Martinez & Sarmiento Prepare for a St. Valentine’s Day Massacre
Story by Mariano A. Agmi
Photo by Emily Harney, www.Fightwireimages.com
Jr. middleweight Sergio Martinez reintroduced himself to American boxing fans in emphatic fashion on October 4, 2008, when the Argentine southpaw dominated Alex Bunema for eight rounds on HBO’s Boxing After Dark, causing the Congolese’s corner to stop the bludgeoning at the end of the round.
With the win, the 33-year-old Martinez captured the attention of the powers that be at HBO as well as the WBC interim title. On February 14, 2009, Martinez makes his return to Boxing After Dark when he faces former IBF welterweight champion Kermit “The Killer” Cintron at the Bank Atlantic Center in Sunrise, Fla.
Nothing seems to come easy for the fighter from Guadalajara, Spain by way of Buenos Aires, Argentina. “Maravilla” Martinez (43-1-1, 23 KOs) was originally scheduled to defend his interim title against undefeated “Mean” Joe Greene as the co-feature to the scintillating Berto-Collazo welterweight fight on January 17. When Greene pulled out due to suffering from kidney stones, WBA Jr. Middleweight champion Daniel Santos was given the assignment. However, Santos later declined the partial unification opportunity, citing issues making the required weight of 154-lbs despite over a month’s notice.
It seemed as though the long hours spent preparing through the holidays were in vain for Martinez, as the fighter was anxious to capitalize off his victory over Bunema with another impressive showing.
“I was down at first, but only for a few hours. I’m an optimistic person – I realize that throughout my career, everything happens for a reason and even the lows ultimately benefit me.”
Enter Kermit Cintron. In Cintron (30-2, 27 KOs), Martinez faces a physically strong former titlist with a marketable name and a powerful punch to match.
The bout is intriguing for many reasons. Not only does it pit the classic combination of boxer (Martinez) vs. puncher (Cintron), but the fighters also have a combined three loses between them, all to one man: Antonio Margarito.
Maravilla’s loss to Margarito came in 2000 when the southpaw fought outside his native Argentina for the first time after only 17 pro bouts. Martinez hopes that a spectacular performance against Kermit will compare favorably with Margarito’s recent dismantling of Cintron in April 2008 to merit him a rematch. “It’s taken 8 years for me to get to this point, but that fight will eventually happen. I think that if I fight Margarito today, I beat him. That’s why I want to beat Cintron impressively, so that everyone can compare my performance to Antonio’s performance against him.”
“The Tijuana Tornado” walked through Cintron’s best punches in last April to ultimately overwhelm the Killer, finishing Kermit with a brutal body shot in round 6 of their rematch (Margarito won the first encounter by 5th round TKO three years earlier).
However, Martinez does not plan on beating Kermit by walking through his arsenal in the manner Margarito did. Instead of using his face as his primary defense, Martinez believes that the key to this fight lies in using his boxing ability: “Cintron is strong and dangerous, but I think that his style compliments my style of boxing.” That style includes lots of feints, as Martinez often frustrates his opponents by avoiding most of the incoming while firing shots from all angles, usually while keeping his hands at his side.
This unorthodox style was on full display against Bunema, as Martinez avoided most of the African’s offense, knocking him down in round 3 and battering his opponent until the fight was waived off.
“Bunema ran over both [Roman] Karmazin and [Walter] Matthysse, but I couldn’t tell you how hard he hits, because I was only hit flush a few times in that fight.”
Gabriel Sarmiento, Sergio’s underrated trainer, has worked with Martinez since the latter arrived in Spain in 2002 with little more than a plane ticket and a few telephone numbers in his pockets. Sarmiento agrees that Cintron is at a stylistic disadvantage against his charge: “Kermit is a very strong fighter, he’s got a name, but honestly, I think there is a huge difference in speed, movement and technique between the two. Not only is Sergio going to be too fast for him, but Sergio is also the natural Jr. Middleweight.”
Indeed, Cintron is moving up from the Welterweight division for this title opportunity. The Puerto Rican puncher bounced back from his loss to Margarito by hiring trainer Ronnie Shields and outworking former WBA 140-lb titlist Lovemore N’dou in an off-TV bout last year.
Despite the change in trainers from Emmanuel Steward to Shields, Sarmiento does not believe that Cintron can change enough in two training camps to make a significant difference in this fight: “I’m sure Kermit’s improved, but if you look at the [Jessie] Feliciano and [David] Estrada fights, you can’t help but notice Cintron getting hit over and over again by a slow Feliciano. Also, if Estrada had more power, he would have knocked Cintron out with the shots he was landing.”
Cintron eventually landed enough of his own firepower to overwhelm both Feliciano and Estrada, but what was most telling about those bouts was that each fighter was able to frustrate and continuously land flush power shots against the 29-year-old.
Sarmiento foresees a worse fate for Cintron in this bout, primarily because Martinez will be a lot harder for Kermit to find than any of his previous opponents, and Sergio will make Kermit pay for his mistakes. For one, Cintron has not fought many southpaws. What makes Martinez most formidable is that he is an elusive, unorthodox southpaw with power of his own. Sarmiento explains: “I don’t think Kermit is going to be able to land heavy blows on Martinez the way he did against Margarito or Feliciano. Sergio is not a traditional, classic southpaw. He uses a lot of movement, switches stance, and is too fast for Cintron.”
There will also be psychological intangibles at play in this bout. In his two losses against Margarito and even in his win against Feliciano, it seemed as though Kermit became unraveled once he realized that his opponents were able to take his best punches and continued to pressure him. In Sergio Martinez, Cintron will face a mentally strong fighter who is used to getting inside his opponents’ head to frustrate them and eventually dominate them.
Which is exactly the fate that met Sergio’s last opponent: “Bunema ended up falling for all of my feints, and as soon as he completely covered up off a feint in the first round, I knew I had him. After I knocked him down in the third round, Alex ceded the entire ring for me to work.”
Sarmiento believes that the winning strategy against an offensive minded fighter such as Cintron consists of a blend of defense and intelligent aggression: “I am preparing Sergio to focus on defense while applying constant pressure. Pressure bothers Cintron the most, because he is a naturally offensive fighter.”
Martinez also noticed Cintron’s increased desperation in his bout against Margarito: “The thing about Margarito is not so much that he hits you. It’s about how much he can take. It affects you mentally. In my fight, I hit him over and over again and he kept coming. By the end of the fight, I was exhausted while he was mounting his offense.” Martinez believes that against offensive-minded fighters such as Margarito and Cintron, a fighter is better off throwing less punches but making them count: “You have to fight intelligently. You can’t just throw 100 punches to keep him off of you. You have to pick your shots so that you don’t run out of gas later, when he decides to attack you.”
Sarmiento is aware that an impressive win over Cintron will open up a number of doors for team Martinez: “If all goes well, I expect that Sergio will be regularly featured on HBO against the likes of Alfredo Angulo, Paul Williams and Kelly Pavlik.”
However, the fight Sarmiento wants most is one against Vernon Forrest for the full WBC championship: “I’m never one to say that we’re going to beat someone or knock someone out, but it is shameful how long Vernon Forrest has been avoiding us. We’re going to make him pay for all the lost time and we’re leaving him no choice but to fight us. We are the interim champions and if he doesn’t want to fight us, he has to give up the belt.”
As for Martinez, he believes that he has finally arrived and is eager to continue proving his worth by impressively defeating Kermit Cintron on February 14th. “I’m in my prime right now – this is my moment. Physically and mentally, I feel I’m at my peak and you will see it against Cintron.”
Martinez-Cintron is one of three featured bouts on HBO’s B.A.D. on February 14th, including arguably the best lightweight in the world, Nate Campbell, defending his IBF and WBO titles against mandatory challenger Ali Funeka of South Africa, and Alfredo Angulo testing his mettle against Nicaraguan bad boy Ricardo Mayorga.