For many fighters, no matter how much they may have accomplished in their careers, the siren song of the boxing ring calls them back for years.
Many answer it. In recent years, we’ve seen fighters like Shane Mosley and Bernard Hopkins keep coming back, not to mention comeback bids by the likes of Ricky Hatton. Some don’t answer, of course — Andre Ward, Joe Calzaghe, Carl Froch, and Oscar De La Hoya have stayed out — but even they will generally admit that they got the itch at some point or another, usually more than just once.
Former middleweight champion Sergio “Maravilla” Martinez hasn’t fought since a sadly one-sided defeat at the hands of Miguel Cotto in June 2014 — six years to the day this past Sunday, in fact. A bad knee hobbled him and turned him into target practice for Cotto, who took the WBC title from the Argentine great that night at Madison Square Garden.
But Martinez, now 45, has heard the call to return for a while now. Talks of a boxing comeback have been out there since 2018, and he was planning once again to actually climb back into the ring just recently, before COVID-19 shut the sport down across the world, and he still plans to get back later this summer.
“I was supposed to come back on June 6,” he told Jessie Vargas on the latest edition of Peleamundo. “It was postponed because of the pandemic, but it’s like the football saying, ‘Just keep kicking the ball forward little by little.’ Just moving everything forward a little bit. I think that in two or three months, I’ll be fighting. That’s what I’ve been discussing with my manager, Miguel de Pablos. We are hoping to get a fight made in August or September, October at the latest.”
Martinez (51-3-2, 28 KO) had his rise up the rankings as a junior middleweight about 11 years ago — he was already in his mid-30s by then, and just hadn’t gotten the opportunities, didn’t have the big-time connections. Born in Argentina, he’d relocated to Spain, fighting in those countries and a couple of times in the United Kingdom before making his way to the United States in 2007, chasing the elusive big fights. He would eventually get them, and become a star.
His current plan is to fight in Spain, and though he says he’d love to return to the United States for a fight, he’s not getting ahead of himself.
“It’s been six years since I’ve been in the ring, so let’s go little by little. Obviously after six years, every opponent is dangerous, because I don’t know how I’m going to react when I get hit,” he said. “Well really, it’s been two years that I’ve been training, sparring and working hard. It’s not like I haven’t gotten hit since my last fight, I’ve been working hard for two years, but it’s one thing training and a whole other in a fight. Totally different, but I’m very confident.”
As for weight, he believes he can still make 160 pounds without much trouble, saying he’s currently around 177-178, even with the pandemic and just recently being able to return to the gym. Known for staying in shape, Martinez did tell Vargas that when taking a movie role, he was asked to put on weight, and bulked up to 220 pounds.
But the real question, of course, is the knee that hobbled him so badly against Cotto, and had impacted his performance in his previous bout, a controversial win in Buenos Aires against Martin Murray.
Martinez credits thermal baths, aka volcanic baths, with for leaving him pain-free these days.
“I went to a thermal bath, they completely removed the pain from a really bad knee injury I had,” he told Vargas. “I was limping, I was barely dragging myself the last few years, it was really bad. I was lying in bed unable to move, and I had to be on crutches when I got up trying to walk normally again, but I couldn’t. Until I went into the baths at 10 am. At 6 pm I got out of the different pools at different temperatures. So at 6 pm I was doing sprints, I was running.”
Martinez also isn’t delusional about his age.
“What does a 45-year-old man do? He grows his hair out like this, he wears tight pants, and he wears t-shirts of rock bands like Iron Maiden and the Ramones,” he joked. “I want to return to my youth. Youth already abandoned me, it left me a long time ago. I’m no longer young. But my body is responding really well. So I thought it would be a good opportunity to give my body and my life back to boxing.”
So who will he face? Vargas offered the idea of Marcos Maidana, who is again training for his own comeback and looking fit after having not fought since 2014. Maidana turns 37 in July. Martinez said he has deep respect for his countryman.
“I admire a lot of boxers. Anyone who was a champion, or who is a champion, I admire a lot because I know what it costs to get there. And with ‘Chino’ Maidana, knowing where he came from and everything he had to overcome, I admire him a lot,” he said. “More than what would happen in a fight between the two of us, just being in a ring with him alone would be a big honor. In 20, 30, 50 years, people will talk about that fight.”
And then there’s the man he defeated back in 2012 in a big Vegas fight, the same man he was rumored to be facing in a 2018 rematch: Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.
“I like that fight a lot. Actually, when I came back two years ago I went into the gym to train for six months and have one fight,” he said. “And I decided I would have a small fight here against an opponent without much of a name — that hits hard, but not too hard, that fights well, but not too well, that’s strong, but not too strong. An OK opponent.
“And then one night Chavez came out with a video and says, ‘Maravilla, I challenge you.’ I responded to his video, and I said, ‘I accept your challenge.’ That’s where it was all born. And of course, we were about to fight. We had a date, Nov. 17, 2018 at Mandalay Bay. We had the date and the contract.
“I went to Kiev, Ukraine, to the WBC convention to sign the contract. I went. And from his camp, his manager, his representative, his father, his mother, his uncle, his brother-in-law, his painter, the guy who cleans his pool, the cousin who lives in the woods — everyone was there but Junior. So I was just there, and I said, ‘Well, maybe it’ll happen, let’s see how it pans out.’ And the speculation started. Yes, no, yes, no, but it’s still a viable fight, it can easily happen. The thing is, I understand I’m 45 years old. I also can’t wait that long. I already have grey hairs, I have wrinkles, I’m going to be too embarrassed to be on TV.”
Martinez may be intent on the comeback, but he admits not knowing if it would be a one-off or something more — though he believes he’s got more than one fight left.
“Who knows? My idea, internally, that I don’t tell anyone, which is talking to me softly in my ear every day, is to train hard because there are a few fights left,” he said.
“Train hard. I have a little Sergio right here who’s always whispering in my ear, all the time. He says, ‘Go hard.’ And I train really hard. I have a lot of willpower, a lot of energy.
“But I’m conscious that, suppose I get in the ring in the next hypothetical fight of mine, with whatever opponent, Fighter X, and he hits me, and the punch hurts me more than I expected. I’m going to look at my corner and say, ‘Guys, I didn’t know this hurt so much, I didn’t remember.’ And that won’t happen, but if it happens, because you really never know. If it does happen, then I’ll say, ‘OK, people, thanks for letting me return, for supporting me and cheering for me, but this is where it ends.’ But to be honest, I think I have a few fights left in me.”
He’s also kept an eye on the game in recent years, saying Tyson Fury is his favorite of today’s fighters, and also noting his admiration for the skills of Vasiliy Lomachenko and Terence Crawford.
And of course, he took a trip down memory lane for perhaps his most famous moment in the ring, his sensational one-punch knockout of Paul Williams in their 2010 rematch back at Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall.
“It was an immense joy. For me to realize that — I’d been visualizing knocking him out with that punch,” Martinez said. “I was convinced, I was working on that shot for an entire year. I said, ‘This has to be the shot,’ because I made many mistakes in the first fight.
“Williams was a great fighter, too, a great champion. You couldn’t let your guard down because he’d hit you 20 times in a row. He was very heavy, over two meters tall. Very long, very tall, and he threw a lot of punches. And he was also very strong.”
Martinez said he had reviewed his major mistake in their first bout, which went to Williams via majority decision and saw both men dropped in the opening round of an absolute barnburner that was a shortlist candidate for the 2009 Fight of the Year.
“In the first round (of the first fight) I knocked him down with an uppercut, with a right hook as you’d call it in the USA. So I said, ‘If that shot knocked him down, I’m going to try it again. Because I want to send him to the canvas again.’
“So I was fixated for 12 rounds on connecting that shot again. But that hand wasn’t the key, it was the left. And I was throwing right hand after right hand. Whenever I could I’d finish with a right hand. And Williams wouldn’t go down.
“After losing the first fight, I watched it back and I said, ‘Ah, I see what I did wrong, I messed up. I’m going to throw the left. I’m going to work and get creative to distract him and then land the left from up top.’ And I caught him. I caught him, poor guy.”
As noted, it’s been a couple years now that Martinez has been talking about a comeback, and one has yet to materialize. Will it now? It’s hard to say. It certainly could, of course, but it’s just as easy to imagine this being another discussion that turns into no fight for the middle-aged middleweight.
If it does, is it a good idea? That’s another discussion. He says the knee is good, but even if the knee is somehow 100 percent again, six years is a long time to be out of boxing, particularly at the age of 45. Sugar Ray Leonard tried that sort of comeback in 1997, and was taken apart by Hector Camacho, six years after Terry Norris had made it clear that Leonard’s time was up.
If “Maravilla” fights again, of course we’ll be watching, but despite his enthusiasm and no matter what kind of shape he’s in, there’s a major risk that he simply doesn’t have it anymore once the bell rings for real.