ATLANTIC CITY - Last December, Sergio Martinez and Paul Williams staged a battle that was a candidate for fight of the year, a brawl that went from pillar to post for 12 rounds. But last night at Boardwalk Hall was nothing like that.
It was short, sweet and utterly devastating as Martinez landed what undoubtedly will be hailed as the Punch of the Year, if not of the 21st century.
The two southpaws each started power punches at the same time in the second round, but Martinez's overhand left got there way quicker, ending the fight at 1:10 of the second round to keep his WBC middleweight title and stun a disappointing crowd of 5,502.
Williams' wide left hand went limp as Martinez's left landed full on the challenger's right cheekbone. Williams pitched forward in a free fall, landing face-first on the canvas with his arms splayed. He was out cold for about a minute and lay on the canvas a while longer as medical personnel attended him.
"I was waiting for him to make a mistake, and I was surprised it happened so soon," Martinez said through an interpreter. "I didn't want the judges to rob me this time."
Of course, Martinez (46-2-2, 25 KOs) was referring to his first meeting with Williams (39-2, 27 KOs) last Dec. 5 in Boardwalk Hall when Williams won a majority decision that was controversial because of the scorecard of judge Pierre Benoist, who called it 119-110 for the winner. Both scored first-round knockdowns that set the tone for an all-out war that night.
Williams said he wasn't properly prepared the first time around because Martinez was a late substitute for anticipated opponent Kelly Pavlik. As it turned out, the close loss led to the opportunity for Martinez to fight and beat Pavlik for the middleweight title last April.
Martinez was so eager for the rematch and a chance to put an end to what he called Williams' "excuses" that he agreed to a catchweight of 158 pounds, two under the middleweight limit. Williams said trainer George Peterson wanted him to box more and use his 82-inch reach to keep Martinez at a distance, but his instinct is to brawl.
Williams was going forward from the start, but Martinez's speed was evident in the first round as he got inside that long reach to land two solid flurries. At the start of the second, Martinez landed a sharp left hand. But Williams, who connected with 33 punches to just 23 for Martinez, according to CompuBox, seemed determined to try and rough up the Argentine. He came forward again, trying to land a bomb, but another one blew up in his face first.
"In the second round, I started to attack," Martinez said. "I knew he was going to make a mistake because he always makes mistakes. When he did, I hit him."
When he was coherent and on his feet again, Williams just shrugged and said, "I got caught with a punch."
In the past, Williams was known as "The Punisher," but against Martinez, he was the "Punishee." Promoter Lou DiBella was exultant in victory, declaring that, in Martinez, he represents the "best fighter in the world" and adding, "that was one of the greatest knockout punches ever. That would have knocked anyone on Earth out."
Of course, Martinez would like to drop to 154 to face newly minted light middleweight champion Manny Pacquiao or lure welterweight champion Floyd Mayweather Jr. up to that weight. But what are the chances?
"If you were Pacquiao, would you go near him?" DiBella asked rhetorically. "Think Mayweather is going anywhere near him?"