Middleweight champion Sergio Martinez, the consensus 2010 fighter of the year, will not repeat in 2011. That is no news flash, just simple reality.
In 2010, Martinez won the middleweight championship in a tough, bloody decision against Kelly Pavlik and then scored a titanic second-round knockout of pound-for-pound ranked Paul Williams in their rematch. Two convincing victories (including the knockout of the year) against two notable opponents wrapped up the award for Martinez.
But in 2011, Martinez has not had the opportunities to fight the level of opponents against whom wins would be considered big enough for him to repeat. Those big names have shown no interest in facing him.
So instead, Martinez scored five knockdowns en route to an eighth-round knockout of little-known junior middleweight titlist Sergiy Dzinziruk in March, quite a solid victory. But Martinez's encore is a backward step that won't do much to raise his profile.
Martinez is talking about the other fights that he wants to have. Well, he is in for a big shock. He is underestimating me and if he wants to do that, fine. I will make him pay for taking me lightly and looking past what is right in front of him -- a fighter who has the hunger, the spirit and the skill to beat him.
”-- Darren Barker on Saturday's fight with middleweight champ Sergio Martinez
He will defend the title against massive underdog Darren Barker of England on Saturday night (HBO, 10 ET) at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J., in a fight Martinez is expected to win easily -- so easily that, rather than discussing Barker, much of the prefight conversation has centered on Martinez's potential future fights.
If Martinez could have landed a major fight, he would have taken it rather than Barker, (23-0, 14 KOs), 29, who has a sweet record but not a single notable name on his ledger as he treks to the United States for his second fight outside England; he fought once in Canada.
Martinez has called out fighters such as titlist Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. -- who walks around with the alphabet belt that was unceremoniously stripped from Martinez -- Miguel Cotto, Saul "Canelo" Alvarez and the biggest names in the sport: Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Pacquiao and Mayweather are welterweights, obviously smaller men than Martinez. But Martinez is so keen on landing a big fight that he said he would be willing to cut 10 pounds and drop down to 150 pounds if either would be willing to face him.
Keep in mind that Martinez (47-2-2, 26 KOs), 36, a former 154-pound titlist, has not fought as low as 150 since 2003.
"I want a real challenge, so I am willing to go to 150 pounds to fight the biggest names and prove that even if I go all the way down to 150, nobody will fight me," Martinez said. "Manny Pacquiao says he will fight up to 150 pounds, so what is his excuse not to fight me? And Mayweather, too. Neither one will fight me. We are the three best fighters, pound for pound. They won't fight each other and they won't fight me.
"I would go to 150 pounds, so there should be no excuse from Pacquiao or Mayweather or anyone else if they want to fight the best."
Lou DiBella, Martinez's promoter, said he doesn't blame Martinez for trying to coerce the biggest names into facing him.
"I believe he could get to 150, but I think we all know those guys won't fight him, and who could blame them?" DiBella said. "With Pacquiao, you have [Top Rank promoter] Bob [Arum] playing the in-house game and doing everything he can to denigrate Sergio so they never have to make the fight.
"I know 150 sounds crazy, but when you're in a position Sergio is in -- that you basically have to cut off a toe or leg to get the fight -- he is saying he will put himself at a deficit to get the fight. He will give those guys a head start at beating him and say, 'OK, now what's your excuse? I've given you a head start.'"
So after five tough fights in a row -- against Pavlik, two with Williams, Kermit Cintron and Dzinziruk -- Martinez will take on Barker in the absence of another notable challenger who is available or willing, other than perhaps titlist Dmitry Pirog, who isn't all that known either and who also holds a belt that was stripped from Martinez. Pirog will be at the fight hoping to drum up interest in a match with Martinez, as will top contender Matthew Macklin, who recently signed with DiBella and could loom as a future opponent.
Since Martinez knows it's unlikely he will get one of the smaller stars -- Pacquiao or Mayweather -- and realizes his own division isn't a hotbed of stars, he said for the first time that he is finally willing to also look up the scale to the super middleweight division, home to a host of notable fighters, including titleholders Andre Ward and Carl Froch (who meet Dec. 17 in Showtime's Super Six World Boxing Classic final) and titlist Lucian Bute.
But Martinez said he won't go all the way up to the 168-pound division.
"I am willing to fight anyone up to 163 or 164, so if any of the big guys want to fight me, they need to sacrifice half of the weight I am willing to lose -- the 10 pounds to go down to 150," said Martinez, a native of Argentina who lives in Oxnard, Calif. "That's not too much to ask the bigger guys. If anyone wants to do it, I will go up to that weight."
HBO Sports senior vice president Kery Davis, who is putting Martinez on the network for the seventh consecutive fight, understands the frustration of Martinez and DiBella not being able to land that big pay-per-view fight.
"Sergio is a guy who is already a star to boxing fans," Davis said. "The question is, how do you get him to be a star with the general sports fan? In the music business, an artist with star appeal is only one hit single away from being a superstar. That's Martinez. He is one big megafight from being a superstar.
"I think Martinez is must-see television. What he's done in his last few fights makes him must-see television. Dramatic wins over Williams and Pavlik, and even the win over Dzinziruk -- a really good fighter he dominated -- dropped him five times. He's knocking people out. He just needs that dance partner, and we're trying to help him find one. I think he's got all of the right ideas in terms of who that guy could be."
With all the talk of everyone besides Barker, what about the former European champion?
Martinez said he has watched Barker's past three fights and while not all that impressed, he still tried to make the case that he is not taking Barker lightly.
"No enemy is a small enemy in the ring," Martinez said. "That is why I trained 100 percent. But he didn't really impress me. But all undefeated fighters are dangerous. They don't want to lose the undefeated status."
Barker does believe he is being overlooked and called Martinez out on it.
"When you look at Sergio's last three performances -- against Kelly Pavlik, Paul Williams and Sergiy Dzinziruk -- they are the fights of a true great of boxing, and he looked great doing it," Barker said. "But I believe that I'm the proper middleweight of the two of us. I'm bigger than him and I'm stronger than him and I think that I can make that count on the night. There's nothing more dangerous than a hungry fighter, and I am exactly that. I'm 29 and he's 36, I've got the ambition and desire behind me to become a world champion and everything is ahead of me just waiting there for the taking, which is what I plan to do.
"Martinez is talking about the other fights that he wants to have. Well, he is in for a big shock. He is underestimating me and if he wants to do that, fine. I will make him pay for taking me lightly and looking past what is right in front of him -- a fighter who has the hunger, the spirit and the skill to beat him."
But if even Martinez isn't impressed by Barker, who reeled in the fight by calling out Martinez on Twitter, that might explain why there is so little buzz for the fight.
DiBella has done his part to promote it, offering ticket deals and doing a good job of getting the word out, but he is also up against tough competition.
"I'm promoting a show in Atlantic City on Rosh Hashanah weekend, with the Yankees and Phillies in playoff games," he said. "But I will still wind up doing a $500,000 gate. The arena is set up for about 5,000, so we'll go and put on a good show and let Sergio do his thing."
If Martinez has his way, that will mean a big knockout to at least excite those who do show up.
"I need to demonstrate that I am the pound-for-pound best, so I need to knock this boy out in the first part of the fight," Martinez said. "This fight cannot go the distance."
In the scheduled 10-round middleweight co-feature, Ireland's Andy Lee (26-1, 19 KOs), a 2004 Olympian trained by Emanuel Steward, seeks to avenge his only career defeat in a rematch with Brian Vera (19-5, 12 KOs) of Austin, Texas. Vera, who is coming off an upset decision win against former junior middleweight titlist Sergio Mora, knocked out Lee in the eighth round in a major upset in 2008.
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter @danrafaelespn.