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Sergio Martinez & the Boxing Upsets: The Theater of the Unexpected

By Mike Plunkett

The recent upsets of undefeated Canadian knockout artist David Lemieux and James Kirkland, an American head-hunter, serve to remind us how great boxing can be and why it is so often different from mainstream sports. Both Lemieux and Kirkland were feared knockout artists that had made a name for themselves decimating B and C-class opposition over the last few years.

In the case of Lemieux many feel it was a long time coming. He is considered smallish for the middleweight division and the vast majority of his opposition was essentially pumped-up naturally smaller, limited fighters well beyond their best fighting days. When he stepped-up to face the well travelled Marco Antonio Rubio in their recent WBC middleweight eliminator he was in actuality facing an underrated fringe contender that had been prematurely written off. At 49-5-1, 42 KO’s, it was clear that Rubio could hit. Two years ago then middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik systematically stopped Rubio over nine rounds, so the expectation that Lemieux was going to end matters with a sudden flash, the way he stopped Hector Camacho JR some months ago, simply wasn’t realistic. That Rubio managed to turn the tide on Lemieux in the 5th round is indeed telling; the Canadian typically ended matters in his favor and hit the showers before the end of the 4th round, so Rubio took him into unknown territory before accelerating his attack, thus taking his undefeated 25-0, 24 KO’s record.

The case of James Kirkland is an interesting one. In Kirkland you have a fighter that had beaten some credible opposition. His all-out aggressive style quickly made him a fighter to watch and a fan favorite. Up until the moment where it all suddenly came apart, Kirkland was a glossy 27-0, 24 KO’s, but there is more at play than meets the eye. Kirkland had long been touted as this devastating power puncher destined to clash for a title before too long, but along the way poor judgment undermined his undeniable career momentum. In 2003 Kirkland was arrested and convicted for his part in an armed robbery, stalling his early career. In April 2009, Kirkland, who was already on probation, was stopped by police near his home in Austin, Texas. During the traffic stop, police discovered he was in possession of a firearm. That incident put the ‘Mandingo Warrior’ behind bars for two years, interrupting undeniable career momentum and perhaps taking something away from him in the process. After his release from prison last year, Kirkland suffered another interruption last fall that again put his career in jeopardy. In the final stages of training for his first return match Kirkland mistimed a call to his probation officer on his agenda to step out of the gym on an errand. That miscalculation caused a minor tremor relative to his release mandate, casting a dim view on a man that needed to badly make the most of his time, thus his return bout was put off until March 2011. Two quick return showings of little merit against invisible foes led to his date with ring destiny at the fists of the overlooked Nobuhiro Ishida.

Standing 6’1, the lanky Ishida boasted a 22-6-2, 7 KO’s. On paper it looked as though he had nothing in his mitts and somewhat too fragile for the likes of the aggressive southpaw KO artist that was Kirkland. Lost in that translation was the fact that the Japanese fighter was himself a former world champion, the former interim WBA World light middleweight titlist; a fighter that had in the past dug in deep to grit it out. As the sound of the first bell faded off into history Kirkland stormed Ishida looking to force the action, moving directly into his power. Three knockdowns later Kirkland’s undefeated record was gone. Nobody was more shocked at the stoppage than Kirkland himself, but the loss serves as a stark reminder that numbers on paper do not tell the whole story.

These two recent shocking upsets really aren’t all that shocking once hindsight kicks-in and brushes away the gloss. There are reasons why upsets happen and for the most part they serve as a correction of sorts for the sport; a reminder that at its very best the unseen intangibles often play a decisive role in the outcome of a given contest, regardless of the odds. For the sake of celebrating the occurrence of the upset, I’ve listed three additional recent upsets that shook up the sport. They serve as stark reminders as to what HBO’s Larry Merchant once so aptly uttered; boxing is the theatre of the unexpected.

Abner Mares WS12 Vic Darchinyan – December 12th, 2010

It looked like it would be a short night when Vic Darchinyan dropped Abner Mares early in the 2nd round of their recent bantamweight tourney title fight for the IBO/WBC Silver bantamweight title. But looks can be deceiving. Mares switched gears and made it a long and grueling affair, returning the favor in the 7th by dropping Darchinyan. Mares won a split decision and the opportunity to fight for the overall championship in the tourney against IBF champion Joseph Agbeko.

Jean Pascal TD11 Chad Dawson – August 14th, 2010

The IBO/WBC and Ring Magazine light heavyweight titles were on the table. Jean Pascal had been the WBC champ for just over a year and was coming off and extended layoff due to a shoulder injury. Chad Dawson was a heavy favorite and ranked among the pound per pound best; the IBO champ was undefeated and favored to stylistically bamboozle the intent Canadian the way he had all of his opponents since climbing to the top of the 175 ranks years earlier against the all-purpose tough Tomasz Adamek. Surprisingly, as fired-up and intent to win as was Pascal, Dawson was tentative. Throughout the first eight rounds Pascal outhustled Dawson. Behind on the cards Dawson accelerated late, rocking Pascal to his foundation before an accidental headbutt abbreviated the event, taking matters to the scorecards. Jean Pacsal took a technical win, Dawson’s undefeated record and status as one of the sport’s elite performers, along the way earning himself a major payday with Bernard Hopkins, a bout that has generated in the present, a much followed rivalry and upcoming lucrative rematch scheduled for May 21st.

Sergio Martinez KO2 Paul Williams – November 20th, 2010

So good was the December 2009 war between these two that the rematch was an automatic reflex. So close was that battle one could make a solid case against the official verdict that saw Williams take a close 12-round split verdict. You could easily make a case that Martinez deserved the win or that a draw was in order. It was that close and it was that exciting. By the time these two met in the rematch Sergio Martinez was the WBC middleweight champion having won the title over Kelly Pavlik seven months previously. Heading into it Paul Williams was tipped by many as a marginal favorite. He was supposed to be the guy everybody wanted no part of; tall, talented and hungry as all get all. And his penchant for tear-up and spotty defense made him the all-purpose warrior. The rematch started much like the first bout with both men exchanging punches at close quarters. In the 2nd round the champion caught Williams with a perfectly timed left hook that was so devastating the challenger was left on the canvas for five minutes. The favorite going into the bout has yet to return to active ring duty, his future and what remains of his peak, uncertain. As for “Maravilla” Martinez, the sky is the limit for the reigning World middleweight champion.

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