Sergio Martinez screwed up. The power puncher handled his frontrunner status in the coveted race to fight Manny Pacquiao in the worst possible way.
Going into this past weekend, Martinez -- widely regarded as the No. 3 pound-for-pound fighter in boxing -- had a seemingly easy showdown scheduled against Darren Barker in Atlantic City, N.J.
The plan was for Martinez to make short work of his counterpart in a few rounds, and then move on to more prominent competition – namely Pacquiao or Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Heck, even the odds makers weren’t considering this much of a bout, listing Barker as a 26-1 underdog.
Apparently, the British challenger didn’t get the memo about how he was supposed to go down early, though. Much to the surprise of fans and chagrin of Martinez, Barker steadily did his fair share of damage right up until he was eventually taken out via knockout in the 11th round.
Through those first 10 rounds, however, Barker made his opponent look average in just about every sense as he withstood a barrage of punches through good footwork and prime defensive positioning which allowed him to absorb hits with minimal damage.
And even though the 36-year-old Martinez was ahead in the scorecards prior to that right hook that sent Barker to the canvas, the mere fact that looked so mortal against a fighter he essentially refused to talk about leading up to the fight speaks volumes. In fact, don’t be shocked to see Martinez moved down on the pound-for-pound charts sooner rather than later in favor of someone younger and more infallible as of late like Nonito Donaire.
The most important repercussion of Martinez’s weak showing this weekend wasn’t the impact it will ultimately have on his rankings, though. Rather, it was the fact that he essentially killed the main argument that was working in his favor as he campaigned for a fight against Pacquiao.
From the very first moment he offered to shed weight and get down to 150 pounds to be able to fight the Filipino champion, the one thing everyone agreed on was that he was a worthy challenger. So worthy, in fact, that he offered a legitimate alternative to Pacquiao in place of Mayweather if the Manny wanted to prove himself against a real fighter.
Now that distinction is in doubt.
Is the 36-year-old Martinez really all that good? Or was he simply overhyped based on fluke showings against Kelly Pavlik and Paul Williams? Mind you, Barker exposed Martinez’s major weakness for the whole world to see. He busted up the Argentinean’s nose in the fourth round thanks to patient, periodic punches that relied far more on adequate timing than speed.
The reason that Barker didn’t rely on speed is because he has none. Pacquiao does, though. There is no way that he would fall to Martinez if the fighter we saw on Saturday night showed up again.
At this point, Martinez’s weak performance against Barker can work in one of two ways. It can either make Pacquiao want to fight him less, because the risk of getting knocked out by a fighter who has proven himself to be worse-than-advertised is a risk not worth taking. Or, it can make Pacquiao want to fight him more, if for no other reason than to exploit all of the weaknesses that Martinez showed he had this weekend.
When Pacquiao finally decides to respond to Martinez’s challenge, we’ll see which road he takes.