The best and the worst in boxing will be on display at the MGM at Foxwoods Saturday night when middleweight champion Sergio Martinez faces former junior middleweight champion Sergiy Dzinziruk.
Martinez will be fighting not only for himself but also for 13-year-old Monique McClain, a seventh-grader from Woodrow Wilson Middle School in Middletown, Conn. whose story he became aware of once he reached Foxwoods. Learning that McClain had been forced to leave school in January as a result of incessant bullying by some classmates, Martinez not only agreed to visit with the young girl but to also, in a sense, fight for her.
According to the Middletown Press, the Middletown Board of Education has thus far refused to provide her with a tutor or transfer her to a different school district. Before the final press conference, Martinez invited McClain, her mother and her grandmother to lunch and then introduced them at the press conference, saying at one point he was once the victim of bullying growing up in Argentina himself.
According to the story, the bullying began when McClain showed up at school in September with her hair braided. That anyone should care how someone wears their hair is ridiculous which made it fitting that Martinez would fight for her cause because, well, it’s ridiculous that Martinez has himself been bullied into having to fight Dzinziruk one fight after having knocked out Paul Williams in spectacular fashion.
That one-punch demolition made Martinez an instant star and should have led him to the kind of follow up fight that might cement his name into the minds of the sport’s fans. But, the story goes, HBO had other ideas.
The network’s long-respected boxing franchise is in sad disarray these days, having lost Manny Pacquiao’s May 7 fight with Shane Mosley to SHOWTIME and having wasted multi-millions on boring fighters and bad matches. Forcing Martinez to fight the former junior middleweight champion is only the latest – and far from the worst – example of the cable giants inability to know a good fight from a bad one or who to promote and who to ignore.
Martinez was forced to give up the WBC title when HBO said it would only accept the unknown Dzinziruk as his next opponent even though he had a mandatory challenge he had to make to retain the WBC title against Sebastian Zbik. Why, you ask, might HBO take such a position when Martinez has the potential to become a star and Dzinziruk is the kind of defensive southpaw who doesn’t make good fights?
Business, that’s why. As part of a deal made with promoter Gary Shaw to bring them Timothy Bradley, HBO agreed to a deal that also guaranteed Dzinziruk a date on HBO and the decision was made that this would be the way to fulfill it.
Never mind that Dzinziruk had done nothing as a middleweight to deserve a title fight. Never mind that he is a southpaw and a defensive one to boot, and generally two southpaws make for ugly fights. Martinez deserved better after delivering one of HBO’s most spectacular recent moments by destroying Williams in a rematch.
Of course, maybe that was part of the problem too because Williams is one of many fighters managed by Al Haymon, a man who has developed an almost Svengali-like control of HBO’s boxing budget. Martinez only got a rematch because their first fight was rife with controversy and he ended both that and the myth of Williams’ skills with one crushing shot to the mandible. Al Haymon could not have been happy about that and the way HBO matched Martinez it wouldn’t appear it was either.
Dzinziruk’s style, to be kind, is unpleasant to watch and unlikely to make what HBO’s executives seem to care least about these days – a good fight. That is not to say he is without skills. He is in fact difficult to deal with. He’s also difficult to watch. So why would you force a potential bright young star to fight him?
The likelihood HBO Sports president Ross Greenberg or chief aid Kery Davis could identify Dzinziruk in a lineup of one is slim. The likelihood they ever sat at ringside and watched him fight even less so. Yet they would hear of no one else and so Martinez was bullied into a match most boxing people assume will not be enjoyable television.
That problem is compounded by the fact SHOWTIME has counter-programming on its pay-per-view arm with a fight that figures to be, if nothing else, a fight for as long as it lasts when Miguel Cotto squares off with mercurial but at least aggressive Ricardo Mayorga. Bad enough Martinez must overcome counter-programming but to have to do it against someone it will be most difficult to look good against just to pay off an HBO “debt’’ is another reminder of how boxing got itself marginalized.
Still, Martinez has acquitted himself well. He has praised Dzinziruk, insisting, “HBO got the best available opponent because he has the credentials. Nobody forced me to fight. I only want to fight the best.
“I’ve fought similar guys several times in Europe. The problem is no press in America know them. He will use all his intelligence against me and wait for me to make a mistake to counterpunch.’’
That, of course, is the problem. He waits and waits and waits. And while he’s waiting not much is happening and pretty soon fans are nodding off. Yet Martinez said none of that nor did he complain about being forced to give up the WBC title to earn a payday on HBO.
These titles may not mean anything to the people who write the checks (except when it’s advantageous to say they do) but they do mean something to fighters, who grew up dreaming of wearing one of their belts.
Technically he’s fighting for the “Diamond Belt’’ which is just another way for the WBC to get a sanction fee. He’s also still middleweight champion in the minds of anyone who knows anything about this.
But he also was the victim of a bully, just like little Monique McClain. Maybe that’s why Martinez made a public service announcement against bullying which is on YouTube and made the young girl his ringside guest.
She’ll be there tonight watching the 2010 Fighter of the Year and the author of the Knockout of the Year in a fight he was, in a way, bullied into business considerations beyond his control. Martinez lost the title belt he’d earned and didn’t get the type of opponent he deserved but there’s a lesson for Monique here too because there he’ll be. Doing what she’s been forced to do as well.
Fighting back against forces attacking him for no real reason.