Sergio Martinez celebrates after knocking out Paul Williams in the second… (Al Bello / Getty Images )
The premise that there are two boxers so good that they alone could set the rest of the sports world on its ear with the kind of match they would produce is only slightly flawed.
There are three.
Mention the names Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr. to fight fans and the reaction is instant hyperventilating. To 50% of those fans, Pacquiao is the best now, maybe the best ever. To the other 50%, that describes Mayweather.
Boxing wants Pacquiao-Mayweather. It is its modern-day Foreman-Ali. Football can have its Super Bowl and baseball can have its World Series. Boxing wants Manny and Floyd. In the same ring, dancing and throwing. Stopping all the talk and the hype and the theories. Settling it, once and for all, with the gloves on and the bright lights turned up.
But there are problems, all well documented, and any straw poll taken on the subject these days will elicit plenty of theories on why the fight will never happen:
• Mayweather doesn't want to risk his unbeaten record.
• Pacquiao, a Philippine congressman with some need to retain a measure of dignity, is turned off by Mayweather's gangsta act and does not even want to be in the same room with the guy.
• Pacquiao got bigger by using steroids and will duck Mayweather's specific drug-testing demands because he fears the outcome.
• Mayweather might not be available, anyway, because he is facing a backlog of legal cases that could keep him in court, or even land him in jail.
• Pacquiao is afraid of Mayweather.
• Mayweather is afraid of Pacquiao.
And so it goes, leaving some to wonder if the year-after-year talk and anticipation will eventually turn so many people off that the thrill will be gone by the time they finally fight. That's especially true if they are both pushing 40.
All of which makes the presence of one Sergio Martinez that much more intriguing.
Martinez, not Pacquiao or Mayweather, was the Boxing Writers Assn. of America's fighter of the year last year. Martinez, not Pacquiao or Mayweather, threw the punch that got the most attention in 2010.
And yes, although most of his fights have been at middleweight, 160 pounds, he says he can easily get down to around the 150 pounds where Pacquiao and Mayweather do most of their fighting.
In the most recent Ring magazine pound-for-pound ratings, the order of the best in the world is Pacquiao, Mayweather and Martinez, 1-2-3.
Martinez has made a lot of his noise while fans were looking elsewhere. He is a 36-year-old Argentine who did not start to fight until he was 20. He has a 47-2-2 record as well as movie-star looks and a smile that can light up a room.
He has lived in Oxnard for the last four years and trains at a gym called World Crown Sports in nearby Port Hueneme. He is left-handed, lightning fast and is as impressive hitting the tethered speed bag as he is dancing around it and slipping his head to the right and left of it.
As long ago as 2000, he was trying to climb the boxing ladder in big-time company. In his 18th fight, just five years after he first laced on the gloves, he took on Antonio Margarito in Las Vegas and got in a few good shots until the fight was stopped in the seventh round before Margarito did further damage.
Later in Margarito's career, he would suffer a stunning upset at the Home Depot Center at the hands of a tall, little-known fighter by the name of Paul Williams. Williams, 6 feet 3, hit like a linebacker and became, much to promoter Dan Goosen's chagrin, so good that other fighters and their connections steered well clear of him.
In December 2009, Martinez took on the challenge and lost a close decision to Williams in Atlantic City, N.J. Four months later, he opened more eyes by beating Kelly Pavlik, once projected to be a middleweight superstar. That got Martinez a November 2010 rematch with Williams. A minute into the second round, he put Williams down and out with a heavy left hand. Williams fell like a chopped redwood, and now the boxing world was paying much closer attention to one Sergio Martinez.
"It was not my best punch ever," Martinez says, "but it was my most important."
Martinez has fought and won once since, and Saturday night he will take on unbeaten 160-pounder Darren Barker of England, again in Atlantic City's Boardwalk Hall. If the fight goes as most assume it will, Martinez will join the trio in a game of who's got next. Mayweather already has dispensed with Victor Ortiz, and Pacquiao is expected to do the same with Juan Manual Marquez in November.
Fans in general, and boxing fans in particular, want Pacquiao-Mayweather. Martinez, of course, wants either, or eventually both.
Adam Flores, one of the gym owners and part of Martinez's entourage, says Martinez joked one time that he would fight both on the same night.
"Let me start with Pacquiao," Flores says Martinez said, "and then have an intermission before they bring out Mayweather."
Martinez does not speak English, which may be one drawback in getting the mega-fight he wants. He was asked through an interpreter about the Pacquiao-intermission-Mayweather scenario and laughed at his own absurdity.
But his presence as a viable, quality opponent while the Pacquiao-versus-Mayweather plot continues to thicken is far from absurd.