(stellar photo of a bloodied Matthew Macklin and dispassionate Julie Lederman, boxing judge; via Sports Illustrated)
Probably should've anticipated fight night in New York City on St. Patrick's Day would've been like this, which is to say, not very fun due to a ton of jackasses in the crowd at Madison Square Garden's Theater. But despite my frequent half-joking proclamations of disdain for Irish culture (almost no good music; very few good writers; horrible dancing; terrible holiday; tasteless food; populizers of the pipe bomb; etc. [and as someone with a little Irish in his blood, I'm entitled to say these things]), the Irish were not to blame, for once. See, I'd wanted to introduce my girlfriend to live boxing, which is usually pretty spine-tingling, and I thought the "almost disturbingly handsome" Sergio Martinez and also-strapping Matthew Macklin would be gf-friendly -- but while any event with a big crowd is bound to have its share of boorish behavior, the sheer distracting volume of it Saturday was unlike anything I've seen at a boxing card or much of anywhere else.
I'll give you an example or two, all centered around the simple acts of sitting and standing. A black fellow -- perhaps Irish, but likely not -- bedecked in bow tie, sunglasses (a la Martinez' indoor-sunglass-wearing trainer Gabriel Sarmiento) and white shirt, decided for the first half of Martinez-Macklin to be the only person standing in the crowd throughout the entire affair. Now, fisticuffs have a way of bringing fans to their feet when something incredible happens. But after a while, when the incredible melds back into moments of inaction, most people sit back down and everyone gets to see the fight on relatively similar sightlines. Not this guy. Not even when people persistently shouted at him to sit down; he didn't even bother turning around, instead offering up the back of his middle finger. Eventually he was talked by security into returning to his seat, which led to a chant of "asshole" that you might even have heard on television.
The people in the row right in front of us were beyond fond of yelling at people to sit down, doing it anytime someone dared to stand up for any reason. They had a real zeal about it. It was a multicultural crew, not all-Irish by any stretch, and they were there primarily to support super middleweight Edwin Rodriguez; one of them explained that he played softball with Rodriguez' brother-in-law or something, a connection that made them all very proud. Finally, after berating everyone they could for almost the entire Rodriguez-Donovan George fight, they got their way and everyone sat down. The very next round, they began standing up for long stretches. It's one thing to lack the self-consciousness to know that something bothering you about someone else is something you shouldn't do to others. But when the gf instructed these fellows to return to their seats ("Sit the fuck down!" were her pithy directions) one of them had the temerity to yell back, "No, you stand up!" Full reversal of zeal, redirected in the complete opposite direction. I think there's a Radiohead song about this.
But here's the good news: The way Martinez dug himself out of that hole against Macklin, getting up from a trip-like 7th round knockdown that probably meant he was behind on the scorecards... to, afterward, looking something like the electric fighter he had become in 2010, got this verdict from her -- "exciting." And it is exciting, that live boxing. It's too bad it took so long for us to get there Saturday.
That segues nicely into one of the themes of the past weekend: It took a good long while for Martinez to turn on the electricity, didn't it? Why is that, one wonders? It'll be a version of Weekend Afterthoughts with fewer bullet points than usual, as it's Wednesday and I would've had this up sooner if I hadn't lost half the post Monday evening.
- Martinez' performance. Originally, I thought our middleweight champ looked a bit faded in there. After re-watching on television, I'm less convinced of that. Oh, he might be faded; he is, after all, 37. But he didn't looks much slower than usual or any such thing. More like it is this: I'm of the mind that Martinez' near-perfect stretch from the final third of the Kelly Pavlik fight to the Paul Williams rematch to the Serhiy Dzinziruk fight was a hot streak, one that was a bit out of character. From the first Williams fight to portions of the Pavlik fight to the Kermit Cintron bout and now with Darren Barker and Macklin, we have seen a fighter who disappears for stretches, either because of focus or stamina or whatever. Does that mean he's "overrated" or that he sucks or what have you? I dunno, you tell me: Who out there among active fighters has amassed a better resume than Martinez? It's a short list, isn't it? If you want to consider that an indictment of today's fighters, feel free, but it's a pretty passe thing to do; even going back to A.J. Liebling and perhaps before, boxing writers and fans were lamenting how crappy their generation of fighters was. That position is pretty similar to "Hey you damn kids, get off my lawn!" so I don't know why anyone thinks it's so hip to say. Martinez, even the uneven version we've seen so often, even the version hunting for single shots or whatever other sorts of flaws you can point to, is still awfully good.
- Next for Martinez. During that near-perfect stretch I mentioned, I thought Martinez at 154 pounds posed the gravest theoretical threat to Floyd Mayweather, Jr. With a size advantage, and comparable speed, and big power, he had the tools to beat Mayweather, perhaps, maybe, possibly. I've had no interest in them meeting at 150, though -- that's an easy fight for Mayweather, and it's interesting to me that he boasts about facing Miguel Cotto at 154 because he doesn't want to drain Cotto but has talked about fighting Martinez at a weight that would certainly drain him. The version of Martinez we've seen against Barker and Macklin -- that guy doesn't beat Mayweather. There are still fights to be had for Martinez, though. His team says they'd be interested in James Kirkland, and so would I. It would be great if HBO could get Gennady Golovkin and Dmitry Pirog's profile up in the United States to turn one of them into a bankable option for Martinez -- heck, Golovkin-Pirog sounds awfully fun to me. There's been talk of negotiating a fight with Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr., but I simply won't buy the possibility of that one until Martinez looks almost shot, no matter what kind of purse split Martinez gives up.
- The business of Martinez. Macklin accounted for the bulk of the tickets sold this weekend, but I was surprised by the volume of Argentinian fans in the crowd. After Martinez won, an actual mosh pit of 'em spilled out of MSG and into the streets, where their chants surpassed the volume of partying Irish people, which is saying something. Lou DiBella would be wise to stage future Martinez fights in New York City. This could be a start toward Martinez as a ticket seller, and that would be a good thing. It probably won't affect HBO's interest in Martinez, though, which is high regardless of what kind of ticket sales he does. I've read in a few places that Martinez doesn't do television ratings. It's simply not true. I don't know why it's so hard for some people to grasp that a fighter can do television ratings even if he doesn't sell tickets, but click that link for a number of examples that disproves a strict correlation.
- Other stuff. On the undercard in New York City, super middleweight Edwin Rodriguez looked considerably tighter with his technique than he has in a long, long time. It might've made the fight a touch more boring than hoped for, but it'll make him a more viable opponent for the guys at the top of the division. Donovan George had his moments against Rodriguez, and so, like Macklin, he retains his own viability as someone who deserves to return to television. As for other stuff on the undercard, "Irish Riviera" vs. "One-Armed Bandit" is one of the best nickname vs. nickname fights I've ever heard of, even if one of them is a nickname of the place one of the guys came from... Bantamweight prospect Randy Caballero looked decidedly average to me on ShoBox, especially considering his opponent Jose Luis Araiza, while spirited, was on a big losing streak. At least lightweight Omar Figueroa, Jr. provided some fireworks; he's a fun fighter. Meanwhile, ONE OF SHOWTIME'S CAMERAMEN AGAIN HIT A BOXER ON THE HEAD WITH HIS CAMERA. Stop, assholes. It's important to get the shot. It's not so important that you need to be interfering with the action.... After lightweight Antonio DeMarco dispensed with his stay-busy opponent this weekend, we're halfway to a rematch with Jorge Linares, after Linares does same. Goody goody... I'm fine with Ring keeping middleweight Grzegorz Proksa ranked in the top 10 coming off a relatively close loss; I had recommended eliminating him entirely, but I'm fine with not. However, if they do that, I think they have to rank Kerry Hope above him, and Hope isn't in the top 10 at all. Hope beat Proksa. Common sense dictates that he shouldn't be ranked below the man he just beat... For more, our men Patrick Connor, Karl Greenberg and Andrew Harrison covered a bunch of the weekend's action at hyperlinks provided within their names.