Most boxing folks consider Sergio Martinez, the Argentine boxer who now lives in California and who will headline against Irishman Matthew Macklin at the MSG Theater on March 17, to be the best middleweight in the world. That he currently lacks a title doesn't diminish Martinez, 36, in the eyes of true fans, though dabblers might not see it that way.
One of the titleholders at 160 pounds is Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., who holds the WBC belt that Martinez possessed until he gave it up in January 2011, willingly, because he didn't want to fight the No. 1-ranked middleweight at that time, Sebastian Zbik.
Fight fans think it makes a ton of sense for the ex-WBC champ and the current WBC kingpin to hash it all out in a ring. The Chavez people -- among them Bob Arum, the fighter's promoter -- haven't seemed to share that vision. Arum said a few days ago that he thinks Chavez needs two more fights, some more seasoning, before he'll be ready for Martinez.
We can accept that reasoning. We might not fully agree, but we see the wisdom there. The WBC, meanwhile, sounds like it wants Martinez-Chavez next, if Martinez gets past Macklin. Here is an excerpt from a release sent out by WBC chief Jose Sulaiman:
"Julio Cesar Chavez quieted many people and showed that he is the champion of the world and ready to fight any challenger. His promoters are announcing other names than Martinez for his next fight, trying perhaps to embarrass the WBC, but it is Julio Cesar who must decide, and I just hope that he will not step against his WBC, where he has found support and several titles since his very beginning. It is said that promoter Bob Arum has stated that he will have Julio fight others, as he would like to see me withdraw recognition from such a Mexican hero. I thought that Bob knew me better. I believe in reciprocal loyalty, as otherwise there is no loyalty, and I accept that Martinez offended me, even when the WBC has been the only organization that gave him the opportunities to be what he is. But my obligation is not to react to pressures, offenses, words or threats. My commitment is to follow the rules of the WBC, as well as the rulings of its board of governors."
Chavez, who turns 26 on Thursday, is no kid. Martinez is certainly no kid. I've seen evidence of him sliding physically. I'd like to see Chavez stand behind his belt, grab the reins and tell Arum that he wants the immense challenge that is Martinez. (It might not be as immense a challenge as many think. ...) I'd like to see more fighters aside from Chavez do the same, actually. If this occurs, it might mean that the promoters leave some money on the table in the short term, but long term, it will grow the sport. Fans will get more pick-'em fights and more of the matchups that they, and wisdom, dictate and crave.
Sulaiman is right: the fighter holds the power. Chavez, and so many of these marquee names, can step up and seize the challenge or shrink and let the promoters do their talking for them. Today, too often they allow the promoters, whom, we must not forget, are businessmen first and foremost, to be the scapegoat when big fights don't get made.