Sergio Martinez, and the Case of the Vanishing Belts

By Jason Peck: Sergio Martinez had barely been crowned as middleweight champion before his belts were taken away. First came the WBO middleweight title, declared vacant and later won by the underrated Russian Dmitry Pirog. Soon afterward, Martinez’s WBC title was stripped as well and given to interim title-holder Sebastian Zbik. And of course, fans cry foul at the injustice Martinez must suffer.

Fair’s fair, and theoretically I have no problem stripping a champion who neglects his mandatories their rightful title shot. In this case, I hesitate. It wasn’t Martinez who spent years avoiding Sebastian Zbik, it was Kelly Pavlik. And I can’t help but get the feeling that Martinez would still be holding the belts if he was nearly as popular as Pavlik. And that’s my biggest problem with the alphabets – they take a hard line, but if the money’s right and the fighter is famous enough – they’ll bend the rules a little bit.

Granted, much of Pavlik’s inactivity stemmed from his MRSA infection, a deadly staph mutation that is legitimately life-threatening. One could argue that Pavlik simply wasn’t stripped because it wasn’t his fault for not fighting.

But…you can’t argue that, actually. Fight fans remember that the late Arturo Gatti held the WBC light welterweight title for little more than a year before losing it to Floyd Mayweather. The REASON Gatti held that title is because the WBC stripped Kostya Tszyu for failing to defend it due to injuries Tszyu had sustained. Undoubtedly the injuries weren’t Tszyu’s fault either, but it didn’t seem to count for much in his case.

That’s beside the point. The point is – I didn’t see Pavlik ever fighting these particular mandatories, and I didn’t see any sanctioning body punishing him for neglect. He was simply too profitable.

Consider Pavlik’s possible fights prior to the Martinez debacle. Zbik, Pirog and Daniel Jacobs weren’t even remotely in the discussions. No mandatory with a chance of giving Pavlik a hard time was on the list because they weren’t making enough money to matter. Even Martinez wasn’t a mandatory, and if Pavlik had beaten him, he would have fought Paul Williams, who wasn’t a mandatory either. I heard whispers of a possible fight with Sergio Mora, who likewise was not a mandatory. It’s easy to see any other fighter getting stripped for less.

Martinez has the makings of a superstar – good boxing skills, good looks and a very classy public persona. But remember Pavlik Mania back in 2007, when the pride of Youngstown knocked out Jermain Taylor to win the titles in the first place. Contrast that with the rather quiet, respectful acclaim Martinez won for schooling Pavlik three years later. You just can’t.

THE POINT IS…it’s unfair to Martinez that he must lose the titles. But then again, it would also be unfair to Zbik and Pirog if the titles were forever held in limbo by a champion who didn’t want to bother with them. So overall, it was unfair for the organizations to not treat Pavlik like everybody else in the first place.

Lest you think this is an endorsement for the Ring Magazine belt, it most certainly is not. If I dislike the alphabets for not enforcing mandatories hard enough, what do you suppose I think about a belt that doesn’t have mandatories to begin with? If Pavlik simply defended his Ring belt, he could have fought unworthy challenger like Miguel Angel Espino indefinitely and without the slightest pressure to fight a dangerous opponent.

In closing, I must commend Martinez for choice of next opponent. If all goes well, he’ll fight Serhiy Dzinziruk, a matchup that brings no real reward, but more risk than any other champion on a P4P list would take. I’m starting to like this guy.

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Boxing News Sergio Martinez, and the Case of the Vanishing Belts