, dignity and all around example of how an athlete/star should conduct himself, particulalrly in a sport (boxing) where dirt, treachery and pomposity abound. Sergio gets it! I will be at the Garden Saturday and I guess all I can sy is I hope it turns out to be a great fight….Peace.

  6. baratingas 10:29am, 06/04/2014

    Cotto and Martinez on their prime is a 50/50 chance for both of them, Cotto on his last fight is impressive like a young Cotto. Martinez on his last fight is not that good comparing to his old self. Unlike Mayweather who is the master of sweet science style of hit, run and hug, Martinez will have a hard time unless he learned how to clinch like leech. But in Latino community, hugging is not a macho thing in boxing….

  7. Caryn A. Tate 10:27am, 06/04/2014

    Frankie, I think Sergio has fully recovered from his injuries based on his doctors signing off on him returning, clean MRIs, etc. Saturday we should see a great fight!

  8. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 08:26am, 06/04/2014

    Caryn A. Tate-No doubt Sergio is ready….you can see it in his eyes….let’s hope he is able and not hampered by nagging injuries (see the Murray fight) because Cotto is the real deal (Froch should check with Miguel about what it means to be a battle hardened warrior) and while he may not be a saint he is a fighter through and through.

  9. Caryn A. Tate 08:13am, 06/04/2014

    Thanks Eric! You’ve given me a nice list of fighters to check out on YouTube :)

  10. Eric 08:04am, 06/04/2014

    Gotta love those Argentine fighters, such a rich tradition in boxing down there. Luis Firpo, Nicolino Locche, Gregorio Peralta, Carlos Monzon, Oscar Bonavena, Victor Galindez,  Juan Roldan, and let’s not forget Pedro Lovell aka “Spider Rico” in the Rocky movies. Lovell wasn’t a great fighter but he wasn’t too bad, could definitely punch, and as the legendary “is he still around” Spider Rico, he must be afforded a mention. Best place in the world to chew on a juicy steak too.

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