by Charles Jay
You may think that when Sergio Martinez steps into the ring with Matthew Macklin on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden that it will be with the WBC middleweight title on the line.
But you would be wrong.
Oh sure, Martinez is a recognized champion by the World Boxing Council. But his belt is not of the “run-of-the-mill” variety. Apparently his is better, and much more expensive.
It’s got diamonds, among other things.
Martinez is officially known as the “Diamond Belt” middleweight champion for the WBC, and that belt will be on the line on Saturday.
In their ever-ongoing quest to squeeze every title out of every division, while refusing to admit that they are more of a marketing vehicle for promotions than anything else, the WBC has created a “Diamond Belt” that supposedly ranks over and above the “regular” world champion. There are Silver world champions, Youth world champions, and there would be “Super” world champions as well, except the WBA got the jump on that one.
The basic story is that the WBC put this into play in 2009, in response to the trend of fighters of “elite” stature growing bigger than the titles themselves and engaging in “catchweight” matches that didn’t need a title to sell themselves.
The belt itself, as it has been written, is 18-karat gold and fusion, with 861 diamonds, six rubies, 221 emeralds and 180 Swarovsky glass stones. In other reports, the numbers are different.
Do you think anyone is really counting?
They slapped a value of $50,000 on it and took the thing around on tour, if you can believe it. Well, it’s not quite the Honus Wagner baseball card, but…..
Eventually one of these belts got around to Sergio Martinez, just in time for him to make a title defense against Sergiy Dzinziruk last year.
Here is the way the WBC explained the existence of the belt and its purpose:
“There are no rules. This is not a championship which has to be defended. It doesn’t have the same obligations as the world champion. It is a tribute to the fight, to both fighters and the winner takes it without having to defend it. It has no rankings. It’s simply a fitting recognition of a brilliant career.”
In other words, it means both everything and nothing at the same time.
But take note of the last line: “It’s simply a fitting recognition of a brilliant career.”
If either Dzinziruk or Darren Barker had won it, or if Macklin did so this weekend, do they really qualify for a Diamond Belt, given the criteria?
And with all due respect to Martinez, why does he deserve it? Before he was given this belt, he had made exactly one (1) successful defense of a WBC junior middleweight title he had held and one (1) successful defense of his WBC middleweight crown. That hardly qualifies him for a lifetime achievement award, which is apparently the intention of the Diamond Belt.
Or should we say “ostensibly”? It may just be, and we speak facetiously here, that the real purpose of giving Martinez such a decoration was to push him out of the way, so that WBC president Jose Sulaiman could accommodate the offspring of an old favorite of his.
In December, Martinez blew up at a press conference. He had caught on by now. The WBC had patronized him with the Diamond version of the belt while opening things up for Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. to fight for its world title. HBO was considered to somewhat complicit, because it had refused to televise a Martinez-Sebastian Zbik fight, causing Martinez to vacate, then later aired a fight with Chavez and Zbik, then Chavez’s defense against Marco Antonio Rubio.
And a fight he says the WBC had promised against Chavez, which would represent a big payday, was not delivered.
He kissed and made up with HBO, which will televise Saturday’s fight. As for the WBC, to say he has not warmed up to the Diamond Belt would be an understatement. In fact, he had disavowed himself from the organization and its belt.
In fact, Martinez has indicated that this fight is for the REAL WBC title, because Chavez never won it in the ring; they just handed it to him. He says the WBC “guaranteed to me that this is for the full title,” although the organization has had plenty of time to go back on that pledge. Otherwise, he will fight for a belt owned by a magazine that is controlled by a boxing promoter.
Winning and losing it in the ring certainly makes a lot of sense. And no one would argue that Martinez isn’t sincere. But like all fighters in recent years, he’s willing to benefit from some very strange rules when they are presented to him, so he’s got no choice but to take the bad with the good.
As far as the WBC is concerned, this is Diamond territory on Saturday. In Article 3,,paragraph 21 of their championship rules, they state “The Diamond Champion may be permitted to voluntarily defend the title; however, the Diamond Championship may not be won by a challenger unless a special sanction is granted by the WBC in its sole discretion.”
So if Macklin pulled an upset Saturday, would he win or not? Could the rug be pulled out from under him, as part of some backroom deal that eventually puts Martinez with Chavez?
And how “voluntarily” is this defense for Martinez, given his sentiments? He is not exactly an “Ambassador of Good Will on behalf of the WBC,” as the “Champion Emeritus” is described.
Oh, we’re sorry; did you say that was another WBC belt category entirely?
Whatever. Since belts don’t mean all that much to “elite” fighters (creating a paradox for Sulaiman with his “Diamond” version), why would the WBC’s belt mean all that much to Martinez anyway?
Well, there’s an answer for that. It’s because despite being rated by some people as the #3 pound-for-pound fighter in the world, behind only Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, Martinez is quite distant from them when it comes to marketability. He is still at that point where a championship belt provides a considerable amount of validation.
Lou DiBella, his promoter, recognized that when he told the New York Daily News: “There’s no diamond belt. The diamond belt is not giving him the protection of getting him (big fights).”
In other words, no belt, no big bucks.