Sergio Martinez caught the boxing world’s attention late last year when he nearly mugged NABO welterweight champion, Paul Williams, in a twelve-round instant classic. His gritty performance, clever counterpunching and total grace in defeat overshadowed Martinez’s inability to commune with his newfound fans in the post fight ring interview.

Most didnt give Martinez a shot against the Punisher. Paul was considered too strong and too busy for Martinez. In the first round things looked bad. Martinez went down awkwardly from a looping Williams left. But he got it together, took his time and found his range. Lightning struck. The Argentine walloped Williams with a stupid left that sent the Punisher across the ropes. Game on! Martinez would lose a close one (lets give Paul his due and say tie goes to the local guy) but he had earned his breakthrough moment.

I spoke to Martinez not long after the fight. He had just arrived back to the U.S. from visiting friends and family in Spain and Argentina. He bore no ill will toward the judges or Williams, and he seemed completely satisfied with his performance and confident about his future in the ring. What I learned about Martinez is that he gets it, and now more importantly, he gets the big fights. He faces middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik tonight at boardwalk Hall Atlantic City. Its unclear how well he will hold up to Pavlik’s straight rights. They say a good big man always beats a good little man. Martinez and Pavlik will test that hypothesis in what is surely one of the trickier fights of the year to call.

JJ: What have you been up to since your fight with Paul Williams?

SM: I was visiting family. It’s been eight years since I spent Christmas and the New Year with my mother and my brothers.

JJ: And where are they?

SM: They are in Argentina. In Spain I have my other house. I am living here in Oxnard where I spend more time but I have friends in Spain that I went to visit for the last fifteen to twenty days.

JJ: How’s Oxnard? (Laughter)

SM: The gym! Where I’m 100% focused on my training. There are a few places with beaches that I go to when I need to relax. There’s not a lot, but the little there is…is very pretty.

JJ: Tell me about your fight with Paul. Did you think you won?

SM: With Paul Williams I thought it was very close, and I thought a draw would have been fairer. I knew I was going to be dealing with being the visitor and to win as the visitor I needed to do more in the fight.

JJ: How would you rate William’s skills?

SM: He’s a great boxer. I think this could have been his best fight. He showed he’s one of the greats. If not, he wouldn’t have been able to hang with me.

JJ: Would you like to fight him again?

SM: Yes, it would be great to fight again and leave no doubt…for him or for me.

JJ: What were you thinking when you knocked him down in the first?

SML When he got knocked down, well, I knew he wasn’t a machine. I knew I needed to stay busy and keep working because I knew I could knock him out.

JJ: Did it surprise you that you were able to hit him so easily?

SM: No, because in all of the fights that I saw he always got hit a lot. What surprised me was how well he recovered every time he got hit so hard.

JJ: What did you learn from that fight?

SM: The most important thing is that I’m at a high level and at any moment I can give another great performance against another great boxer.

JJ: Let’s talk about it. What are your upcoming plans…will it be Pavlik?

SM: Yes. It’s already set. It’ll be in Atlantic City.

JJ: Let’s talk honestly about that fight. He is taller and weighs more. What’s your strategy?

SM: I’m always going to trust my style because it’s the one that has taken me this far. I’ll have to be well prepared as always, but to be at that level, I will have to do more. Like for example with the Williams fight I was well-trained – actually extremely well-trained – so for Pavlik it will be the same. It’s going to be a tough fight. A tough fight for me and a very tough fight for him. More than anything if the two give the best that each can give, Pavlik with his strength and me with my speed and technique, it will be a great show.

JJ: What do you weigh now?

SM: 175. I’m trying to gain a little more.

JJ: Is that all red wine from Spain?

SM: No. I have never tasted alcohol! It’s exercise and weight training. I know it’s going to be a lot of work between now and the fight.

JJ: What has been your toughest fight to date?

SM: Paul Williams

JJ: You fought Antonio Margarito and you know the story. Do you think they should license him to fight again?

SM: It’s a tough one. I’m not really up to speed on that one. I think we can only ask for justice. They have to really analyze the case and decide what is best and come to a decision that is fair to Margarito, but that is fair to others too.

JJ: In all of your fights who would you say has hit you the hardest?

SM: One of my first fights in England in 2003…a guy named Richard Williams.

JJ: If you could fight with anyone from the past who would it be?

SM: That’s a tough one. It would probably have to be one of the greats. Marvin Hagler. Sugar Ray Leonard. Thomas Hearns. It would have to be one of those three. They would be hard fights, but it would also have been an honor.

JJ: Why did you become a boxer?

SM: I was a soccer player and I decided to switch. Soon after I discovered with boxing that I would have to be self-sufficient. I always had a lot of confidence in myself. I liked boxing because I could do big things on my own.

JJ: What food can’t you stay away from during training?

SM: Meats and typical Argentinean ‘asados.’

JJ: Do you have kids are you married?

SM: Single, no kids.

JJ: Are you watching the Super 6?

SM: I’ve recorded them all.

JJ: Who wins?

SM: Arthur Abraham has the hardest punch. But technically, I like Dirrell and Ward the best.

JJ: Floyd Mosley?

SM: I say Mayweather. He’s faster.

JJ: Floyd/Pacquiao?

SM Also Floyd. I think he’s the best fighter in these times.

JJ Are you learning English?

SM: Yes, a little. In my free time Im trying to learn and read books.

JJ: Thanks Sergio. I wish you the best

SM: Thank you