Can Williams-Martinez II live up to expectations?
Fight fans have every reason to expect another wonderful slugfest when world middleweight champion Sergio Martinez meets Paul Williams in a rematch on Saturday in Atlantic City, N.J. Their first fight, won by Williams on a close decision, was one of the best fights of 2009.
No one should be surprised, though, if it turns out to be a dud. There’s a long history of rematches to great fights failing to live up to expectations, and there are as many reasons for that as there are fighters.
“Well, guys make adjustments,” long-time Texas-based manager Bob Spagnola told RingTV.com.
“I think this rematch is a particularly solid fight because of the styles and because Martinez has really grown into a middleweight. What he did [in the first fight] was put Paul Williams in a different position than he was used to and countered him,” Spagnola said. “But fighters make adjustments.”
That’s logical. A great fight by definition is one that’s hard on both guys. Afterward, they go back to camp, see what made it so hard and change things up.
Think Ray Leonard-Roberto Duran II, when Leonard decided to box rather than fight Duran’s fight the way he did in Montreal. The result? “No mas.”
Think also of the sequel to the first Arturo Gatti-Micky Ward match, won by Gatti by a comfortable decision in Atlantic City. What was the difference between the first fight and the second? Gatti boxed and he moved, especially to his left. That took Ward’s best punch, his left hook to the body, out of the fight.
Even Ali-Frazier II was anti-climactic, mostly because Ali spent more time clinching than he did in their first fight and not so much lying on the ropes letting Frazier pummel him.
Jose Luis Castillo made what many believe was a critical adjustment when he chose not to get all the way down to 135 pounds for his rematch with Diego Corrales. Corrales won the first fight with an electrifying comeback that ended THE RING’s Fight of the Year in 2005. Many believe the strength Castillo saved not sweating off those last pounds made the difference.
Sometimes the passing years make adjustments for you. Joe Louis’ 13th-round knockout of Billy Conn in 1941 was an instant classic. Before they could meet again, World War II started. They both served. After the war, they were quickly matched again. Neither had much left, and Louis stopped Conn in the eighth round of a snoozer in June 1946.
“It was a stinker. I was out for four years, couldn’t fight no more,” Conn said years later. “That was a bad fight. I was just out too long. That was the end.”
The same could have been said about Meldrick Taylor when Don King finally got around to giving him another shot at Julio Cesar Chavez. Their first fight, won by Chavez in the final seconds, was THE RING’s Fight of the Year in 1990. Four years later, both had slipped, but Taylor was entirely shot and Chavez stopped him in eight rounds.
Neither Williams nor Martinez has been off for any appreciable time by today’s standards, nor have they taken any bad beatings. Since their first meeting, Martinez bloodied and out-pointed Kelly Pavlik, and Williams won a technical decision over Kermit Cintron. That’s good news.
It’s encouraging too that both are apparently healthy, determined to move forward with their careers and not anywhere close to retiring. That wasn’t the case for Buddy McGirt when he fought a highly-anticipated rematch against Pernell Whitaker in 1994. McGirt had lost a close decision to Whitaker the year before.
“I was ready to get out of the game,” McGirt told me recently. “I was ready to retire. That made him look better. I fought a much less tactical fight. I just went after him.” It didn’t help McGirt either that he was hampered by a bad rotator cuff.
McGirt said that many times fighters go into a rematch with a different sense for what their opponent can do.
“Sometimes the respect level is different,” McGirt said. “Both guys were down in that first fight. How will Paul Williams handle that? Martinez put him in a position that he was never in before. Martinez was really fighting back. He fought a hell of a fight. Paul Williams will have a different level of respect for him now.”
That means we could see Williams laying back and trying to outbox Martinez, instead of rushing in, missing and eating Martinez’s counter left hands. That certainly would produce a different and not altogether compelling fight compared to the first one, which was memorable for its mayhem and wild exchanges.
There’s this, too: Mentally, will Martinez and Williams be willing to go through what they went through in the first fight? Brutal fights can leave deep memories a fighter may not want to revisit.
In September 1952, Jersey Joe Walcott and Rocky Marciano went to hell and back until Marciano knocked Walcott dead in the 13th round to win the world heavyweight title. It was THE RING’s Fight of the Year. In the rematch eight months later, Marciano hit Walcott with an uppercut in the first round, scoring what the writer A.J. Liebling called a “sit down and think it over” knockdown. Walcott took the full count from a sitting position, seemingly fully aware of what was happening.
Two years later, former champion Ezzard Charles gave Marciano his toughest fight to date, dropping a close 15-round decision about which Sports Illustrated observed, “ÔÇª never in modern times had a 15-round fight for the heavyweight championship of the world been more dramatic.”
About the rematch that occurred three months later, Budd Schulberg wrote, “(Marciano) won as he pleased in an eight-round anticlimax to the show of courage this pair put on in the same Yankee Stadium before a larger audience in June.” Charles was in it until a right hand under the heart in the second round seemed to take all the fight out of him.
Williams and Martinez do not seem the type to shy away from another war. A more tactical fight, however, seems a distinct possibility. Let’s hope against it.
Some random observations from last week:
Was surprised to hear Jim Lampley and Emanuel Steward assert during the early rounds of Manny Pacquaio’s bludgeoning of Antonio Margarito that when a fighter has to punch up, as Pacquaio did, he loses power. I imagine that was what Margarito was thinking when he felt his orbital bone crack under one of Pacquiao’s left hands. “Ay, caramba! Good thing he was punching up, or that would have hurt!” ÔÇª
I enjoy and revere Pacquaio as much as the next guy, but the Manny-worship is getting a little hysterical, don’t you think? I mean what’s next, Bob Arum saying Manny is the greatest fighter ever and reporters buying it? ÔÇª
Pacquaio is a brilliant specimen and fighter. But the idea that what makes him so special is his ability to outfight bigger, heavier guys like Margarito is a sham that plays on the erroneous and stubborn belief that greater size alone confers an automatic advantage. That’s schoolyard nonsense. If that were the case, Mickey Walker would be the greatest fighter who ever lived.
Pacquiao’s speed will always give him an advantage over bigger, heavier, slower guys. It’s the small, fast guys — Juan Manuel Marquez, and, yes, Floyd Mayweather — who present the real danger. …
You have to hand it to Teddy Atlas. He’s not afraid to go way out on a limb all by himself and predict the upset, as he did when he said Margarito would knock Pacquiao out. Good for him. ÔÇª
I still don’t know what to make of Margarito’s wife standing and cheering while her husband was getting his head handed to him, though she turned dutifully glum on realizing she was on camera. Maybe it was payback for that scene in 24/7 when Margarito’s butt-burp made her gag and flee the area. ÔÇª
Good for Margarito for staying the full distance, and good for Garcia and even — ugh, it hurts to write it — Laurence Cole for letting him. Some things are more important than bumps or bruises or broken bones. ÔÇª
If Mike Jones never gets any better than he was against Jesus Soto-Karass Saturday night, so be it. If he does, he’ll have that fight to thank for it. ÔÇª
I realize Audley Harrison is no Wladimir Klitschko, but if Haye can land a couple right hands like the ones he landed here,
they might need a Wet/Dry Vac to get Wlad out of the ring. ÔÇª
The next episode of Ring Theory, which will go up later this week, will feature Showtime Championship Boxing analyst and broadcaster extraordinaire Al Bernstein. You don’t want to miss it.
Bill Dettloff, THE RING magazine’s Senior Writer, is working on a biography of Ezzard Charles. Bill can be contacted at [email protected]