Sergio Martinez got the job done, but just barely. On a rainy night in Buenos Aries, the middleweight champion escaped a strong challenge from Martin Murray, surviving a trip to the canvas and a cut over his left eye to win by scores of 115-112 across the board. Martinez, fighting in front of his home fans–an estimated 40,000 strong gathered at the Club Atlético Vélez Sarsfield–for the first time in more than a decade, reportedly also suffered a broken left hand in gaining the decision over the sturdy Englishman.
With a hands-down approach and a style that relies on speed and timing–attributes more suited to a younger man’s game–there was always going to be a fight when Martinez, now 38 years old, would no longer have the goods. Time appeared to be creeping up on the Argentinean star in less than spectacular outings against Murray’s countrymen, Darren Barker and Matthew Macklin, but power proved decisive on those occasions. Last night, perhaps due to the inevitable decline that comes with approaching middle age, Martinez was never able to find that dynamic next gear: the flashy southpaw looked flat and vulnerable through much of the contest.
Murray, a 6-to-1 outsider, was always second best in panache, yet his gloves-up, straight forward style proved a difficult barrier for Martinez to break. The title holder used a rising jab to probe early on, occasionally scoring with left hands downstairs, but even with his chin unprotected, Martinez couldn’t goad Murray into opening up, as the 30-year-old stuck to a disciplined early game plan.
The challenger got his offense going in the third, catching Martinez with a meaty right hand near the ropes, the best punch from either man to that point. More right hands would come, with Murray scoring downstairs as well, though he strayed too low with a right in the following round, catching Martinez, Quilmes, Buenos Aires, below the belt. It was one of several chippy incidents on the night, with the fighters clashing heads multiple times, and Murray whacking Martinez on the jaw with his shoulder later on. It was all part of a busy night for referee Massimo Barrovecchio, whose duties also included adjusting the champion’s sagging trunks in the late going, preventing a potentially embarrassing wardrobe malfunction.
Open scoring after the fourth round revealed tallies of 40-36, and 39-37 twice in favor of Martinez, which brought about a more fervent attack from Murray in the fifth. Aggression from his foe, something Martinez had been trying to draw out earlier, proved surprisingly less to his favor, with Murray scoring with right hands, and the crowd favorite failing to do damage when he did find the mark with counter lefts. Growing in confidence, Murray, St Helens, Merseyside, United Kingdom, kept forcing the issue, and as the fight moved through the middle rounds, the favorite’s superiority became more and more in question.
The eighth round saw Martinez touching down near the ropes, after Murray scored with a right hand. It wasn’t a particularly damaging blow, but it was a clean knockdown, and came only a few moments after Murray, 25-1-1 (11), had found the mark with a left hook, and another right hand. When the official totals were revealed, Martinez was barely clinging to leads of 77-74, and 76-75 twice – scores that were arguably generous to the champion.
With the fight slipping away, Martinez switched things up in the ninth. Perhaps due to the injured left hand, he passed up on attempts to be spectacular. Rarely planting his feet, Martinez, 51-2-2 (28), used plenty of movement, getting in and out quickly, and evading, for the most part, Murray’s harder swings.
The fight nearly took another dramatic turn in the tenth, when Martinez found himself on the canvas yet again. Backing away from Murray’s pressure along the ropes, Martinez just failed to duck under a right hand, with a glancing blow catching him just behind the ear. It was immediately called a slip by Barrovecchio, and though (according to the HBO commentators)instant replay was in use for the bout, the referee’s ruling stood.
Martinez had his boxing shoes on to earn the eleventh, playing keep-away along the perimeter. Murray tried to come on strong in the final session, but got a little wild in his attack, and looked winded down the stretch as Martinez turned on the style, smacking home 1-2’s, and showboating for the appreciative home crowd. It wasn’t the spectacular homecoming many had paid to see, but it was a solid contest, with the outcome very much in doubt until the final bell.
With Martinez suffering from a variety of aches and pains, a potential rematch later in the year against Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. will have to wait. According to reports, the fighter’s surgically repaired knee is not 100%, and his left hand will need time to mend as well. Perhaps Martin Murray, his stock never higher, could step in? He came up a little short tonight, but just might have earned another crack at glory.