Brave Murray pushes Martinez all the way as home favourite retains title in Buenos Aires
St Helens middleweight Martin Murray dealt WBC champion Sergio Martinez an almighty scare before ending up on the wrong side of a unanimous points decision in Buenos Aires.
All three ringside judges plumped for the home favourite by identical margins of 115-112 despite him being floored by his 30-year-old foe in round eight.
Martinez found himself on a canvas made greasy by incessant rain once more two rounds later but referee Massimo Barrovecchio ruled a slip, somewhat generously in light of the left-hook and glancing right-hand landed by Murray.
Point proven: Sergio Martinez celebrates after defeating Martin Murray to retain his WBC middleweight title in Buenos Aires
As in his world-title draw against Felix Sturm in December 2011, Murray (25 wins, one defeat, one draw) emerges with his reputation enhanced regardless of a first professional loss - domestic clashes with former Martinez victims Darren Barker and Matthew Macklin hopefully loom.
The quality of a truly great champion was in evidence over the final two rounds as Martinez (51-2-2) made sure of the win but he is unlikely to relish many more such gruelling examinations at 38 years of age.
Martinez, who was greeted by a spectacular fireworks display and a fervent crowd in excess of 40,000 inside the Estadio Jose Amalfitani, set an impressive tempo in the opener, attacking predominantly to the body as Murray operated behind a tight guard.
Pushing him all the way: Murray proved to be a match for MartŐnez
Down but not out: Murray knocks Martinez to the floor
Bouncing back: Martinez picked himself off the canvas to comeback and win the fight
Murray landed crisp rights in each of the first two sessions, benefiting from Martinez's contrastingly languid stance, and a more solid shot found the target in three as the Argentinean appeared to become frustrated by his opponent's cautious style.
Razor-sharp assaults to the body and a slick upwards jab meant Martinez was doing enough to pick up the early rounds before a meaty low blow from Murray sparked a more eventful fourth, with both men trading successfully.
Having landed a pleasing right hook to the head towards the end of that stanza, the challenger scored to the mid-section in five and by the midway point Martinez found himself bleeding from the left eye as evidence of clean, straight punches coming his way and the tightening scorecards.
Making him work: Murray lands a shot on Martinez's face during the fight
Breaking through: Martinez lands a punch through Murray's defence
Further Murray rough-housing with the shoulder worsened the facial damage for Martinez, who responded with some eye-catching work to take round seven but the next three minutes belonged definitely to the Englishman
Shortly after absorbing a stringing left-hook to the jaw, Murray landed yet another solid right and the backpedalling Martinez tumbled to the canvas.
A champion's response meant a bloodied nose for the challenger in nine, but there was controversy in the 10th as Martinez went down under punches in the neutral corner without receiving a count.
Nevertheless, it was a clear Murray round and made Martinez's recovery behind his educated jab in the face of relentless physical pressure a welcome relief for the increasingly anxious home crowd.
The upshot was a fight up for grabs and a stadium on its feet for the final three minutes, where Martinez operated skilfully on the other side of heavy weather and prevented Murray from securing the big finish he needed.
Sergio Martinez claims unanimous, but narrow, points win over Martin Murray
Sergio Martinez overcame a brave performance from Martin Murray to retain his WBC middleweight belt on points in Buenos Aires and bring an end the Englishman's unbeaten record.
Martin Murray on the offensive against Sergio Martinez in Buenos Aires
Martinez (51-2-2), backed by a crowd of more than 40,000 inside the Estadio Jose Amalfitani, was floored by the St Helens fighter in the eighth round but got up and secured a narrow points margin on all three judges' cards.
Murray started brightly, landing a series of crisp shots that seemed to trouble the 38-year-old, but Martinez overcame his early frustrations and edged the opening rounds with the British fighter sitting back too often after catching his opponent.
By the midway point of the fifth round Martinez was bleeding from his left eye after a couple of decent straight shots from Murray, but that sparked the Argentinian fighter into action with some eye-catching work.
With the fight still up for grabs, Murray upped his attack in the eighth and shortly after landing a left-hook, a back-pedalling Martinez hit the canvas when he was caught with another solid right.
Martinez bloodied Murray's nose in the ninth, but there was controversy in the 10th when the home hero went down again under punches in a neutral corner, only to have it ruled a slip by referee Massimo Barrovecchio - wet conditions had left ring conditions very greasy.
An anxious home crowd roared their champion on over the remaining two rounds, and the Martinez response probably sealed his victory as he denied Murray the chance to make his mark with the judges and secure a big finish.
All three ringside judges gave the victory to Martinez with identical 115-112 scorelines, with Murray crediting Martinez for winning 'fair and square' and admitting periods of the fight when he had been too passive had cost him victory.
Despite knockdowns, Sergio Martinez tops Martin Murray for title
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina -- Sergio Martinez retained his WBC middleweight title, unanimously outpointing Martin Murray on Saturday night despite being sent to the canvas several times by the Englishman.
Sergio Martinez took home a unanimous 12-round decision over Martin Murray in Buenos Aires.
Victor R. Caivano/AP
The three judges all scored the fight 115-112 in favor of the defending champion in his first fight in his hometown in 11 years after fighting mostly in Europe.
Martinez has 53 victories in 55 fights. It was Murray's first loss in 27 fights.
The bout attracted 40,000 fans despite constant rain at the soccer stadium of Buenos Aires club Velez Sarsfield. Fans got soaked though, but the boxers fought under a canopy.
"Thanks Argentina. Thanks for following me. I love you a lot,"' Martinez told the fans from a ringside microphone.
The decision likely went the way of Martinez because judges didn't see enough in the opening rounds from the defensive-minded Englishman.
Martinez explored for openings in the first three rounds, dropping his hands and dancing and daring Murray to break out of his conservative, defensive stance. Murray stayed covered up, but caught Martinez with a powerful right hand late in the third round.
Murray began to go on the offensive in the fourth round but stayed covered up, making it difficult for Martinez to land a punch squarely. In the sixth he pinned Martinez up against the ropes and seemed to taunt the champion before the partisan fans.
Caught by a right hand early in the seventh, Martinez began to change his strategy - dancing less and boxing more.
Murray knocked down Martinez midway through the eighth with a left-right combination, which silenced the home fans and kept the Englishman on the attack.
Murray put more pressure on the in 10th, putting Martinez down again, and repeated the dose in the 11th, but Italian referee Massimo Barrovechio ruled were slips rather than knockdowns.
Martinez has been nursing an injured right knee and, at 38, this is likely one of his final fights.
Sergio Martinez overcomes Martin Murray, weather for WBC title
Despite rain and Martin Murray's fists, Sergio Martinez held on to his WBC middleweight title.
Victor R. Caivano/AP
BUENOS AIRES -- Five things we learned from Sergio Martinez's unanimous-decision victory over Martin Murray to retain the WBC middleweight title on a rainy Saturday night at the Estadio Josť Amalfitani:
1. Martinez's homecoming was a success. This was a close fight. A hell of a fight, even, worthy of the considerable pomp surrounding it. Martinez was dropped in the eighth, then again in the 10th (though it was ruled a slip), and appeared as vulnerable and easy to hit as he's looked in years. The official margin -- 115-112 on all three cards despite the knockdown -- may have been slightly home-cooked. (SI.com had Martinez taking the last two rounds to nick it 114-113.) Yet Martinez, perhaps feeling the pressure of fighting before nearly 50,000 of his countrymen, showed the heart and class of a champion by coming off the deck to rally for the win. "He's on his way to the hospital," Lou DiBella, the promoter who built Martinez up from obscurity and who'd expressed worry about the fight all week, said afterward. "He can't open his hand and his knee is going to need another surgery. He's never going to be 100 percent again. But when a superstar needed to step up and close the show in the championship rounds, that's what he did."
2. The atmosphere was absolutely insane. Saturday's fight promised an unforgettable backdrop from the moment it was announced in December: The Argentine hero's first fight back home in more than a decade -- made possible by a reported $5 million guarantee by the government and opposite an Englishman to boot -- was bound to be an compelling spectacle. Somehow it managed to exceed those heady expectations, even as (or perhaps because) nature threatened to put a literal damper on things. Revelers packed the 103-year-old home of Vťlez SŠrsfield football club, standing for five hours in a pouring rain which alternated between steady drizzle and downpour, sometimes in the same round. Earlier in the day, the forecast for thunderstorms was so ominous that canceling the fight -- or at least the entire undercard -- was seriously considered. (Officials ended up moving the main event from 11 p.m. local time to 8:30.) Amid the storm, the Argentines lived up to their reputation as one of the world's most passionate sports populaces, a surreal tableau enhanced by drums, horns, flags, banners and songs. So many songs. While riding back to the hotel across town with HBO's broadcasting team of Jim Lampley, Max Kellerman and Roy Jones Jr., all three placed Martinez-Murray atop their list of most memorable crowds, with only the 2007 fight between Joe Calzaghe and Mikkel Kessler even entering the conversation.
3. Murray showed he's one of the top middleweights in the world. This wasn't the first time Murray (25-1-1, 11 KOs) had deigned to fight in a champion's hometown. The only previous blemish on the Merseysider's record was a split draw against veteran middleweight titleholder Felix Sturm in Germany that many at ringside declared an outright robbery. Overlooked by many as a glorified dance partner for Martinez's coronation, the 28-year-old used his two-inch height advantage (and what seemed like a considerable edge in weight) to very nearly play spoiler. After starting with caution, Murray started to beat Martinez to the punch, peppering the champ with left-right combinations as his confidence grew. An eerie hush fell over the crowd when he floored Martinez with an overhand right in the eighth -- you could hear the Argentine's body clatter onto the canvas -- and it was obvious the challenger was getting the better of the exchanges. Methodical, workmanlike boxer-punchers like Murray will never rack up the style points like Martinez, but on this night he was great. "Just not great enough," he lamented. Regardless, Murray's willingness to take on any challenge -- and, importantly, his refusal to make excuses -- is winning him capital with fans.
4. Martinez's time is running out. It's a funny thing about these homecoming events: When a fighter is finally massive enough an attraction to warrant one, he's usually past his peak. For several years, Martinez (51-2-2, 28 KOs) has been considered no worse than one of boxing's top three pound-for-pound fighters. Yet his style, built on superior reflexes and instinct rather than technique, was never built to last. The knee injury suffered in his September win over Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., which required surgery, hampered his movement Saturday, and there were points where he looked flat-out old. Martinez has been fighting larger opponents since winning the title from Kelly Pavlik in 2010. For his next fight, the Argentine should leverage his star power to entice a junior middleweight to come up in weight to meet him. If not a James Kirkland, how about Miguel Cotto? You could even picture Floyd Mayweather sitting at home and mulling Martinez as an opponent after watching the Argentine struggle. One thing is for sure: If you're Martinez, you're in no hurry to fight up-and-rapidly-coming middleweight terror Gennady Golovkin.
5. HBO came through under impossibly difficult circumstances. HBO has been in the boxing business for 40 years but had never done a fight in South America before Saturday night. They have every right to wait another four decades to return after everything that happened. When you consider all the obstacles the network was up against -- the weather nightmare, coordinating with local crews they'd never worked with before, dealing with a fight schedule that was in constant flux and at the mercy of the forecast, balancing it all with the other end of their split-site doubleheader in California -- it's a miracle the telecast went off without a hitch. "A bunch of moving parts that were all in movement until a half-hour before the main event," as executive director Rick Bernstein described it. So a major shout-out to HBO's hard-working production crew: May they enjoy more than a few Quilmes tonight.