Sergio Martinez and Paul Williams, two contemporary boxers actually worthy of the honorific “prizefighter,” meet for a second time when they face off at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City on Saturday night. Their last bout, in December 2009, was a tour de force of sophisticated violence. This fight, set at an arbitrary catchweight of 158 pounds, promises to be a repeat of their last pitiless encounter. Not even boxing, whose unofficial motto might as well be “Expect Nothing and Get It Every Time,” could keep these two apart for long.
There will be no shrinking violets in the ring on Saturday night. Martinez and Williams, who won a bitterly contested majority decision against Martinez last year, will claw and tear at each other for as long as they can, their only leashes the one-minute interval between rounds and the final bell, if, indeed, it ever sounds. Williams, 39-1 (27), applies the kind of pressure that can send opponents into TKOs or into therapy. His strategy is simple: advance behind a jab as long as a spinnaker pole, and throw thousands of lashing shots, of every variety, at his opponent. Only a few fighters have been able to stand up to his whirlwind attack, and Sergio Martinez, 45-2-2, is one of them.
Poised, quick-fisted, and shifty, Martinez will probably look to mix up his game more than he did the first time around. Martinez is faster, more athletic, and has the edge in footwork. He also appears to be slightly more versatile—able to box effectively and also shift gears occasionally to slug. By alternating between boxing and fighting, Martinez, 35, will look to create openings as Williams encroaches. Defensively, Williams has some glaring flaws, and seems particularly susceptible to right hands—hooks from southpaws like Carlos Quintana and Martinez, and crosses from orthodox fighters like Kermit Cintron, who kept Williams off-balance for a few rounds before tumbling out of the ring and into a technical decision loss last May. Williams, 29, will have to figure out a way to protect his left side a little more, or the whiplash rights Martinez landed in their first fight will reappear with redoubled frequency and, perhaps, force.
Although they traded knockdowns in the first round of their brawl last year, Martinez did not look particularly hurt throughout the fight. On the other hand, Williams looked unsteady at times absorbing hard right hooks from Martinez. In fact, there were moments when it looked like he might topple again. Still, he will have to bring the pain from the opening bell to keep Martinez, Oxnard, California by way of Buenos Aires, from getting into a rhythm. If Williams, normally a wire to wire firestorm, starts as slowly against Martinez as he did against Cintron, then he will likely fall behind early on points against a slick boxer. Despite his rip-roaring style, Williams, Augusta, Georgia, also lost most of the early rounds against Martinez in the first fight. The difference this time around will be that Martinez will be fresher by the time the late rounds arrive. This is something Williams does not want. A fatigued Martinez will see his technique unravel little by little and it is up to Williams to force him into a state of instinctive fighting. Last December, with the fight seemingly in the balance, it was a bloody Williams who took control in the 12th round to seal the victory.
Although they fought to a close–and brutal–decision last year, there are some differences to note in their rematch, factors that may or may not affect the outcome in Atlantic City. First, Martinez, who was a late substitute in 2009, will have a full training camp to make adjustments to his game plan. Similarly, Williams, although he had a full camp, was preparing to face an orthodox fighter in ponderous Kelly Pavlik and wound up fighting a fleet southpaw instead. He also had to labor under the handicap of a cut above his right eye. In addition, Randy Neumann, who could foul up a flea circus, will presumably not be there to, as usual, mar proceedings. Nor will Pierre Benoist be at ringside looking to take his misanthropy out on hardworking prizefighters.
It will be a tough assignment for both Martinez and Williams, and they deserve credit for agreeing to maul each other again like pit bulls in a fight some oddsmakers have tabbed a pick ‘em affair.
Given the fact that he will have a full camp this time around, Martinez ought to be able to make the adjustments necessary to squeak by via a tight, possibly split, decision over 12 tempestuous rounds.