Martinez champions fight against bullying outside the ring
He attacks both endeavors with equal tenacity and passion.
But it’s the 37-year-old Argentine middleweight champion’s untiring desire to help the weak — particularly bullied children and battered women — without seeking publicity that sets him apart.
Ask Monique McClain.
The Middletown, Conn., teen’s life was spiraling downhill in 2010 after she was relentlessly bullied, on the bus, at the bus stop and in school. She was pushed down, had food thrown at her, syrup poured in her hair and was viciously abused verbally by a group of girls. Her mother, Alycia, pulled her out of school, she said, when school officials told her to “suck it up.”
When Martinez heard about the situation from WBC boxing referee and coach Johnny Callas, who was involved in Monique’s situation, he contacted her through an HBO intermediary, he says, and arranged a meeting.
“That was set up because (Callas) asked us to,” Lou DiBella, Martinez’s promoter, said Tuesday. “I thought it would be a nice little publicity thing, but I never thought it would turn into what it has. It’s a real relationship.”
Martinez and McClain, 14, struck up a friendship, and he invited her to his next fight to sit ringside against Sergiy Dzinziruk at the Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut last March.
“Maravilla” came away with an 8th-round TKO win against unbeaten Dzinziruk and a new-found friend in McClain, who was awed by the handsome fighter.
It changed her life.
“Sergio stepped in in a time of my life when I didn’t think I had anyone on my side,” Monique said by phone this week. “Everyone was against me, but he made me feel welcome.
“Basically he kept telling me, ‘It gets better.’ That’s kind of our little motto right now. We have bracelets made up, and he told me that what doesn’t kill you will make you stronger.”
Martinez, himself a victim of bullying as a child in his dirt-poor rural village in Argentina, said when he heard her story, “It was such a sad story, I knew I was going to reach out. I think she was on the verge of contemplating suicide, and that’s why I really wanted to do something.”
Said Alycia: “To me the whole thing is amazing. At a time when she didn’t have any friends whatsoever, was depressed and isolated, her (boxing) coach Johnny Callas worked it out. I’m not sure what strings he had to pull to make that meeting with Sergio possible, but she’s very, very happy.
“And a smile on her face is a smile on mine.”
DiBella, who knows Martinez as well as anyone, says, “(Monique) worships Sergio, and honestly he changed her life. Watching that was unbelievably moving. There was a language barrier, but it didn’t matter. He just got through to her.
“She’s back in (a different) school now and her self esteem and the whole way she presents herself are different.”
Monique is back in school, after a year away, and loves her new school and her new life.
She will be sitting ringside again Saturday night at the Theater in Madison Square Garden when Martinez (48-2-2, 27 KOs), the lineal middleweight champ, takes on Irishman Matthew Macklin (HBO, 10 ET) in a 12-round, St. Patrick’s Day bout.
McClain, who was made the youngest ambassador for WBC World Boxing Cares, which helped in arranging her meeting with Martinez, will present the fighter with an award for helping bullied children at today’s final news conference.
Asked what advice he offered to help change the young girl’s life, Martinez said, “I told her you can look for help. You should look for help from the people who are willing to offer a hand. In her case, if you can look for an outlet in boxing, you should do that.”
McClain took up boxing before she met Martinez to help her self confidence and will soon have her first fight.
Martinez also champions the cause of domestic violence against women. He joined New York City Council member Julissa Ferreras and domestic violence groups Wednesday at City Hall for a news conference to support legislation involving the Violence Against Women Act.
“With domestic violence, no one wanted to touch the subject with a 10-foot pole,” Martinez said through an interpreter. “I was interested in the issue that a boxer, who dishes out violence, could also be thoughtful and do something and people would listen to someone like me. I thought I could have the most impact by speaking out on the issue.”
DiBella says the first time Martinez’s passion to help the underdog came to his attention was after former lightweight champion Edwin Valero was arrested for murdering his wife in March 2010, then hung himself in jail the next day.
“Sergio was incensed that people were feeling bad for Valero,” says DiBella. “He was like, what about his wife? What about his kids who have no parents?
“In his next fight, he had Valero’s wife’s name (Jennifer Carolina) embroidered on his shorts.
“I thought, ‘this is a different kind of cat.’ He is the most cerebral fighter I’ve ever dealt with.”
Says DiBella: “He visits safehouses regularly. To go to a safehouse, you can’t bring a reporter, you can’t publicize it. It’s like the complete opposite of handing out turkeys. He goes to where women are hiding because their life is at risk.
“This guy’s affection for the underdog is greater than I’ve ever seen. And what’s more of an underdog than a bullied child or a woman getting abused.”
Through all of the distractions, Martinez, who lives and trains in Oxnard, Calif., has had to prepare to fight an extremely tough opponent in Macklin (28-3, 19 KOs), who lost a controversial split decision to WBA champion Felix Sturm in June in Germany in a fight many thought Macklin, nicknamed “Mack the Knife,” won.
“Macklin is a tough-as-nails kid, a good kid,” says DiBella, who also promotes Macklin. “He has nothing to lose, and Sergio has everything to lose.”
Macklin says he will try to impose his style on the southpaw Martinez. “I want to make it a physical fight,” he told HBO. “I want to make a grueling, tough, hard fight, and basically I want to go to war.”
DiBella and Martinez say he is the most avoided fighter in the sport today, much of that sentiment coming off Martinez’s brutal second-round knockout of Paul Williams in their rematch in November 2010. Williams won the first fight.
“I am a very dangerous fighter, and they understand how dangerous I am in the ring,” Martinez said. “Because of that, they invent excuses.”
“These days, the fighters think more about the numbers, compared to fighters of 10 years ago, who were … going to the best of the best for their fights. Receipts and gates are something that are totally on the minds of today’s boxers. I don’t think Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler and Tommie Hearns ever talked about receipts and gates. They just got in the ring and fought each other.”
Martinez said the one fighter he wanted to face more than any other is unbeaten Floyd Mayweather Jr., who will fight May 5 at 154 pounds against Miguel Cotto.
Martinez said he would come down to 154 pounds to fight Mayweather. “The main thing is to step up and fight,” he said. “Where, when and for how much, that will get worked out. Let’s get it on first. I’m ready.”
So is DiBella.
“I’d do an 80-20 deal with Mayweather tomorrow,” says DiBella, offering to take only one-fifth of the revenue. “And Mayweather would make almost as much money as he would fighting (Manny) Pacquiao.
“It would be huge pay-per-view because it would be maybe the first fight in Mayweather’s career where it would be an even-money fight.”
Does Martinez worry that, at 37, he might be running out of time in his quest to fight the best in the sport? Not really.
“If someone does not want to fight me,” he says, “they should not be considered the best.”