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His Comeback Checked Closely

Boxing: Marshall Martinez, who might have been a millionaire after Sydney, fights for $3,500 tonight.

September 13, 2002|LANCE PUGMIRE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Marshall Martinez, the sure-fire Olympic medalist who wasn't, insists he's sincere and disciplined about wanting to become a world champion.

One way he can prove it, he said, is to finally come clean about the circumstances that contributed to his resignation from the 2000 U.S. boxing team.

"When I was with the team, I did a petty crime and wrote checks that weren't mine for no more than $200--for pizza and a pair of shoes," Martinez said. "I didn't take the checks. I don't know who they belonged to. But to whoever it was, I would like to tell them I'm sorry. I was young. I made a mistake. And now I have to eat that up."

Martinez, 21, is deemed one of the brightest prospects in promoter Bob Arum's Top Rank stable of fighters. With a 6-0 record and four knockouts, the Ontario fighter will meet Tijuana's Luis Arceo (8-0, five KOs) tonight in a six-round lightweight bout at Mandalay Bay scheduled to be on ESPN2.

"This fight is the one that will put me back on the map," Martinez said.

His previous disappearance from national attention came in the days after USA Boxing officials announced at the America's Qualifying event in Tampa, Fla., that Martinez, the country's 132-pound Olympic qualifier, had left the team to turn professional.

The obvious question--why?--has lingered without a straight answer from Martinez. Former team spokeswoman Shilpa Bakre said recently, "I believe we phrased it as a code-of-conduct violation." Gary Toney, the president of USA Boxing during the Sydney Games, acknowledged, "It was a touchy situation. He was given options and he chose to resign."

Officials acknowledged a box of checks was stolen from an athlete's mailbox at U.S. Olympic Committee training headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colo., and that an employee at a Tampa mall's shoe store identified Martinez as the person who had written a check for merchandise.

Toney and former U.S. boxing coach Tom Mustin described Martinez's departure as "tragic."

"Marshall Martinez, in my personal opinion, would have won a medal in Sydney," Toney said. "He was a very good boxer who was hard to hit, tough and punched very hard. The medal he would have won would have certainly enhanced his professional career."

Said Mustin: "We were looking for gold from Marshall."

The U.S. team won only two medals, silvers by 125-pound Ricardo Juarez and 139-pound Ricardo Williams. Martinez's replacement, David Jackson, failed to make weight in his second-round match.

Cameron Dunkin, the Top Rank manager who signed Martinez upon his Olympic departure to a two-year contract that paid a $50,000 bonus and $5,000 monthly salary, said Martinez probably would have gained a $1.5-million bonus comparable to Juarez's had he remained an Olympian.

"Marshall was being described by boxing people as sensational, as good as anyone coming from the Olympic team because of the fact he was so tough and punched like crazy," Dunkin said. "I took him to the [Fernando] Vargas-[Ike] Quartey fight, and guys are yelling, 'Marshall!' Girls are hugging him. The fans love his shaved head, the gangster/street look--toughness attracts. I told him, 'If you just act right for three years, you'll be rich.' "

It was too much to ask. Martinez's two-year contract has expired. He'll be paid according to the Top Rank schedule for a six-round bout tonight: $3,500.

In his first pro bout, he broke his nose in the first round, surviving to win by decision but suffering through an extended injury layoff followed by a surgery to repair damage suffered in training.

Down time and Martinez were a bad combination. He said he ignored advice from his mother, Margie Carmona, about staying fit. Dunkin said Martinez frequently skipped training sessions, and complained about his trainers. All the while, he was confronting jail time for a burglary he said he was involved in at age 18.

Martinez served three months, then returned to the ring in February, only to suffer a broken hand. Further complicating the issue, Martinez had an emergency appendectomy in May.

"The kid was losing credibility around here--the lies, the cons--people in these [Top Rank] offices were saying, 'Forget this guy,' " Dunkin said. "Finally, the money ran out. I sat him down and told it like it was.... I was confrontational, but when he answered, 'I know,' I had a feeling he got it."

Martinez said he reunited with his mother, made a successful new partnership with trainer Sal Hernandez and has been training daily at a Baldwin Park gym.

"I needed discipline, and the only one who can give it to me is my mom," Martinez said. "I've got so much respect for her. When she tells me to do something, I do it. She wants me to lose weight. I'll do anything to avoid hearing her yell about it all the way from the gym to home."

Dunkin is impressed with the results. Martinez weighed 132 pounds for the first time since his pro debut in June 2000.

"Behind Top Rank's top two fighters, [Oscar] De La Hoya and [Floyd] Mayweather, Marshall is definitely one of the top three young guys in our group," Dunkin said. "He's behind [lightweight] Miguel Cotto, but he beat Cotto in the America's Qualifier. I've just got to get him on a roll--no more layoffs, no more injury time, no more jail.

"Now that he's out of money ... I think he's about to get on that roll. We all need a good butt kicking, you know."

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